Can I use Essential Oils in Cooking?
Now this is a good question! There has been a lot of controversy over whether to use essential oils (EO) in cooking or not. All the governing bodies of Aromatherapy and Aromatic Medicine advise not to take EOs internally unless advised by a practitioner. Yet, there is now a trend to use EOs in cooking. As a busy mum, I completely understand that it’s easier to use what you have at home rather than buying in something just for one recipe. We all have those crazy cravings for peppermint slice at 9pm on a Friday night, right?!
However, as an aromatherapist myself I would not use EOs in my cooking. Why? Well, safety.
Let’s have a quick look at some of the safety issues of using EOs in cooking so you can make your own informed decision.
EOs are the whole plant, part concentrated.
EOs are usually made by a process of steam distillation, and you can get EOs from different parts of a plant such as the leaves, flowers, fruits or seeds. Not only do you get all the flavours and aromas of the plant concentrated but also all the other chemical components, many of which have activity on different body systems – that’s why EOs are so good for therapeutic use!
Consider using 1 drop of Peppermint EO in a cake. That would convert to a rather lot of peppermint leaves, would you eat a cake with that much peppermint through it?
EOs are not as safe as Extracts or Essences
Extracts can either be herbal infusions or additionally refined EOs to remove the unwanted and unsafe components of the EO. Essences are synthetic versions of the plant flavouring and aroma compounds, often with added food colourants, I know, not ideal!
EOs have contra-indications of when they shouldn’t be used
Do you know the contra-indications of common EOs? Which ones are safe in pregnancy, in diabetics and those with high blood pressure or heart conditions? There are a lot of myths about which EOs are ‘safe’ and which are not. Your best source of information will always be your local Aromatherapist or Aromatic Medicine practitioner. Remember just because it’s written online or in a sales pamphlet doesn’t mean that it’s right for you.
Peppermint, Cinnamon, Oregano and Basil are some common EOs recommended for use in cooking but did you know they have the following contra-indicators?
- Peppermint – Should be avoided by certain ethnic groups due to a hereditary blood enzyme deficiency (G6PD) which will trigger a blood reaction. Activates enzymes within the liver that can interfere with metabolism of certain drugs, such as those prescribed in managing high blood pressure. Should be avoided by people with cardiac rhythm disturbances and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Cinnamon (Bark) – Should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women, anyone who is taking antidiabetic or anticoagulant medication. Can alter serotonin levels in people taking antidepressants making them vulnerable to Serotonin syndrome.
- Oregano – Should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women, any taking diabetic medication, anticoagulant medication, having undergone major surgery, or has any bleeding disorders.
- Basil – So many different types! Depending on the plant species used there are either a long list of contra-indications to none!Educate yourself on the safety of EOs, who should use them, how they should be used and how much. It’s important to beinformed before using EOs on yourself or other people.
Not all EOs are created equal
One factor we haven’t mentioned is how can we be sure that the EOs we are using are pure and unadulterated? Often EOs are adulterated with cheaper EOs, (such as Cornmint in place of Peppermint) or with added synthetic components to improve the fragrance and make the oil appear higher in quality that it is.
The only purity test
The only true way to determine if an EO is pure is by chemical testing and reputable suppliers will be able to supply this information if you ask. There are published guidelines on the chemical profiles of different EOs and this is important as some batches may contain more allergenic or toxic compounds as this will vary depending on where the plant was grown, soil compositions, seasonality and sub-species of plant. As a professional aromatherapist I do not subscribe to any particular brand, but rather seek the best supplier for each EO I use.
Ultimately you need to decide if using EOs in your cooking is right for you and the people you feed. I would rather make some lovely homemade infusions or use organic extracts so I can get the best flavours and aromas in my cooking, without the added stress of worrying if it is safe for everyone I try and palm the cakes off to!
Adele Lee-Wriede, BSc, MSc (Hons). Dip Aromatherapy
Scientist, Aromatherapist and Mother of one fun-loving little girl, Adele is the founder and director of Honestly, handcrafted organic skin care that nurtures your family whilst providing ample opportunities for fun and bonding.