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Cooking with Essential Oils – FAQs and Tips

One great way to give your body the benefits of essential oils is to add them to your cooking. Essential oils can provide amazing flavor to any dish! We want to share with you some of our essential oil cooking tips as well as answer some questions we have often been asked about using essential oils in cooking recipes.

Is it safe to ingest essential oils?

Not all essential oils are safe to ingest. There are a few things you want to know about your essential oil before you use it in your cooking. First, we only recommend using high quality, pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils. Second, the label on your essential oil should state whether or not it is safe to use internally. A good indication is if the label lists supplement facts (which looks like the standard nutrition information label). If you are still unsure of whether your oil is safe to take internally, Modern Essentials lists this information under the Single Essential Oils or Essential Oil Blends sections and also on page 52 (Internal Application section).

Another thing to consider is who you are feeding. Children or pregnant or nursing women may be cautioned against ingesting certain oils. It is always wise to check label instructions for warnings and recommended use, or consult with a certified health care professional for further questions.

However, when using essential oils in cooking, the oils are generally diluted enough and used in small enough quantities that if using essential oils from spices, herbs, or citrus fruits that are commonly used in cooking, the food should be safe for all to eat.

What oils can be used in cooking?

Essential oils that come from spices, herbs, or citrus fruits commonly used in cooking are the best essential oils to incorporate in your food. These oils can include the following:

  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Black Pepper
  • Cardamom
  • Cassia
  • Cilantro
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Ginger
  • Grapefruit
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Marjoram
  • Orange
  • Oregano
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Spearmint
  • Thyme

How much oil do I substitute for herbs?

How much oil to substitute for an herb varies quite a bit depending on the essential oil. Essential oils are very concentrated, so you only need a little bit––typically a drop or two. Some oils are really strong, and you may only need to dip a toothpick in the oil and then stir the toothpick into your mixture.

The number of drops needed in a recipe can also differ based on a number of factors such as when the oils are added, the kind of food or beverage you are preparing, the strength of the oil, and your taste preferences.

If you are adding the oils at the end of cooking, smaller amounts are needed than if adding before baking, simmering, or steaming because oils tend to start to evaporate under heat. It is generally better to stir the essential oil in at the end of cooking or when the food has cooled; but some oils such as basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme are quite strong and may actually benefit from cooking a little to get a milder flavor.

One thing to keep in mind is that oil flavors tend to get stronger the longer the food or beverage has to “steep.” If you are preparing something that will sit in the fridge for a day or two before you eat or drink it, you may want to add your oils an hour or two before serving instead of when you prepare the food or beverage.

With that said, let’s talk about some specific amounts or at least the base line amounts for you to add to according to your taste preferences.

  • Typically, 1 drop of a citrus oil can substitute for 1 tsp. of citrus zest. If the recipe calls for the zest from 1 citrus fruit, you can use 8–14 drops of the citrus essential oil instead.
  • For minty oils such as peppermint and spearmint, try substituting 1 drop for 1 tsp. dried mint leaves or 1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves.
  • Cinnamon and cassia are pretty similar, and typically what we know as ground cinnamon is really ground cassia; however, the strength of their flavor is quite a bit different. You will want to start by substituting 1 drop of cinnamon for 1–2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon and 1 drop of cassia for 1 tsp. ground cinnamon or cassia.
  • For herbaceous oils like basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, dill, etc., start with a toothpick dipped in the oil and stirred into the mixture, and then add more to taste as needed.
  • Floral herbs like lavender can be used in cooking; but because floral flavors are uncommon, you want just a hint of this flavor. Start with a toothpick, and add more if needed.
  • For other flavors, a good rule of thumb is to substitute 1 drop of oil for 1–2 Tbsp. of dried spice or herb and 1 drop of oil for 1–2 tsp. of fresh spice. If you think the oil is strong or the recipe calls for less than the above quantities, start with a toothpick dip instead. Taste, and add more if needed.

What are the benefits of using essential oils in cooking?

Essential oils provide incredible flavor to food with just a drop of oil. Depending on the part of the plant the oil was extracted from and where the plant was grown, sometimes essential oils provide different flavors than when using fresh herbs. Also, some fresh herbs can be difficult to obtain, so you are allowed a different or better variety of flavors when incorporating essential oils in your spice rack.

Essential oils can be more cost effective than fresh or dried herbs in the long run because only a small amount is needed and oils stay good longer than fresh or dried herbs. Do your fresh herbs go bad because you can’t use them fast enough?

Essential oils have a myriad of health benefits that your body can utilize when you use them in your food. To find out more about the benefits of essential oils, please refer to Modern Essentials.

Cooking Tips:

  1. Know what part of the plant the oil came from. Citrus oils are pressed from the peel, so they can substitute for the zest but not the juice.
  2. Getting the exact amount of oil drops can be tricky due to the different viscosity levels of the oils. If using the regular bottle with the orifice reducer, place your drops on a spoon; then stir into your mixture to ensure you have the right amount.
  3. Putting your cooking oils in dropper bottles allows you to easily control the number of drops used and provides sufficient space to dip a toothpick into the oil when needed.
  4. A little goes a long way. Start with only a drop of oil, taste, and repeat until you are satisfied with the taste. Some oils are really strong, and a toothpick dipped in the oil, then stirred into your mixture, may be sufficient.
  5. Use glass or stainless steel mixing bowls. Try to avoid plastic cookware, as the oils can damage certain types of plastic.
  6. Always keep your oils away from heat, light, and humid conditions to maintain a long shelf life. Refrigerator storage is fine.
  7. Make sure to recap your bottles so the oils don’t evaporate out.
  8. Because oils are altered by heat and may evaporate, it is always best to add the oils at the end of cooking if possible.
  9. Give a subtle hint of herbs to your savory baked goods by creating a spray in a 4 oz. Trigger Spray Bottle. Add a few drops of essential oil and 1/8 cup of olive oil to the spray bottle, and then fill the bottle the rest of the way with distilled water. Use this mixture to spray items like empanadas, tortilla chips, baked french fries, egg rolls, etc.
  10. If you are baking with kids, make sure to keep the oils out of their reach.

Do you have any other cooking tips? What recipes do you use essential oils in?

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