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.
- 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.
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 want 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.