Monday, May 4, 2015

Aroma Kitchen

I've never really been into scent diffusers, scented oils, or aromatherapy product - a lot of the flowery scents make me sneeze.

On the other hand, a book about cooking with essential oils sounded interesting. Aroma Kitchen: Cooking with Essential Oils by Sabine Hönig and Ursula Kutschera is all about using essential oils in cooking.

It starts with information about essential oils - how they're made, and what to look for if you're planning on using them in food. Since most essential oils are sold for scents or topical use, not all of them are edible.

Even the edible oils come with precautions. Since they're so concentrated, you're cautioned not to let the full-strength oil touch your skin, and some are not recommended for certain groups of people - not for pregnant women, for example.

So these aren't things to be taken lightly.

Speaking of taken lightly, essential oils are sold in very small bottles - 10-15 ml is what I've seen as I've shopped around. If metric volumes aren't your forte, that's a tablespoon or less, and the cost for the many of the oils hovers around the $10 mark. Some are less expensive, and some are more. Fortunately, the food oils I've looked at tend to cost a lot less than some of the ones used just for scents.

On the other hand, the amounts used in recipes is minimal. They're measured by the drop, so a small bottle should last fairly long.

One way of using the oils - rather than putting them directly into recipes - is to create flavored seasoning oils. The book says that no more that 9 drops of essential oils should be use with 1/4 cup of a neutral vegetable oil and left to rest for 2 weeks. And then of course the oil is used in a small amount as a flavoring agent in a recipe.

While the book talks about what to look for in food-grade essential oils, it didn't specify what companies were reliable. After a short browse through Amazon, I was left wondering what was safe for food and what wasn't.

Then I had another thought and browsed the LorAnn Oils and Flavors site. I've bought their products for years for cooking - mostly extracts - and they sell a lot of product intended for use in candy-making, baking, cooking, and for flavoring ice cream. I figured that if they had essential oils, they would be safe for food. And there they were.

The book had suggested looking for CO2 extracted oils for certain varieties of oils, but also mentioned that this is a new process, and it is expensive. And some oils don't need the CO2 extraction process. LorAnn's oils are steam distilled or cold-pressed with no use of chemicals, so I decided to go with a company I trust rather than buy CO2-extracted oils from companies that sell mostly for fragrances. If I like my experiments, I might venture further to find some reliable companies that sell some of the oils that LorAnn doesn't carry, but for now I've found enough to experiment with.

And, seriously, if I want ginger or garlic or other flavors, I can use ginger or garlic. It's not like the essential oils are ... well ... completely essential for recipes.

My first plan will be to make some basic flavoring oils, and maybe some seasoned salts that I can use in my own recipes.

Speaking of recipes - besides instruction and basics, the book also has full recipes. Some use the seasoning oils and salts, while others use a drop or three of straight essential oils mixed with an oil or other ingredient that's used in recipes. There's everything from soups to salads to main dishes to desserts. And drinks, too.

But to be honest, I'm actually a little more intrigued about making crazy flavored oils that I can drizzle onto salads, use in marinades and mix into ... well, whatever.

The one downside to this book is that if you're intent on using it, you'll probably need to order oils online, unless you've got a nearby store that sells food-grade essential oils.

If you're skittish about costs, I'd suggest starting with something you know you like and that's on the less-expensive end of the spectrum. Citrus oils are cold-pressed, which makes them less costly, so that might be a good place to start. Add an herb or two - rosemary, thyme, sage, and marjoram are on my list at the moment - and you've got a few things you can try.

The 1/3-ounce bottle of orange essential oil is the least expensive item in my cart at the moment at $3.25, so it's not going to break the bank. Sure, if you want to make every single recipe in the book, you'll need a lot of oils. But you don't need that many to start, and you can always use fresh or dried herbs and spices in place of oils you don't have.

And then, if this type of cooking appeals, you can add to your collection of oils.

Once I've gotten my oils and I've done some experimenting, there will no doubt be some recipes on Cookistry.

The book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost to me. LorAnn was mentioned simply because I like them. I'll be paying for my purchases there.

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