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Is It Safe to Cook With Essential Oils? – Everyday Health

May 12th, 2023

Essential oils, which are extracted from plants, are best known for their use in aromatherapy, a complementary health practice that involves inhaling the scents or mixing the oils with lotion or massage oil. There has been a growing interest in other uses for these oils, however, including using them for cooking.

Some essential oils are marketed as edible, and many blogs and social media influencers have suggested that using essential oils can boost flavor and nutrition in recipes.

Essential oils are concentrated sources of flavors and aromas, so you dont have to chop a bunch of herbs or peel a bunch of lemon zest to get the flavor youre looking for in a particular recipe, says Sharon Palmer, RDN,a plant-based registered dietitian nutritionist in Ojai, California.

But adding dashes of essential oils to your dishes without caution and guidance can be a bad idea. Essential oils may be extracted from the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits of plants, per theUniversity of Minnesotas Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, but just because theyre natural doesnt mean theyre safe. It takes a lot of plant material to get a little bit of oil. Because of that, essential oils are really concentrated and can affect us in powerful ways, says David S. Kiefer, MD, a clinical assistant professor and the medical director for the Integrative Health Consult Clinic at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

Moreover, their name doesnt imply theyre essential to your diet. Rather, it refers to the compounds that affect the smell, or essence, of a plant, perOperation Supplement Safety (OPSS), the Department of Defenses dietary supplement program.

So should you cook with essential oils or stick to inhaling them? Read on to find out.

Consuming essential oils directly is generally considered a no-no. Essential oils are fat-soluble, so they can be dangerous if you ingest them straight from the bottle or mix them with something like water, because they attach to your tissues and damage the mouth and esophagus, says Megan Voss, DNP, RN, the director of education and an associate professor at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing. In particular, essential oils can irritate or burn these tissues, according to the International Federation of Aromatherapists.

Still, there may be merit to combining essential oils with other substances. If you mix essential oils with a fatty substance like olive oil or milk, they will be more evenly distributed and diluted, so theyre not as damaging to the tissues when ingested, Voss says. In this way, essential oils may be safe when used in cooking with a few caveats. (More on this shortly.)

Note that some manufacturers market their products as food-grade essential oils. However, this is purely a marketing term and isnt regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So dont take it to mean an essential oil is safe to ingest, notes the OPSS.

You can use essential oils for culinary purposes safely, but some essential oils are better choices than others, says Amanda Lattin, an Aromatherapy Registration Councilregistered aromatherapist and the dean of aromatherapy at the American College of Healthcare Sciences in Portland, Oregon.

Your best bet is to check the FDAs list of essential oils that are generally recognized as safe (GRAS). These substances have been shown to be safe when used as food additives, per the FDA. Keep in mind that essential oils themselves arent regulated by the FDA, unless theyre marketed for therapeutic purposes, notes theEarl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing. So theres no guarantee that the essential oil youre using contains the ingredients or offers the benefits claimed by the manufacturer.

When shopping for essential oils to use in cooking, the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing recommends finding a product that contains the following information:

From there, you may want to stick with the essential oils of herbs, fruits, and spices you might normally use in cooking, Lattin says. Here are a few good options, along with their potential health benefits (though you may not be able to score these benefits in the amounts used in cooking):

In addition to irritating and burning the tissues of the mouth and esophagus, consuming essential oils directly can cause seizures, hallucinations, and coma, per theNational Capital Poison Center. Some may even be poisonous. A study published in 2019 in The Medical Journal of Australia reported that toxicity from ingesting essential oils is on the rise, and increasing frequency and severity of essential oil poisonings have been reported in Europe and the United States.

Essential oils can also interact with medications. Some essential oils use the same receptor sites that medications use, which can make our medications less effective, Voss says. They can also increase amounts of medication circulating in our body and lead to toxicity, she adds.

For example, research in mice found that anise essential oil enhanced the effects of drugs that act on the central nervous system, such as codeine (an opioid pain reliever) and fluoxetine (an antidepressant).

Thanks to their smaller body size and immature digestive system, children may be especially vulnerable to adverse effects from consuming essential oils, warns the National Capital Poison Center.

Some essential oils have been linked to adverse effects when ingested, even in tiny amounts. These are the essential oils you should avoid eating at all costs:

Its also a good idea to avoid any essential oils that havent been generally recognized as safe by the FDA. When in doubt, check the list.

If youre still interested in experimenting with essential oils in your cooking, here are some guidelines to follow to ensure youre doing so safely.

American College of Healthcare Sciences

While essential oils are traditionally inhaled or applied topically in a massage oil, they can also be used to add flavor and aroma in cooking. To do it safely, stick to essential oils that have been generally recognized as safe for culinary purposes by the FDA, follow a recipe from a reputable source, and limit yourself to one or drops. Never ingest essential oils in their pure form, as doing so has been known to cause negative health effects.

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Is It Safe to Cook With Essential Oils? - Everyday Health

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