Essential oils in my food???

Essential Oils

There are essential oils in my food? Wait, what?  Why?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me explain the two different ways that eos are used in food.

  1. Food Preservation

Essential oils can serve a very vital purpose and prevent the growth of certain food-borne bacteria, such as L. monocytogenes (this is just one example).  L monocytogenes causes the illness, listeria, which leads to many deaths every year.  Pregnant women are often advised to avoid processed deli meats and other foods that are higher risk for listeria. Studies have shown promising evidence of some essential oils being useful at inhibiting the monotyogenes growth, even at low dilutions.

Other studies (below) have demonstrated the ability of cinnamon bark essential oil to damage the cellular structure of Staphylococcus aureus, amongst other bacteria. Because of its extreme antimicrobial acitivity, it is a useful food additive, as well as  preservative.

If you are interested in natural ways to preserve your food then take a look at these two links below.  I looked for scientific sources that carefully evaluate data, so potential bias is minimized.

Essential Oils in Food Preservation

Essential oils may provide good source of food preservation

2. Flavoring

Most of us are probably not looking for ways to preserve our food but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still use essential oils in our food and beverages.  *This is NOT the same thing as internal ingestion, which is a super hot button in the aromatherapy community.  That pertains to ingesting essential oils in water, gel capsules, or directly dropping them onto the tongue.  Essential oil dispersed in food will act very differently in your body and is less likely to cause irritation.*  We are talking about using essential oils that are recognized by the FDA to be safe in appropriate dilutions and are labeled as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe).  Fun fact: this has been going on forever.  The food industry uses tons of essential oils in foods and drinks, often being directly responsible for their characteristic taste.

Fun fact: Juniper berries are responsible for gin’s characteristic taste!  

 

If you are the adventurous type and what to try some essential oils in your cooking, here are some tips below.  At some point I plan to do a post on making extracts, such as vanilla.

But first, Safety.  Repeat after me: OIL DOES NOT DISSOLVE IN WATER. Again. OIL DOES NOT DISSOLVE IN WATER.  You cannot put a few drops of essential oil in a glass of water and drink it safely. Oil does not dissolve in water, it isn’t water soluble. It will adhere directly to the lining of your throat as soon as it comes in contact. Anyone that tells you otherwise is not a trained aromatherapist. Or scientist.  It is indisputable chemistry.

Make sure your oils are very high quality.  No one wants to go eating a bunch of toxic diethyl phthalate used as a cheap filler or solvent in their essential oils.  See my blog on finding quality essential oils.

Start with one drop. They are very potent.  You can always add more, but you can’t undo a burning mouth or throat as easily. 

Add the oils near the end of the cooking as heat will damage them and potentially change their chemical properties.

Start simple. A couple of suggestions:

  • A drop of lemon in your cream cheese, icing, or pankcake batter is delicious.
  • Try a drop of cinnamon or nutmeg in your coffee or fall desserts.
  • How about peppermint in your homemade mint ice cream?

I’m sure there are plenty of recipes on Pinterest that you can try.  Keep in mind this is becoming a trend, so it may appear to be a new thing but it isn’t.  Like I mentioned above, this has been done in the food industry for ages.  If you are interested in giving it a shot, let me know how it works out.  And share some recipes!   

*Département De Biologie, Faculté Des Sciences, Université Abdelmalek Essaâdi, Tétouan, Morocco. “Functional and Ultrastructural Changes in Pseudomonas Aeruginosa and Staphylococcus Aureus Cells Induced by Cinnamomum Verum Essential Oil.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

 

The Birds and the Bees

Okay, we admit it.  We wanted to catch your attention, we aren’t really going to discuss the birds and the bees.  Just the bees.  Beeswax, specifically.  For our vegan friends, be aware that no bees are harmed, it’s just a byproduct.

Bees fly up to 3 miles away from their hives, collecting pollen wherever they go.  They take this back to their hive to make honey.  Worker bees produce wax in their abdominal glands and leave in or around the hive.  The wax is then used for various structural purposes in the hive: making cells to store honey, comfort for larvae, and protection. Once beekeepers extract the honey they have cera alba a.k.a. beeswax.

Since ancient times beeswax has had a LOT of uses.  Ever heard the phrase “mind your beeswax”?  We actually learned of the origin of the phrase while on a White House tour but you can learn about it here.  Beeswax has been used for centuries in salves, candles, sealants, etc.

According to Wikipedia,   “…it has been found in the tombs of Egypt, in wrecked Viking ships, and in Roman ruins. Beeswax never goes bad and can be heated and reused.”

Beeswax is used in the modern food industry to coat cheese during the aging process,  seal in food to maintain freshness, and as a glaze.  It is edible but does not have any real health benefits when consumed.  The thought of chewing on beeswax isn’t all the appealing, anyway.

As a natural, hypoallergenic emollient, beeswax really shines when used for all the things that we love most: health and beauty products.  It serves as an excellent barrier (think petroleum jelly but without the whole crude oil byproduct part) for the skin and lips.  When applied topically, the Vitamin A in beeswax, combined with its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, make it an excellent choice for treating acne, dry skin, eczema, stretch marks, and stimulating hair growth.

Our favorite thing about beeswax?  What it can do for allergies.  It’s used by many to help alleviate allergy symptoms since it’s natural properties protect the skin from airborne allergens.  When applied topically it serves as an excellent barrier (while still moisturizing the skin).  When used in a candle, it may benefit allergy sufferers since it is believed that the candles emit negative ions that “clean” the air of many allergens.  This is supposedly done when the negative ions bind with the positive ions (in this case the allergens) and neutralize each other.  I’ve seen no scientific studies proving or disproving this, but it’s a nice thought.  See why we choose beeswax for our candles.

Unless the beeswax is USDA Certified Organic, there is no way of knowing if the bees use pollen laden in toxic pesticides (to be fair, that’s not an absolute guarantee, either). This ends up in the wax and inside your body since what you breathe is absorbed into the body.  No one wants to breathe in vanilla-scented pesticide so logically you would want to make sure your beeswax was as pure as possible.

You may not want to spend more money on organic beeswax and essential oils but it could save your health.  Read product labels and descriptions carefully.  Ask questions about how the product is made and where the ingredients come from.  Above all else, educate yourself.  You are the consumer and you deserve better.