How To Cook (Safely) With Food Grade Essential Oils
Why People Are Turning To Essential Oils for Cooking & Baking
Due to the many mental, emotional, and physical health benefits, the therapeutic use of essential oils (aromatherapy) is a well-known practice for medicinal purposes.
But what about using essential oils (EOs) in the kitchen?
Although this might not seem like a familiar concept the truth is that global food and beverage industries have been using EOs as flavoring agents for over 100 years.
For example, of the tens of millions of pounds of spearmint production in the U.S., it’s estimated that about 30% is used for chewing gum and 10% for candy. (1)
If you walk down any grocery store aisle you’re sure to find one or more processed foods whose natural flavors are derived from EOs.
It’s also known that some EOs are used as food preservatives. (2)
It’s true that for certain circumstances you can reap more therapeutic benefits from inhaling or topically applying EOs rather than from ingesting them.
And it’s also true that safely cooking and baking with EOs can add to your overall well-being too.
Because using EOs in the kitchen adds flavor, nutritional support, and fragrance intensity to anything from flavored water, smoothies, soups, bread, marinades, and sauces.
Plus, flavoring your food with organic essential oils is far better than ingesting artificial flavorings and preservatives.
Four benefits of using high-quality EOs safely for cooking & baking: (3)
- They help break down your food better and can aid in the digestion of meats.
- They act as antioxidants that can help keep inflammation at bay
- They serve as antimicrobial agents and food pathogen inhibitors
- They are toxicity-reducing agents
EO Cooking Safety Concerns & Controversy
Orally consuming oils seems to be a source of controversy amongst the EO community.
Some claim that it simply isn’t safe to ever ingest EOs.
Others say that it’s okay to take EOs orally as long as they are used safely and with direct supervision of a knowledgeable health professional.
And others believe that if you do your due diligence, research every high-quality EO you’re looking to ingest, and are aware of the contraindications, then you can proceed with caution and use the oils for internal purposes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created a comprehensive list of EOs that are considered ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) for ingestion provided the oils are undiluted, solvent-free, and consumed in an appropriate quantity and as described. (4)
This list is not exhaustive.
The FDA doesn’t regulate EOs so it’s on you to do your own research and make up your own decisions when looking to purchase any oil.
It’s important to keep in mind that EOs are potent concentrated natural oils derived from plant material.
These oils contain hundreds of active compounds that can influence the body’s function.
They must be treated with care and respect and caution.
It’s also important to keep in mind that cooking and baking with EOs in minimal amounts is not the same as using EOs for therapeutic internal use.
Here are some key safety points to keep in mind before you start using EOs orally:
- Possible interactions with medication and prescriptions – if you’re currently taking any medication, whether prescribed or over-the-counter check with your medical professional first beforehand as some oils are known to interact with medication.
- Known or unknown food allergies and sensitivities – Be mindful of avoiding oils you know you’re allergic to. It’s also helpful to test for other possible unknown allergies and sensitivities before ingesting oils. If you experience any sort of adverse reaction stop using the oil immediately.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women – Do not ingest oils of any kind if you are pregnant or nursing. Many oils can impact hormones, stimulate the uterus, and may even cause miscarriage.
- Children and babies – It isn’t safe for babies and children to ingest oils as EOs are potent and may produce adverse effects in younger individuals.
The 10 Best Essential Oils For Cooking & Baking
The first and foremost rule of thumb for cooking with essential oils is this:
Less is more. Always use them in moderation.
You can categorize EOs into four groups for the kitchen:
(Note: It is your responsibility to thoroughly check every company and label of EOs you’re using. Motherhood Community is not responsible for any misuse or possible adverse effects.)
Peppermint oil (Mentha piperita)
This cooling herb is a powerful pain reliever, digestion aid, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial.
You can add peppermint essential oil to your chocolate smoothie to give it a mint-chip twist, add it to chocolate ice cream to create mint chocolate ice cream, or add a drop or two to the next batch of brownies you make.
You can also try adding a drop or two to your own DIY toothpaste recipe.
Alternatively, you can keep it simple and just add a drop to 1 tsp of raw organic honey and add to any cup of tea.
Contraindications: children under 6 years old, high blood pressure, pregnant and breast-feeding women
Rosemary oil (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary’s fragrant and flavorful profile adds a wonderful depth to a variety of dishes from roasted potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, to broiled chicken.
Simply add 1-2 drops to avocado oil, ghee, or vegan butter to dilute it and marinade your preferred dish.
The active compounds in this oil make it a potent antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and pain reliever.
Contraindications: Pregnant women, epilepsy, high blood pressure, can be toxic if ingested in large quantities.
Oregano oil (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano oil contains a high amount of carvacrol, an active compound that offers potent antibacterial healing properties that can defend against various infections.
It’s a potent anti-inflammatory that’s also very flavorful.
You can add 1-2 drops to marinara sauce the next time you’re craving pasta or lasagna.
Contraindications: Pregnant and breast-feeding women, if you’re taking multiple medications.
Black pepper oil (Piper nigrum)
Black pepper is an anti-inflammatory that also supports good circulation and can help respiratory conditions.
When taken orally it can help to improve digestion.
Again, remember that a little goes a long way so only use 1 drop per recipe.
You can use it to season organic, grass-fed, sustainably, and humanely raised meats or you can add it to marinades and sauces.
Contraindications: Pregnant and breast-feeding women, can cause skin irritation.
Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum)
Cinnamon oil is rich in antioxidants that can help decrease inflammation.
It also supports good digestion and helps to keep blood sugar balanced.
Cinnamon is also known to aid in weight loss, boost heart health, support the immune system, and can even increase sexual arousal.
You can add it to your coffee, cookies, cakes, or even pancakes.
This oil is extremely potent not just in smell and flavor but in effects too.
Use only 1-2 drops per recipe.
Contraindications: Don’t use if pregnant or breastfeeding. May irritate the skin. Avoid if you’re using multiple medications or are on anticoagulants.
Ginger oil (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory that supports the immune system.
It also has antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
You can use it as a digestive aid by adding it to hot water and lemon.
It also makes a wonderful Asian-inspired marinade, vinaigrette, and salad dressing.
Contraindications: Might cause skin irritation if directly applied to the skin, use a carrier oil, and perform a patch test.
Turmeric oil (Curcuma longa)
This vibrant root has been used since biblical times because of its potent healing properties.
In Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, it’s used to stimulate circulation, improve digestion, lower blood pressure, and relieve aches and pains and inflammation.
Mix it with cayenne pepper, apple cider vinegar, and fresh lemon juice to create the Elixir of Life.
You can also add 1 drop of this oil along with 1 drop of ginger oil to coconut milk, raw honey, and cinnamon powder to make a warm cup of Golden Milk.
You can also use it to season and color curry dishes or vegetables.
Contraindications: Avoid during pregnancy. Avoid if using multiple medications. May cause skin sensitivity if used topically.
Lemon oil (Citrus limon)
Lemon essential oil is effective at stimulating the lymphatic system, which is an important part of the immune system because it stores and transports white blood cells throughout the body via lymph fluid.
This versatile oil is also a potent antioxidant, antibacterial, and antifungal.
You can use it wherever a recipe calls for lemon zest.
It makes an excellent addition to marinades, sauces, and vinaigrettes.
Contraindications: Non-distilled lemon oil is phototoxic – avoid direct exposure to sunlight at least 12 hours after applying topically, may cause skin irritation (perform a patch test)
Bergamot oil (Citrus bergamia)
Bergamot is the key ingredient that gives Earl Grey tea its zing.
It’s a natural mood uplifter, anxiety reliever, sedative, and antidepressant.
You can add it to black tea to make your own blend of Earl Grey, or you can add it to sauces, marinades, and vinaigrettes.
Contraindications: Bergamot is phototoxic – avoid direct exposure to sunlight at least 12 hours after applying topically, may cause skin irritation (perform a patch test)
Lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender essential oil is an excellent option if you’re also having trouble sleeping or are experiencing increased stress and anxiety.
It’s also antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and a pain reliever.
Use it with dried chamomile flowers to make an evening tea, add it to lemon juice to make lavender lemonade, or add 1-2 drops to pancake batter.
Contraindications: Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) should be avoided during pregnancy
Others EOs that may be okay to use in cooking and baking*:
- orange oil
*Again, please research the individual companies and labels prior to consuming.
H3 The Pros & Cons of Cooking & Baking With EOs
- EOs are potent. A little goes a long way, especially for cooking and flavoring. This means that you’ll get more ‘bang for your buck’ with EOs when you compare the prices of the whole herbs, roots, spices, and citrus.
- Using 100% organic, pure essential oils is a relatively low-risk way to flavor your favorite recipes and add depth to your favorite meals without having to use chemical-laden additives and preservatives.
- Using EOs to flavor food is tried and true. The global food and beverage industries have been using them as flavoring agents for over 100 years.
- When used safely and correctly, safe to ingest (food grade) helps to sanitize and clean food and produce helping prevent foodborne illness.
- EOs also act as digestive aids that help break down food, especially meats.
- Many EOs are packed with antioxidants that can help fight inflammation.
- EOs are potent. If you use more than is suggested you could experience adverse reactions.
- If you don’t properly dilute your EOs before ingesting them they can damage your gut microbiome, your GI tract lining, liver, and kidneys.
- You really need to do your own due diligence and research prior to using EOs for cooking as some oils are not meant to be used in the kitchen.
- Unfortunately, there are many adulterated EO products out in the market that feature misleading claims and labels. It’s estimated that more than 75% of all EO on the market are either diluted or contaminated with synthetic material. (5)
- Certain EOs are toxic when ingested and should never be used for cooking or baking. I.e.: wintergreen, tea tree, eucalyptus.
- It’s best to not cook with EOs for social functions or gatherings because the potential risk to pregnant women, children, or those with allergies or on multiple medications is higher.
H2 How To Choose the Right High-Quality Essential Oils For Cooking & Baking
As mentioned, many oils out in the market are diluted, contain solvents or synthetic material, and may be very harmful to your health – especially if ingested.
There are many smart marketers that make certain claims and use strategic words to make their products appear a certain way.
Since the FDA doesn’t regulate essential oils you must proceed with caution and a healthy amount of skepticism when choosing oils.
The following are 7 factors to consider when choosing safe and high-grade oils and brands to purchase for cooking and baking.
- Always choose 100% certified organic
This is especially true when cooking with essential oils.
The last thing you want is to ingest pesticides and other harmful chemicals, right?
- Differentiate between ‘therapeutic grade’ vs ‘food-grade essential oils’
The highest quality oils are certified organic and for therapeutic purposes and indicate so on the label.
Oils that are marketed as ‘therapeutic grade’ aren’t necessarily fit for human consumption.
In order to determine whether a brand is safe or not look at the label to see if the GRAS status is on it. (Remember GRAS is the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe status).
You can also look for a supplement or nutrition label on the bottle.
If it’s not there, have a look at the company’s product description.
- Check that testing has been done
Any reputable company will disclose whether or not their products have undergone independent testing. The most reliable test is called GC/MS (gas chromatography and mass spectrometry).
GC/MS testing detects additives, solvents, mixed oils, and other chemicals.
- Research the company
Are they reputable?
Do they easily disclose testing results?
Are they responsive when you ask questions?
Again, be aware of good marketers vs good products.
- Check the label
Is the certified organic stamp visible?
Is the Latin name (botanical name) on it along with the common name?
Does it state if it’s safe to ingest or GRAS status?
Is there an expiration date?
- Check the price
Is the price similar to other similar products on the market?
A noticeably low price should be a warning sign.
You don’t want to go cheap on oils you’re planning to ingest.
Higher-quality oils can command a premium price, which is worth it if you’re using them for cooking or baking.
- Check in with yourself
Learn to be your own judge and use all of your senses to assess the oil.
Trust your intuition and your body’s feedback.
If you experience an ‘off’ reaction or adverse response to the oil stop using it immediately.
Don’t forget to check in with your healthcare provider first before you use an oil internally if you’re on any sort of medication.
Cooking With EOs 101: 6 Best Practices
- Only use 1-3 drops per dish, which is the safe and ideal amount when cooking/baking.
Wait at least 4 hours before consuming more.
- Always dilute your EOs with a carrier oil like coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil.
This ensures that the oil is safe to ingest while also spreading the flavors and compounds throughout the entire dish and recipe.
For baking and sweet recipes, you can dilute your EO into honey, liquid stevia, or syrup.
- Use the Toothpick Method for recipes that call for very small amounts.
Sometimes you’ll need less than a drop of your favorite essential oil to make a recipe pop.
The Toothpick Method involves dipping the pick into the oil and then using it as a stirring agent for the recipe. If you feel like you need more, then just go ahead and repeat the process as needed.
- Use the Dropper Method to ensure safety.
Most EO bottles come with a manual dropper, but if they don’t you can find some economical options online.
Using a dropper will ensure you don’t go overboard with dosages.
Remember, 1-3 drops per dish max.
Smaller dishes may only require 1 drop.
- Get familiar with the proper servings/conversions:
Remember that EOs are highly concentrated plant, herb, spice, fruit, and flower material.
This means that smaller quantities of the oil are much more potent than the whole or ground form of the herb, spice, etc.
The general conversion is that 1 drop of EO more or less equals 1 tablespoon of ground or powdered herb, spice, etc.
- Use the Delayed Timing Method.
When it comes to EOs in the kitchen just remember that later is better.
EOs are volatile and sensitive compounds that can quickly evaporate in high temperatures and heat.
Add the oils once the dish is done cooking or baking if you can.
This will help to keep the flavor and fragrance strong.
Sometimes you won’t be able to help baking with EOs and that’s ok too.
You’ll still be able to enjoy their culinary effects and benefits.
- The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Wormwood
- Essential Oils Revolution Online Summit, Interview with Robert Pappas, “Essential Oil Preparation”