Essential oils—you may have burned them in a diffuser, added drops to a bath, enjoyed their healing properties in a detoxing massage or even used them in home cleaning products. But have you ever cooked with them? If not, you're missing out on a treat—literally!
Just a drop or two can transform drinks, marinades, dips, sauces, savory dishes, desserts, baking and sweets, while also boosting your health, since many essential oils support digestion, immunity and metabolism.
And essential oils can be cost effective, convenient to use, help reduce sugar intake and bring a whole new palette of flavors to play with. Fancy a chocolate tart enhanced with geranium, cardamom and bergamot oils? Or how about gold, frankincense and myrrh citrus bliss balls at Christmas?
There are dozens of oils and flavor combinations to explore, which may be confusing for beginners. As a rough guide, oils can be classified into the following groups and uses:
Citrus oils: These include bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime and wild orange oils, which are great in drinks, baked goods, yogurt, dips and salsa, or as a replacement for zest in recipes (4 to 5 drops is equivalent to zesting an entire piece of fruit).
Herbs: This group, which includes basil, cilantro, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and thyme oils, can easily be substituted in recipes that call for dry or fresh herbs. They add taste and aroma to Italian dishes, meats, breads, pastas and soups.
Mint: The cool, refreshing flavors of peppermint and spearmint go well with lamb and enliven salads, tea and other drinks. They also combine well with chocolate to create interesting desserts.
Florals: Lavender and geranium are the most popular floral oils in recipes, particularly in baking and chocolate.
Spices: This category encompasses black pepper, cassia, cinnamon, coriander seed, clove, fennel and ginger oils, all of which can be used to flavor meat, vegetables and sweet dishes.
Before getting started with essential oils, there are some important considerations. Only Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade (CPTG) oils, which are regulated and independently tested for purity, are safe to use in food and drinks. Do your research, because essential oils marked 'organic' may not be food grade.
You will probably need to source your CPTG oils online (from brands such as DoTerra, Young Living and Living Libations). Typically, essential oils in supermarkets and health food stores are not sufficiently pure for ingestion.
Second, not all CPTG oils are safe to consume because of their chemical makeup. Make sure you don't cook with or ingest arborvitae, cedarwood, cypress, Douglas fir, eucalyptus, spikenard, white fir or wintergreen.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes the following essential oils on its Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list: basil, bergamot, black pepper, cassia, cinnamon, clary sage, fennel, geranium, ginger, grapefruit, juniper berry, lemon, lemongrass, lime, marjoram, melissa, oregano, peppermint, Roman chamomile, rosemary, thyme, wild orange and ylang ylang.
Once you've established that your essential oils are safe to ingest, dosage is the next consideration. Oils are potent, and although the body excretes oils in three to four hours, your daily intake should be limited. Some oils may not be suitable for babies and young children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Generally, one drop of essential oil is comparable to two teaspoons of dried herb. However, some oils, like cassia, cinnamon, clove, cumin, oregano and thyme, are particularly strong, and even one drop may be too much for a particular recipe.
If so, the safest way to ensure you don't ruin a dish by adding too much oil at once is to use the 'toothpick' method. Dip the tip of a clean toothpick into the essential oil bottle and stir the toothpick into your ingredients. Do a taste test to see whether you want to add more oil or not.
Ideally, add essential oils at the end of a recipe: cooking with heat can evaporate the oils and change their therapeutic qualities. If you are baking, steaming, simmering or boiling and cannot do this, just add a larger amount of the oil to counter the flavor that will be lost in the cooking process.
Finally, oils can damage plastic utensils, mixing bowls and containers, so use glass, ceramic or stainless steel cookware.
Although essential oils have been used externally for thousands of years, their use in cooking has recently enjoyed a revival, partly due to enterprising chefs like Hania Opienski (pictured, right), who are exploring their advantages in food.
Challenged with digestive issues many years ago, Hania began experimenting with diet and cooking:
"After a bout of Candida and an exclusion diet, I started getting more creative with my recipes, which ultimately led to studying naturopathic nutrition.
"I wanted to be able to eat delicious food that my system could handle and was as healthy as possible, so I started creating my own recipes. The addition of essential oils to my toolkit has allowed me to play with flavors in a way not possible previously."
Hania has found essential oils convenient, cost effective and time saving. You also don't have to remember to buy herbs and use them before they go bad in the fridge: "If you need to use a whole bunch of lemongrass in a dish, you can just use one drop of lemongrass oil instead.
"And if you don't have any fresh herbs available, you can use a drop of herb oil and enhance your immunity at the same time: pretty much all the herbal essential oils are immune-supporting or have antimicrobial and antibacterial effects.
"Essential oils can also help you reduce sugar: one or two drops of a citrus oil in a glass of sparkling water makes a great sugar-free alternative to a soft drink."
In these pages, Hania has put together a few recipes that are ideal for filling your home with flavorful smells this holiday season.
Geranium, Cardamom and Bergamot Vegan Chocolate Tart
This delicious tart includes floral flavors in chocolate, which are hard to include in a recipe unless they are in an essential oil. It's also a perfect timesaver for Christmas, as the use of citrus and spice oils eliminates the need for zesting and allows the chocolate to remain silky smooth in texture. Plus, it's a good antidote to any holiday stress; floral oils are calming, heart opening and uplifting. Citrus energizes, and cardamom supports the digestive and respiratory systems.
1 1⁄8 cups (120 g) toasted or activated* almonds
¾ cup (120 g) toasted or activated buckwheat groats
¾ cup (130 g) soaked figs (drained and chopped)
1½ Tbsp (20 mL) coconut oil
Pinch of Himalayan salt
6 drops bergamot essential oil
2 drops lemon essential oil
1 cup (210 g) raw cacao paste
½ cup (100 g) coconut nectar
1 cup (300 g) coconut cream (refrigerated to harden up)
2 Tbsp (30 mL) coconut oil
Pinch of Himalayan salt
3 drops geranium essential oil
3 drops cardamom essential oil
1) Line a 9-inch (23-cm) square spring-base cake pan with baking paper.
2) Pulse almonds in a blender until roughly chopped.
3) Add all remaining base ingredients and pulse again until the mixture comes together into a dough.
4) Scoop the ball of dough into the prepared pan and gently press it out to form a thin, even base.
5) Put in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.
6) Open a can of coconut cream. The fat should have settled on top. Scoop this out and then add as much of the liquid needed to fill a cup.
7) In a small saucepan, gently heat coconut milk and coconut nectar with a pinch of salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and turn off.
8) Meanwhile, place the cacao paste in a heat-resistant bowl (I use buttons, but if you have a block, chop it finely first) along with the coconut oil.
9) Pour hot coconut milk over the cacao, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.
10) Then gently stir the mixture with a spatula to combine until smooth and silky. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool. Note: if the oil has separated, whisk it once it's slightly cooler and firmer.
11) Add essential oils and stir to combine. Pour over the base in the prepared pan. Shake the pan gently to settle the mixture, and smooth the surface with a spatula if needed.
12) Place in the fridge to set for 4 hours.
13) To serve, gently remove the sides of the pan and transfer to a serving plate using a spatula or two. You can dust with cacao powder or edible flowers to serve.
*Activated nuts and grains are soaked and then dehydrated
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Citrus Bliss Balls
In keeping with the Christmas tradition, your guests will adore these treats, which combine gold, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense has an affinity for the brain and supports healing on a cellular level, as does myrrh, another revered spiritual and medicinal oil. Wild orange is uplifting, while cinnamon balances blood sugar.
1 cup (100 g) activated almonds (or soaked for 2 hours)
½ cup (125 g) activated walnuts (or soaked for 2 hours)
12 medjool dates (de-stoned)
¼ cup (30 g) cacao powder
1½ Tbsp (20 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of Himalayan salt
2 drops frankincense essential oil
1 drop myrrh essential oil
1 drop cinnamon essential oil
6 drops wild orange
1 packet (5 g) edible gold leaf
1) Pulse the nuts in a blender until well chopped.
2) Add all other ingredients except the gold, and blend until the mixture comes together as a dough. If it's not binding, add a splash of water (it will depend on how moist your dates are).
3) Scoop into balls using a teaspoon or dessert spoon as desired, and garnish with a little twist of edible gold. Place in the fridge to harden for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Skinny Spiced Mule
Ginger oil replaces sugary ginger beer for a healthy seasonal cocktail. Cassia and cinnamon add a wonderful spice and help regulate blood sugar, while clove is the most antioxidant spice you can find.
6 drops ginger essential oil
1 drop clove essential oil
1 drop cassia or cinnamon essential oil
3 Tbsp (45 mL) coconut nectar
Juice of one large lime
3.4 oz (100 mL) rum
1) Mix 6 drops ginger oil, 1 drop cassia or cinnamon oil and 1 drop clove oil with the dark rum, coconut nectar and the juice of 1 lime in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
2) Fill two tumblers with ice. Divide the shaken mixture between two glasses and top with sparking water and a slice of lime.
Note: Due to the high amount of essential oils used, drink no more than two of these in a four-hour period.
Winter Vegetable Soup (with optional turkey leftovers)
This soup can be made with raw ingredients, or you can use up any leftover meat, gravy and roasted vegetables (it's fine to include a couple of potatoes or roasted garlic cloves—skin removed—if you have these). The addition of the herbed oil drizzle brings a lovely fragrance to the table and a great antioxidant boost. Thyme, lemon and coriander also support digestion and liver function.
2 white onions*
½ butternut squash*
1 stick of celery
33.8 fl oz (1 L) of vegetable or
2 Tbsp (30 g) butter
4 Tbsp (90 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 drop thyme or coriander seed essential oil
2 drops lemon essential oil
Leftover turkey and stuffing (optional)
Leftover gravy (optional)
*Fresh or leftover roasted vegetables
1) If using fresh onions, chop roughly. Sweat the onions in butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil until translucent and tender.
2) Add chopped parsnips, carrots, celery and squash and sauté lightly for 5 minutes, stirring periodically. Add any roasted vegetables at this point.
3) Cover with stock. Add gravy at this point, if using. Simmer until all the vegetables are soft when tested with a spoon.
4) Once the vegetables are soft, transfer all ingredients to a high-powered blender or food processor. Make sure the liquid level is just above the vegetables. If not, add boiling water. Blend on low until silky, adding 1 Tbsp olive oil gradually, and then on full power for 60 seconds (or until steam comes out of the top). Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add boiling water if you like your soup thinner.
5) Pour directly into bowls, or return to the saucepan if you plan to reheat it later.
6) If you want to use some leftover turkey (and even stuffing), add it to the saucepan with the soup, and make sure any meat is fully reheated before serving.
7 In a small bowl, mix 2 Tbsp olive oil with 1 drop of thyme or coriander seed oil and 2 drops of lemon oil—drizzle this into the soup once served, with freshly milled black pepper.
Hania Opienski runs cooking and raw chocolate-making classes with essential oils: firstname.lastname@example.org