Using Essential Oils In Your Food

Using Essential Oils in your food

Essential oils have become widely popular and have a broad variety of uses.  So, you will probably not be surprised to know that essential oils can be used as a flavoring agent for your food.  In fact, for many years, the food industry has been using essential oils as an ingredient in a wide variety of products. 

Despite what some essential oil companies want you to believe, typically, essential oils should not be ingested as a self-treatment for some ailments.  Although some essential oils can be used to treat certain conditions, you should not be ingesting essential oils to treat conditions because a website said essential oils are safe to ingest, unless you know what you are doing.

That is because there can be many adverse side effects and the long-term effects of many of the chemical compounds that make up the essential oil have not been studied on the human body.  This does not mean these compounds are bad for you, it just means it is currently unknown whether some essential oils contain compounds in quantities that may be harmful to you.

But using essential oils in your food can be safe if done properly. 

In this article, we will explore incorporating essential oils into your food.  We will first look at what essential oils can be used in your food.  We will then discuss the importance of the purity of the essential oil.  Next, we will discuss essential oil classifications.  Next, we will look at the benefits of using essential oils in your food, and finally, we will look at some examples of where you can use essential oils in your food.

List of oils approved to be used as a flavoring

Some essential oils have been approved by the FDA as food flavoring.

Section 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act states that substances added to food are unsafe unless the substance is in conformance with a regulation describing the conditions under which the substance may be safely used or unless the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

For essential oils, the FDA has listed the following 160 essential oils that are qualified as GRAS as of 2021.

(Mobile users – if you do not see the entire table, there is a scroll bar at the bottom of the page)

 Common nameBotanical name of plant source
1AlfalfaMedicago sativa L.
2AllspicePimenta officinalis Lindl.
3Almond, bitter (free from prussic acid)Prunus amygdalus Batsch, Prunus armeniaca L., or Prunus persica (L.) Batsch.
4Ambrette (seed)Hibiscus moschatus Moench.
5Angelica rootAngelica archangelica L.
6Angelica seedDo.
7Angelica stemDo.
8Angostura (cusparia bark)Galipea officinalis Hancock.
9AnisePimpinella anisum L.
10AsafetidaFerula assa-foetida L. and related spp. of Ferula.
11Balm (lemon balm)Melissa officinalis L.
12Balsam of PeruMyroxylon pereirae Klotzsch.
13BasilOcimum basilicum L.
14Bay leavesLaurus nobilis L.
15Bay (myrcia oil)Pimenta racemosa (Mill.) J. W. Moore.
16Bergamot (bergamot orange)Citrus aurantium L. subsp. bergamia Wright et Arn.
17Bitter almond (free from prussic acid)Prunus amygdalus Batsch, Prunus armeniaca L., or Prunus persica (L.) Batsch.
18Bois de roseAniba rosaeodora Ducke.
19CacaoTheobroma cacao L.
20Camomile (chamomile) flowers, HungarianMatricaria chamomilla L.
21Camomile (chamomile) flowers, Roman or EnglishAnthemis nobilis L.
22CanangaCananga odorata Hook. f. and Thoms.
23CapsicumCapsicum frutescens L. and Capsicum annuum L.
24CarawayCarum carvi L.
25Cardamom seed (cardamon)Elettaria cardamomum Maton.
26Carob beanCeratonia siliqua L.
27CarrotDaucus carota L.
28Cascarilla barkCroton eluteria Benn.
29Cassia bark, ChineseCinnamomum cassia Blume.
30Cassia bark, Padang or BataviaCinnamomum burmanni Blume.
31Cassia bark, SaigonCinnamomum loureirii Nees.
32Celery seedApium graveolens L.
33Cherry, wild, barkPrunus serotina Ehrh.
34ChervilAnthriscus cerefolium (L.) Hoffm.
35ChicoryCichorium intybus L.
36Cinnamon bark, CeylonCinnamomum zeylanicum Nees.
37Cinnamon bark, ChineseCinnamomum cassia Blume.
38Cinnamon bark, SaigonCinnamomum loureirii Nees.
39Cinnamon leaf, CeylonCinnamomum zeylanicum Nees.
40Cinnamon leaf, ChineseCinnamomum cassia Blume.
41Cinnamon leaf, SaigonCinnamomum loureirii Nees.
42CitronellaCymbopogon nardus Rendle.
43Citrus peelsCitrus spp.
44Clary (clary sage)Salvia sclarea L.
45CloverTrifolium spp.
46Coca (decocainized)Erythroxylum coca Lam. and other spp. of Erythroxylum.
47CoffeeCoffea spp.
48Cola nutCola acuminata Schott and Endl., and other spp. of Cola.
49CorianderCoriandrum sativum L.
50Cumin (cummin)Cuminum cyminum L.
51Curacao orange peel (orange, bitter peel)Citrus aurantium L.
52Cusparia barkGalipea officinalis Hancock.
53DandelionTaraxacum officinale Weber and T. laevigatum DC.
54Dandelion rootDo.
55Dog grass (quackgrass, triticum)Agropyron repens (L.) Beauv.
56Elder flowersSambucus canadensis L. and S. nigra I.
57Estragole (esdragol, esdragon, tarragon)Artemisia dracunculus L.
58Estragon (tarragon)Do.
59Fennel, sweetFoeniculum vulgare Mill.
60FenugreekTrigonella foenum-graecum L.
61Galanga (galangal)Alpinia officinarum Hance.
62GeraniumPelargonium spp.
63Geranium, East IndianCymbopogon martini Stapf.
64Geranium, rosePelargonium graveolens L'Her.
65GingerZingiber officinale Rosc.
66GrapefruitCitrus paradisi Macf.
67GuavaPsidium spp.
68Hickory barkCarya spp.
69Horehound (hoarhound)Marrubium vulgare L.
70HopsHumulus lupulus L.
71HorsemintMonarda punctata L.
72HyssopHyssopus officinalis L.
73ImmortelleHelichrysum augustifolium DC.
74JasmineJasminum officinale L. and other spp. of Jasminum.
75Juniper (berries)Juniperus communis L.
76Kola nutCola acuminata Schott and Endl., and other spp. of Cola.
77Laurel berriesLaurus nobilis L.
78Laurel leavesLaurus spp.
79LavenderLavandula officinalis Chaix.
80Lavender, spikeLavandula latifolia Vill.
81LavandinHybrids between Lavandula officinalis Chaix and Lavandula latifolin Vill.
82LemonCitrus limon (L.) Burm. f.
83Lemon balm (see balm)
84Lemon grassCymbopogon citratus DC. and Cymbopogon lexuosus Stapf.
85Lemon peelCitrus limon (L.) Burm. f.
86LimeCitrus aurantifolia Swingle.
87Linden flowersTilia spp.
88Locust beanCeratonia siliqua L,
89LupulinHumulus lupulus L.
90MaceMyristica fragrans Houtt.
91MandarinCitrus reticulata Blanco.
92Marjoram, sweetMajorana hortensis Moench.
93MateIlex paraguariensis St. Hil.
94Melissa (see balm)
95MentholMentha spp.
96Menthyl acetateDo.
97Molasses (extract)Saccarum officinarum L.
98MustardBrassica spp.
99NaringinCitrus paradisi Macf.
100Neroli, bigaradeCitrus aurantium L.
101NutmegMyristica fragrans Houtt.
102OnionAllium cepa L.
103Orange, bitter, flowersCitrus aurantium L.
104Orange, bitter, peelDo.
105Orange leafCitrus sinensis (L.) Osbeck.
106Orange, sweetDo.
107Orange, sweet, flowersDo.
108Orange, sweet, peelDo.
109OriganumOriganum spp.
110PalmarosaCymbopogon martini Stapf.
111PaprikaCapsicum annuum L.
112ParsleyPetroselinum crispum (Mill.) Mansf.
113Pepper, blackPiper nigrum L.
114Pepper, whiteDo.
115PeppermintMentha piperita L.
116Peruvian balsamMyroxylon pereirae Klotzsch.
117PetitgrainCitrus aurantium L.
118Petitgrain lemonCitrus limon (L.) Burm. f.
119Petitgrain mandarin or tangerineCitrus reticulata Blanco.
120PimentaPimenta officinalis Lindl.
121Pimenta leafPimenta officinalis Lindl.
122Pipsissewa leavesChimaphila umbellata Nutt.
123PomegranatePunica granatum L.
124Prickly ash barkXanthoxylum (or Zanthoxylum) Americanum Mill. or Xanthoxylum clava-herculis L.
125Rose absoluteRosa alba L., Rosa centifolia L., Rosa damascena Mill., Rosa gallica L., and vars. of these spp.
126Rose (otto of roses, attar of roses)Do.
127Rose budsDo.
128Rose flowersDo.
129Rose fruit (hips)Do.
130Rose geraniumPelargonium graveolens L'Her.
131Rose leavesRosa spp.
132RosemaryRosmarinus officinalis L.
133SaffronCrocus sativus L.
134SageSalvia officinalis L.
135Sage, GreekSalvia triloba L.
136Sage, SpanishSalvia lavandulaefolia Vahl.
137St. John's breadCeratonia siliqua L.
138Savory, summerSatureia hortensis L.
139Savory, winterSatureia montana L.
140Schinus molleSchinus molle L.
141Sloe berries (blackthorn berries)Prunus spinosa L.
142SpearmintMentha spicata L.
143Spike lavenderLavandula latifolia Vill.
144TamarindTamarindus indica L.
145TangerineCitrus reticulata Blanco.
146TarragonArtemisia dracunculus L.
147TeaThea sinensis L.
148ThymeThymus vulgaris L. and Thymus zygis var. gracilis Boiss.
149Thyme, whiteDo.
150Thyme, wild or creepingThymus serpyllum L.
151Triticum (see dog grass)
152TuberosePolianthes tuberosa L.
153TurmericCurcuma longa L.
154VanillaVanilla planifolia Andr. or Vanilla tahitensis J. W. Moore.
155Violet flowersViola odorata L.
156Violet leavesDo.
157Violet leaves absoluteDo.
158Wild cherry barkPrunus serotina Ehrh.
159Ylang-ylangCananga odorata Hook. f. and Thoms.
160Zedoary barkCurcuma zedoaria Rosc.

If you are interested, here is the official document from the FDA website: Essential oils that are GRAS 

To get this qualification, the essential oil must be evaluated by experts qualified by scientific training and experience to evaluate the safety of the essential oil under its intended use or meets one of the other exclusions from the food additive definition in section 201(s) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).

For additional information, here is the official FDA website describing how they determine the regulatory status of a food ingredient

Keep in mind that these 160 essential oils have been deemed safe to ingest ONLY when used as a food ingredient.  This designation does not mean these essential oils are safe to ingest for anything else other than being used as a flavoring agent. 

In the past, I have come across websites that use the GRAS designation to justify the safe use of ingesting essential oils as a treatment for an ailment.  This is not the case. 

The purity of essential oils

Another important factor to keep in mind is the purity of the essential oil.  Adulteration of essential oils is unfortunately a common practice in the essential oil industry to increase profits.  The price margin between pure essential oils and adulterated essential oils can sometimes be as high as 1000%. 

It is estimated that about 80% of essential oils are adulterated in some fashion.  Companies will use both natural products and synthetic compounds to lower their costs but charge you for pure essential oil.

Some of the adulterations are done using vegetable oil or substituting or mixing an inferior plant species with the essential oil.  In these cases, the essential oil is still usually safe to use as a food flavoring.  You just might not be receiving the best flavoring.  The dilemma is if these companies are charging you for something you are not receiving – that is false advertising.

The biggest problem is many essential oils are adulterated with many types of synthetic compounds, some of which may not be healthy to ingest.  Some of these common compounds include ethyl vanillin, cyclamen aldehyde, galaxolide, various alcohols, etc. 

Essential oils are made from expensive raw materials, a lot of labor, and investments.  If you are purchasing a bottle of essential oil for a few dollars, chances are very high that you are purchasing an adulterated essential oil. 

For example, here at Enchanted Aromatics, we sell a 1-ounce bottle of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) for $22.50 (which has been independently tested for purity).  On Amazon, you can find a supposed 4-ounce bottle of Lavandula angustifolia for $9.99.  I promise this 4-ounce bottle has been heavily adulterated despite the claim of being premium quality and therapeutic grade.

Pure Lavandula angustifolia is too expensive to be sold at this cheap price.

Not all adulterated essential oils are bad if the essential oil is marked as being adulterated. 

For example, we sell lavandin, which is a 100% pure hybridization of two species of lavender – the more expensive Lavandula angustifolia and the less expensive Lavandula latifolia.  This less expensive version of lavender is more intense and sharper and has a higher camphor content compared to pure Lavandula angustifolia and is a little less expensive.

Another form of lavender is lavender 40/42.  This is a 100% natural lavender that has several lavender oils blended so it contains 40% linalool and 42% acetate, which are the two primary compounds that occur in lavender.  By doing this, a standardized lavender aroma can be created.  This is important since the aroma of lavender can vary between lots.

Even the biggest essential oil companies are not free from adulteration.  The adulteration can occur anywhere in the process.  It is not uncommon that essential oil can pass through half a dozen brokers before reaching the end customer.  Anywhere along this line, the oil can be adulterated so someone can increase their profits.

To avoid these problems, purchase your essential oils from a company that has independent testing done on their essential oils.  Here at Enchanted Aromatics, both Sparoom and Artisan Aromatics have their essential oils tested by independent labs.  Many other companies also have their essential oils tested for purity. 

The bottom line is to avoid those inexpensive essential oils.

What are the benefits of using essential oils in your food?

Keep in mind that not all essential oils are safe to consume.  Some essential oils can cause you to become extremely ill and can also result in death.  Also, the long-term effects of using essential oils regularly have not been studied.  For more information about the safety of essential oils, check out our article “Hidden Dangers In Essential Oils”. 

But with that said, there are benefits to using essential oils in your food.  Here are a few of those benefits:

1Many essential oils smell wonderful, so it should be no surprise that many essential oils can also taste just as wonderful. Since essential oils are so concentrated, that little bottle can go a long way.
Imagine you made a pitcher of plain black tea, and you wish to add lemon flavor to your tea. Just add 1 or 2 drops of lemon essential oil and you instantly have lemon flavored tea.
2Some recipes call for an ingredient that may be uncommon or difficult to locate. An example would be a recipe that calls for dried lavender flowers. If you are lucky, you may have a local health food store that carries dried lavender flowers. If not, lavender essential oil is one of the most popular essential oils you can purchase.
The best part is if you are using lavender essential oil in your recipes, lavender essential oil will last for over 4 years if stored properly.
3You can use essential oils as a flavor substitute. Citrus essential oils work great for substituting fresh fruit. Lemon, lemon zest, grapefruit, lime, and orange essential oils make great substitutes.
Minty essential oils such as peppermint also make good substitutes. Generally, one drop is equivalent to a teaspoon of herb or spice, but the amount can vary.
When first starting out, less is better until you figure out the correct proportions.
4There can also be a cost benefit to using essential oils versus herbs. The amount it costs to purchase fresh herbs such as lavender can become pricey. Since essential oils are so concentrated, you typically only need to use a drop or two.
For example, to make a small 15 ml (1/2 oz.) bottle of lavender, it takes about 8 pounds of lavender flowers. To purchase the same amount of dried lavender, it would cost you around $168.
5Another benefit is space savings. A small 10-30 ml bottle of essential oil takes up much less space compared to the same amount of fresh or dried herb. 8 pounds of dried lavender takes up about 64 cups.
Imagine how much space 8 pounds of lavender flowers would take up in your storage space compared to a ½ oz. bottle of lavender essential oil.
6Although it is still early, there is growing research that some essential oils may improve your physical health. Some research suggests that certain essential oils may have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Some essential oils have also been shown to have a detoxifying effect on the body. Some research also suggests certain essential oils can support healthy immune, neurological, and nervous system functions.
7Essential oils have longer shelf lives compared to fresh or dried herbs and spices. Essential oils are a bit more costly during the initial purchase but with their long shelf lives, they will prove to be much more cost effective.

Culinary or food-grade oils versus non-food grade essential oils

First, there are no official classifications of essential oils.  Sure, some essential oils are organic and non-organic, but there is no “food grade” essential oils, despite advertising you may see on the internet.  The food-grade classification is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. 

Remember, ALL essential oils are toxic at high enough doses.

Essential oils claiming to be “Food grade” essential oils aren’t tested, approved, or certified for internal use by the government.

Generally, if you see websites saying their essential oils as food-grade, this usually just means the essential oils they are selling have received the GRAS classification from the FDA.  This classification does not refer to how the plant was grown, harvested, processed, stored, etc. 

Some of them will also tell you these essential oils are safe for human consumption, but what they don’t tell you is GRAS essential oils are safe for human consumption ONLY when used as a food flavoring.

Another thing to keep in mind is that to classify something as food-grade, federal regulations require that any product that claims to be a food supplement intended for ingestion must bear nutritional facts plus all appropriate serving information for that declared use. 

If companies marketing their essential oils as food-grade do not provide this information, then that is a big red flag.  (Hint – you will not find any companies that claim their essential oils are food grade provide this information.)

Not all essential oils are created equal.  To cut costs, some brands use fillers or synthetics in their essential oils.  Although they still may be safe to ingest, some of these added components may be dangerous to ingest. 

For example, some of these synthetic chemicals include phthalates, which are endocrine disrupters.  Some are even known carcinogens, such as benzene derivatives.  Many essential oils also naturally contain some of these components.  This is why it is very important you only use essential oils that have received the GRAS designation. 

How to use essential oils as a flavoring

Remember that essential oils are extremely concentrated, and a very small amount can go a long way.

Some are more powerful than other essential oils.  Peppermint, clove, cinnamon, lavender, and bergamot are 5 such oils.  With these oils, start by using less than what you think you need.

Note: Of all the essential oils, eucalyptus essential oil sends people to the hospital more than any other essential oil and has resulted in some deaths.  For this reason, it has not received the GRAS designation.  Less than one teaspoon is fatal and much smaller amounts can result in illness.   If you are going to use eucalyptus, use the smallest amount necessary to provide flavoring.

Compared to typical extracts used in baking, for example, essential oils are 3 to 4 times stronger.  When substituting a baking extract with essential oil, start by using ¼ the amount that you would usually use when using a baking extract.

For most oils, one drop replaces a teaspoon of dried herb or spice.

Since essential oils are volatile (which means they evaporate very quickly) you usually want to add the essential oil right towards the end of cooking or just before serving so the cooking process does not destroy the flavoring.  If you are cooking something such as soup or stew, try dipping a toothpick in the essential oil bottle and stir into your recipe before serving.

You know what a pain it can be to grate citruses for recipes that call for citrus zest.  Forget all that.  Use 1/8 teaspoon of essential oil for every 1 tablespoon of zest. 

Examples of where you can use essential oils in your food

It is very important that any essential oils you use in beverages or food be approved for use in food.  Also remember, that not everyone can tolerate essential oils.  For example, if someone is allergic to citrus, using a citrus-based essential oil in their beverage or food could be dangerous.

Also, just because an essential oil may be labeled as USDA Organic, does not mean the essential oil is food safe.  This only refers to the growing, harvesting, and processing processes for that essential oil.

Water

Do not add more than a drop of essential oil to a cup of water.  Better yet, add 1-2 drops in a quart of water and then drink from that.  Remember, essential oils are extremely potent.

For example, adding one drop of peppermint essential oil to a cup of water is equivalent to drinking 28 cups of peppermint tea!

Popular essential oils to add to water include Lemon, peppermint, orange, lavender, and grapefruit.

Lemonade

Adding a few drops of lavender to your lemonade will not only add to the flavor, but the lavender will help add a calming effect and maybe help you de-stress. 

Candies

Since essential oils are soluble in oil, they are perfect for flavoring chocolates and some candies. 

You can find a variety of hard candies being sold that are flavored using essential oils.  Some of the popular essential oils to use include peppermint, lemon, and orange. 

You can use essential oils to flavor good old-fashioned rock candy.  Some popular flavors to try are spearmint, peppermint, cinnamon, orange, grapefruit, or lemon. 

Yogurts and ice creams

Using plain yogurt, you can add flavoring with just a touch of essential oils. 

For lemon-flavored yogurt, for every 1 ½ cups of yogurt, add 2-3 drops of lemon essential oil.  If you want to avoid all the added sugar, try adding 8 to 10 drops of liquid stevia extract.  For an extra punch, add a couple of teaspoons of fresh lemon juice.

By using lemon essential oil in your yogurt, you will add a bright, fresh lemon flavor versus lemon extract which can sometimes be a bit on the bitter side.

Other essential oils that are good to use include lavender, peppermint, cardamom, cinnamon, orange, grapefruit, lime, lemongrass, and tangerine.

Note: in case you are worried about the essential oils killing off the healthy bacteria in your yogurt, several studies have been conducted that seem to indicate may inhibit bacteria but do not reduce bacterial counts. 

Study 1

Study 2 

Pasta

For pasta that uses tomato sauce, try using a drop of the following essential oils: oregano, black pepper, basil, and thyme.  Add the essential oils just before serving for the best results.

When creating a pasta salad, you can use essential oils in the dressing.  Remember, to use no more than 1 or 2 drops of essential oil.  Any dressing that requires basil can be substituted with 1 or 2 drops of basil essential oil.

When making lemon broccoli pasta, substitute the lemon with 1-2 drops of lemon oil.  You may still wish to use fresh lemon wedges as garnishing.

Chinese Dishes

Dishes that require ginger such as Chinese noodles or tofu can be substituted with ginger essential oil.  Lemon and orange essential oils are also popular choices in Chinese dishes.

Breakfasts

Many people like to start their day by eating a bowl of canola.  Try flavoring your canola with a drop of cinnamon bark essential oil.  With your eggs, you can add a drop of thyme or rosemary essential oil. 

Some people like to have a smoothie for breakfast.  You can add a whole variety of essential oils to your smoothie.  Experiment and try mixing essential oils for a customized flavor. 

French toast and pancakes can also have essential oils added to their syrups to make interesting flavors. 

And finally, added a drop to your cereals to add an extra punch.

Other questions

What is the difference between organic essential oils versus non-organic essential oils?

Plants grown organically that essential oils are derived from conserve soil health, avoid the use of prohibited substances, certain pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.  Just because an essential oil has an organic seal of approval does not mean it is free from pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc.

Believe it or not, there is a large number of chemicals that can be used in organically grown plants.  Check out our article “Hidden Dangers In Essential Oils” for a complete list of these substances. 

Also, research has shown organic essential oils are not universally superior to conventional oils.  The reason is that the distillation process removes most, if not all of the synthetic compounds because their molecules are too large to be distilled into the final product. 

An exception is cold-pressed essential oils, mainly citrus oils.  If they are cold-pressed instead of distilled, these synthetic chemicals can be passed on to the essential oil.

Examples of where essential oils are used by the food and drink industries.

The food industry has been using essential oils since the 1950s.

Essential oils are used extensively in the hard candy industry.  Those red and white hard peppermint candies are a perfect example.  Some manufacturers go as far as stating their hard candies don’t include artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, or sweeteners. 

Essential oils are also used in the food industry as a natural preservative, extending the shelf-life of their products.  They are used to preserve fruits, vegetables, fish products, meat products, and dairy products including milk, bread, and baked foods.  For more information, check out this article

Conclusion

The jury is still out about how safe essential oils are to ingest regularly, and in what quantities, but for being used as a food flavoring, essential oils in your food should be safe if you follow the usual precautions concerning essential oils.  Just be very careful how you use them if you choose to do so.

It is my personal opinion that when anything is new and violates a person’s long-held belief systems, people are naturally afraid to try something new and create all kinds of reasons why they should not use it.  As more studies are conducted, I think we will find that most essential oils are safe for us to use, if used correctly.   

Enjoy experimenting with essential oils in the kitchen.  Who knows what you might discover?

DISCLAIMER:

Information provided in this description is for educational purposes only.  For possible treatments of physical or mental diseases, please seek a trained and licensed health professional.  Enchanted Aromatics is not responsible for any adverse side effects resulting from the use of any suggestions, products, preparations, or procedures mentioned or from following historical uses of essential oils.

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