Essential oils can make a great addition to many recipes. A very small amount of oil is all it takes to enhance the aroma and flavor of a variety of dishes. While you may be able to find many recipes that incorporate essential oils, the following tips can be used to modify your favorites or create some of your own. 

Be cautious when selecting essential oils to use in your recipes. While many essential oils are generally recognized as safe by the FDA and frequently used by food manufacturers, others may be toxic if ingested. Always follow the recommendations from your essential oil manufacturer, and only use ones intended for human consumption in your recipes. Also, essential oils may be contaminated by pesticides, so always look for organic essential oils, which are extracted from crops where pesticides are not used.

  • Start with one drop essential oil. Remember, essential oils are potent. Too much essential oil can ruin a recipe. Where possible, add the oil at the end, so you can gradually increase the amount of essential oil, according to taste.
  • Heat and time will diminish oil efficacy. Another benefit of adding essential oils just before serving is that heat and time will cause the oil to vaporize from your food. Another name for essential oil is volatile oil. The name is very appropriate, as oils will begin to vaporize even at room temperature. Adding a little heat will cause them to vaporize at a faster rate and may even distort the beneficial properties of the oil. Using lids on cookware may slow the vaporization process slightly; however, it does nothing to maintain the oils beneficial properties.
  • A little heat may be desirable for some recipes, however. Vaporization not only diminishes the potency of the oil, but it also subtly changes the flavor and aroma of the oil. When heated, the lighter fragrances of the oil vaporize first, leaving the deeper, richer parts of the oil. Strong oils such as basil, coriander, oregano, rosemary, and sage may taste and smell better when simmered over low heat to make the flavor more subtle.
  • Add the oil to a liquid. Essential oils are best when added to sauces, dressings, marinades, or other liquids. When added to a liquid, the oil disburses throughout the entire liquid. Applying oils directly to non-liquid ingredients will cause uneven disbursement of the oil, with some parts of the dish being more flavorful than others. Adding the essential oil to a cooking oil before mixing it into your recipe can be a good way to ensure a consistent flavor throughout the dish.
  • Many spices can be replaced by essential oils. While the amount of oil required to substitute spices in a recipe will vary depending on the oil used and the recipe, there are some general rules of thumb that can get you started. One teaspoon dried herb can typically be replaced by one drop of essential oil. 1 tablespoon citrus zest may be substituted for 1/8 teaspoon (about 8 drops) of essential oil.

The uses for essential oil in cooking are limitless. Get creative! Try adding a hint of lavender to melted chocolate then dip strawberries; a few drops of citrus oil may enhance chilled drinks; try a little peppermint in your cocoa or tea; dip a toothpick into clove oil and mix it into peach jam; a drop of cinnamon oil in oatmeal can be a great way to start your day. Give your foods the flavor and aroma you crave by preparing them with essential oils.

By Ron Beckstrom, MS, RD, HFS
Nutrition Specialist


This blog and its contents are provided for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information and topics may not apply to every individual. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.