The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking Exploratorium.edu
Candy Bread Eggs Pickles Meat Seasoning

recipe: Infused Oils
Making flavored oils is easy, and the end product can add a lot to your cooking. Use them instead of spices and herbs, and you can add flavor to vegetables and meats. Infused oils make great bases for salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. Bottles of infused oils look great on kitchen shelves, and are always an impressive gift.

There are two simple methods for doing an infusion—hot and cold. Be sure to begin with a light, tasteless oil, like safflower or canola. Olive oil makes a good infusion base for some herbs, but tends to go rancid more quickly than other oils. Keep your infused oils refrigerated. Olive oil will last about a month; other oils will stay fresh for about two months.

For herb oils, use whole, fresh leaves. For spiced oils, either whole or ground will do. If you choose ground spices, strain the oil through a cheesecloth before bottling it. Whole spices and herbs can be left in the oil for decoration. They will keep strengthening the flavor over time.

Recipe Conversions

   
What Do I Need? .

1 cup of a spice like cardamom, cumin, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, or strong-scented herbs like rosemary, tarragon, chives, dill, mint, or oregano. You can use one herb or spice, or mix two of them.

Did You Know?
Herbs and spices get their flavors from aromatic oils. Herbs tend to have much less of these oils than spices do, and so their flavors are more subtle.

4 or 4 1/2 cups canola, safflower, or other flavorless oil
a bottle with an airtight seal
a heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan to heat spices
 
 
What Do I Do?

 

For a hot infusion

Tip
Store spices in airtight containers away from light. Whole spices will keep for about a year; ground spices last only a few months.

This method infuses the oil quickly, so you can use it soon after you've made it. By only heating half the oil initially, you won't waste the whole lot if you accidentally burn it.
 

1. Put about half the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat it, stirring constantly, over medium heat, until the spices start to sizzle and the oil bubbles a bit. If you have a candy thermometer, heat the oil to 140° F.

 

2. Cook for about 5 minutes. The oil should be very aromatic at this point.

 

3. Remove the pan from heat, transfer the oil and flavorings to a bowl, and allow to cool.

 

4. Taste the oil to make sure that it hasn't burned, and that it tastes strongly of the spices and herbs. If it doesn't, add more flavorings, and heat again.

 
5. Add the remaining plain oil to the flavored oil, strain through a cheesecloth if necessary, put the oil in bottles and store them in the refrigerator. It will keep up to 2 months (if made with olive oil, 1 month).
 
   
What's Going On?  
Herbs and spices get their flavors from the essential oils in them. Most of these oils are aromatic compounds that you smell as you eat, and these aromas create much of the flavor you experience. Because these compounds are oils, they're soluble in the cooking oils you use. When you soak herbs and spices in those oils, some of the fine-smelling compounds will infuse into the oil, lending their scents and flavors. On the other hand, trying to infuse water with the same herbs and spices won't get you far. Think of the phrase "oil and water don't mix." What will dissolve in oil won't dissolve in water, and vice versa.  
   
What Else Can I Try? .
For a cold oil infusion  
This method is easier, but takes a couple of weeks. Again, use fresh herbs and whole spices.  
   
What Do I Need?  
• several teaspoons of herbs and spices  
• oil to fill one bottle  
   
What Do I Do?  
1. Bruise the herbs and spices a bit to release their flavors.  
2. Place them in the bottle.  
3. Add warm oil.  
4. Cover and let stand for 2 weeks.  
5. Taste the oil. If the flavor isn't strong enough, add more flavorings. Once the oil is infused, keep it in the refrigerator. It may get cloudy from the cold, but should clear up when it reaches room temperature. The oil should last, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.  
 
- - - Science of Cooking - - - Webcasts - - - Ask the Inquisitive Cooks - - - Share & Discuss - - -

 

© Exploratorium - - - Use Policy - - - Privacy Policy