No tarragon on hand? Want an economical substitute for an expensive spice like cardamom? Looking to
add a pop of flavor to your favorite recipes? Essential oils might be the answer — as long as they’re used
safely and responsibly.
A quick disclaimer
We encourage creativity in the kitchen, but in this case, it’s important to follow these safety guidelines.
Please note that not all oils are created equal, and not all oils are safe for consumption. In fact, cooking
with essential oils is a controversial topic since it can be dangerous to use the wrong type of oil, the
wrong brand, or to use too much.
We are not doctors, scientists, or medical professionals. If you have any underlying conditions, or are
pregnant, or have any questions or doubts at all, we recommend checking with your family doctor before
cooking with essential oils. Do your research on your own health and on the brand of oils you’ll be using
before you try cooking with essential oils.
Choosing a safe, edible oil
Any time you’re using essential oils for cooking, they should be diluted with fat, and never ingested
directly. But, that’s ok because just a single drop of oil can add a big boost of flavor!
Look for brands labeled as food grade. Check the bottle, and call the company if you want to be extra
certain. Better yet, order directly from brands that produce lines of oils specifically for use in cooking. In
Jeni’s ice cream book (to be discussed shortly), she suggests the Chef’s Essences® collection from
Aftelier Perfumes. (There’s even a Jeni’s Ice Cream Set !)
Now, on to the ice cream!
At the beginning of summer, I made a sweet decision. I finally bought an ice cream maker. And it was
only $30! Like so many people, I worship the cool, creamy concoction that is ice cream, and could (and
often do) eat it on a daily basis. I’ve dreamt of finding a DIY ice cream routine at home, of having a
regular supply of the sweet treat shaped into whatever unique flavor my mouth desires.
Among our collection of cookbooks is a copy of “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home,” recipes for the
hip, creative flavors of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams based in Columbus, Ohio. There are flavors like
Bangkok Peanut, Gorgonzola Dolce with Candied Walnuts, Lime Cardamom frozen yogurt, and Beet ice
cream with Mascarpone, Orange Zest, and Poppy Seeds.
Eager to try out my new ice cream maker, I turned to a personal favorite from Jeni’s shops — Wild
Berry Lavender ice cream. I have a stock of dried lavender flowers that I’ve used in shortbread cookies
and expected to put them to use here. But instead of calling for fresh or dried lavender, Jeni’s recipe uses
lavender essential oil. It added the soft, floral essence of the flavor without making the ice cream taste like
a potpourri. This revelation led me to ponder the many possibilities of food grade essential oils in the
Although my sweet tooth is pretty fixated on the idea of experimenting with more essential oils in ice
cream, these oils have much broader uses in the kitchen. A drop of orange in a stir fry adds a citrus brightness.
Two drops of spearmint in a pitcher of black iced tea makes a lovely summer beverage.
With essential oils, a little goes a long way. The above ice cream recipe uses just two drops of lavender
and three drops of sweet orange for one quart of ice cream. You can replace extracts with safe essential oil
in baked goods or chocolates, and should use about 1/4 of the amount of extract called for in the recipe.
Herb oils like rosemary or basil are lovely in sweets, too, but can also bring a bright dash of their herby
flavor to savory cooking. To use essential oils in a savory recipe, wait until the end of the recipe, and stir
them into some oil or butter before adding. Be sure to only add a drop at a time, because a drop may be all
that you need.
Essential oils are an economical flavor-enhancing tool to have in the kitchen. They add a bright and
concentrated flavor of whatever plant they’re derived from. As long as you’re using essential oils safely,
you can have a lot of fun tweaking your favorite recipes with their presence.
by Katrina Eresman