If you’ve done any research into aromatherapy and essential oils, you’ve likely been bombarded by terms like food grade essential oils, therapeutic grade oils, clinical aromatherapy oils, and more.
But I want to let you in on a little secret that the essential oils industry doesn’t want you to know.
These terms are lies.
They don’t exist.
Right about now you probably think I’ve fallen off my rocker.
That’s ok. Bear with me.
Because I’m about to show you undeniable proof that these companies selling so called food grade essential oils are nothing but marketing wizards.
I want to arm you with the knowledge you need to look past marketing jargon and know which oils you can use safely in your food.
What are food grade essential oils?
First, let’s look at the term itself.
You would think that a term like this would be backed by an organization that regulates what is allowed to be called ‘food grade essential oils.’
But there aren’t any regulatory bodies.
There are governing bodies for essential oils, but they do not regulate what is considered ‘food grade’ per se.
Here are a couple organizations that do exist.
There is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for a number of oils.
There is also a governing body for the organic labeling of them, which is the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). This was formed in 1972 and has been certifying essential oils since the 1980s.
The only organization that comes remotely close to this sort of thing is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
They do not determine what a food grade essential oil is, nor do they label them as such. What they do is put out an extensive list that is called ‘Generally Recognized as Safe,’ or GRAS.
This simply means that the items on the list have been deemed safe and fit for human consumption for their intended use.
And this is where things get tricky…
Yes, there are many food safe essential oils and absolutes listed in Part 182, Subpart A, Section 182.20 of the GRAS list:
|Common name||Botanical name of plant source|
|Alfalfa||Medicago sativa L.|
|Allspice||Pimenta officinalis Lindl.|
|Almond, bitter (free from prussic acid)||Prunus amygdalus Batsch, Prunus armeniaca L., or Prunus persica (L.) Batsch.|
|Ambrette (seed)||Hibiscus moschatus Moench.|
|Angelica root||Angelica archangelica L.|
|Angostura (cusparia bark)||Galipea officinalis Hancock.|
|Anise||Pimpinella anisum L.|
|Asafetida||Ferula assa-foetida L. and related spp. of Ferula.|
|Balm (lemon balm)||Melissa officinalis L.|
|Balsam of Peru||Myroxylon pereirae Klotzsch.|
|Basil||Ocimum basilicum L.|
|Bay leaves||Laurus nobilis L.|
|Bay (myrcia oil)||Pimenta racemosa (Mill.) J. W. Moore.|
|Bergamot (bergamot orange)||Citrus aurantium L. subsp. bergamia Wright et Arn.|
|Bitter almond (free from prussic acid)||Prunus amygdalus Batsch, Prunus armeniaca L., or Prunus persica (L.) Batsch.|
|Bois de rose||Aniba rosaeodora Ducke.|
|Cacao||Theobroma cacao L.|
|Camomile (chamomile) flowers, Hungarian||Matricaria chamomilla L.|
|Camomile (chamomile) flowers, Roman or English||Anthemis nobilis L.|
|Cananga||Cananga odorata Hook. f. and Thoms.|
|Capsicum||Capsicum frutescens L. and Capsicum annuum L.|
|Caraway||Carum carvi L.|
|Cardamom seed (cardamon)||Elettaria cardamomum Maton.|
|Carob bean||Ceratonia siliqua L.|
|Carrot||Daucus carota L.|
|Cascarilla bark||Croton eluteria Benn.|
|Cassia bark, Chinese||Cinnamomum cassia Blume.|
|Cassia bark, Padang or Batavia||Cinnamomum burmanni Blume.|
|Cassia bark, Saigon||Cinnamomum loureirii Nees.|
|Celery seed||Apium graveolens L.|
|Cherry, wild, bark||Prunus serotina Ehrh.|
|Chervil||Anthriscus cerefolium (L.) Hoffm.|
|Chicory||Cichorium intybus L.|
|Cinnamon bark, Ceylon||Cinnamomum zeylanicum Nees.|
|Cinnamon bark, Chinese||Cinnamomum cassia Blume.|
|Cinnamon bark, Saigon||Cinnamomum loureirii Nees.|
|Cinnamon leaf, Ceylon||Cinnamomum zeylanicum Nees.|
|Cinnamon leaf, Chinese||Cinnamomum cassia Blume.|
|Cinnamon leaf, Saigon||Cinnamomum loureirii Nees.|
|Citronella||Cymbopogon nardus Rendle.|
|Citrus peels||Citrus spp.|
|Clary (clary sage)||Salvia sclarea L.|
|Coca (decocainized)||Erythroxylum coca Lam. and other spp. of Erythroxylum.|
|Cola nut||Cola acuminata Schott and Endl., and other spp. of Cola.|
|Coriander||Coriandrum sativum L.|
|Cumin (cummin)||Cuminum cyminum L.|
|Curacao orange peel (orange, bitter peel)||Citrus aurantium L.|
|Cusparia bark||Galipea officinalis Hancock.|
|Dandelion||Taraxacum officinale Weber and T. laevigatum DC.|
|Dog grass (quackgrass, triticum)||Agropyron repens (L.) Beauv.|
|Elder flowers||Sambucus canadensis L. and S. nigra I.|
|Estragole (esdragol, esdragon, tarragon)||Artemisia dracunculus L.|
|Fennel, sweet||Foeniculum vulgare Mill.|
|Fenugreek||Trigonella foenum-graecum L.|
|Galanga (galangal)||Alpinia officinarum Hance.|
|Geranium, East Indian||Cymbopogon martini Stapf.|
|Geranium, rose||Pelargonium graveolens L’Her.|
|Ginger||Zingiber officinale Rosc.|
|Grapefruit||Citrus paradisi Macf.|
|Hickory bark||Carya spp.|
|Horehound (hoarhound)||Marrubium vulgare L.|
|Hops||Humulus lupulus L.|
|Horsemint||Monarda punctata L.|
|Hyssop||Hyssopus officinalis L.|
|Immortelle||Helichrysum augustifolium DC.|
|Jasmine||Jasminum officinale L. and other spp. of Jasminum.|
|Juniper (berries)||Juniperus communis L.|
|Kola nut||Cola acuminata Schott and Endl., and other spp. of Cola.|
|Laurel berries||Laurus nobilis L.|
|Laurel leaves||Laurus spp.|
|Lavender||Lavandula officinalis Chaix.|
|Lavender, spike||Lavandula latifolia Vill.|
|Lavandin||Hybrids between Lavandula officinalis Chaix and Lavandula latifolin Vill.|
|Lemon||Citrus limon (L.) Burm. f.|
|Lemon balm (see balm)|
|Lemon grass||Cymbopogon citratus DC. and Cymbopogon lexuosus Stapf.|
|Lemon peel||Citrus limon (L.) Burm. f.|
|Lime||Citrus aurantifolia Swingle.|
|Linden flowers||Tilia spp.|
|Locust bean||Ceratonia siliqua L,|
|Lupulin||Humulus lupulus L.|
|Mace||Myristica fragrans Houtt.|
|Mandarin||Citrus reticulata Blanco.|
|Marjoram, sweet||Majorana hortensis Moench.|
|Mate||Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil.|
|Melissa (see balm)|
|Molasses (extract)||Saccarum officinarum L.|
|Naringin||Citrus paradisi Macf.|
|Neroli, bigarade||Citrus aurantium L.|
|Nutmeg||Myristica fragrans Houtt.|
|Onion||Allium cepa L.|
|Orange, bitter, flowers||Citrus aurantium L.|
|Orange, bitter, peel||Do.|
|Orange leaf||Citrus sinensis (L.) Osbeck.|
|Orange, sweet, flowers||Do.|
|Orange, sweet, peel||Do.|
|Palmarosa||Cymbopogon martini Stapf.|
|Paprika||Capsicum annuum L.|
|Parsley||Petroselinum crispum (Mill.) Mansf.|
|Pepper, black||Piper nigrum L.|
|Peppermint||Mentha piperita L.|
|Peruvian balsam||Myroxylon pereirae Klotzsch.|
|Petitgrain||Citrus aurantium L.|
|Petitgrain lemon||Citrus limon (L.) Burm. f.|
|Petitgrain mandarin or tangerine||Citrus reticulata Blanco.|
|Pimenta||Pimenta officinalis Lindl.|
|Pimenta leaf||Pimenta officinalis Lindl.|
|Pipsissewa leaves||Chimaphila umbellata Nutt.|
|Pomegranate||Punica granatum L.|
|Prickly ash bark||Xanthoxylum (or Zanthoxylum) Americanum Mill. or Xanthoxylum clava-herculis L.|
|Rose absolute||Rosa alba L., Rosa centifolia L., Rosa damascena Mill., Rosa gallica L., and vars. of these spp.|
|Rose (otto of roses, attar of roses)||Do.|
|Rose fruit (hips)||Do.|
|Rose geranium||Pelargonium graveolens L’Her.|
|Rose leaves||Rosa spp.|
|Rosemary||Rosmarinus officinalis L.|
|Saffron||Crocus sativus L.|
|Sage||Salvia officinalis L.|
|Sage, Greek||Salvia triloba L.|
|Sage, Spanish||Salvia lavandulaefolia Vahl.|
|St. John’s bread||Ceratonia siliqua L.|
|Savory, summer||Satureia hortensis L.|
|Savory, winter||Satureia montana L.|
|Schinus molle||Schinus molle L.|
|Sloe berries (blackthorn berries)||Prunus spinosa L.|
|Spearmint||Mentha spicata L.|
|Spike lavender||Lavandula latifolia Vill.|
|Tamarind||Tamarindus indica L.|
|Tangerine||Citrus reticulata Blanco.|
|Tarragon||Artemisia dracunculus L.|
|Tea||Thea sinensis L.|
|Thyme||Thymus vulgaris L. and Thymus zygis var. gracilis Boiss.|
|Thyme, wild or creeping||Thymus serpyllum L.|
|Triticum (see dog grass)|
|Tuberose||Polianthes tuberosa L.|
|Turmeric||Curcuma longa L.|
|Vanilla||Vanilla planifolia Andr. or Vanilla tahitensis J. W. Moore.|
|Violet flowers||Viola odorata L.|
|Violet leaves absolute||Do.|
|Wild cherry bark||Prunus serotina Ehrh.|
|Ylang-ylang||Cananga odorata Hook. f. and Thoms.|
|Zedoary bark||Curcuma zedoaria Rosc.|
That’s a lot, right?
And you would think that if it’s listed here, then you can ingest it all you want.
Remember when I said something about intended use?
This is the paragraph on the page that this statement comes from:
“Essential oils, oleoresins (solvent-free), and natural extractives (including distillates) that are generally recognized as safe for their intended use, within the meaning of section 409 of the Act.”
The question is, what is the intended use?
I have done a ton of research into what exactly “intended use” means.
The FDA is not what you would call forthcoming about a lot of things.
Even searching the term brings up a lot of rhetoric, but no concrete answers.
Then again, this makes sense when you think about it, since there are hundreds of thousands of things that go through the FDA and under many different categories. And there are many different ways that a substance can be used.
You must remember though; there are a ton of things that are on the GRAS list as food additives that are considered food safe that you would not want to ingest on your own. This includes certain essential oils.
Case in point, mustard (Brassica spp.) is on the list above.
But mustard essential oil is considered one of the most toxic of all. It is a dermal toxin, oral toxin, and an irritant to mucous membranes.
The food industry uses it extensively though, for seasonings, sauces, pickling, and more. But they can do this since they are employing minuscule amounts on a rather massive scale.
So, the “intended use” level for this particular additive would be much less than is feasible for use in the home kitchen.
So are essential oils edible?
There are some ‘food safe’ essential oils. But there are many that are not.
Also note that just because you can use some essential oils in food, that does not mean you should ingest them therapeutically, which is a whole other topic.
We actually eat and use essential oils every day. Look for them on the ingredient lists of commercial products, and you’ll be surprised all of the oils you find.
The food and beverage, as well as personal care and cosmetic industries use essential oils in everything from liquor to food to toothpaste to chewing gum.
Here are a few examples that Young Living has created and are being sold on Amazon.
Remember that this is mass scale production, not just making a regular Tuesday night meal at home.
That being said, you can use some oils for baking and flavoring purposes. But just in very tiny quantities.
How do I buy essential oils I can use in food?
The first step to cooking with essential oils is buying a quality oil that is suitable for such a thing.
There are a few companies that sell wholesale and retail oils that are edible. Some of them are strictly flavorings and should be labeled as such, and others are your everyday essential oils.
For example, if you search for “where to buy lemon oil for baking,” you will likely come up with places like LorAnn Essential Oils, King Arthur Flour, and Now Foods.
Let’s touch on the first one.
What are LorAnn oils used for?
They have flavorings as well as essential oils that are both listed as used for food. And, they call some of their essential oils ‘food grade’ and have instructions for using them as such.
Some of their essential oils pages have instructions to use them in cooking too. For instance, there are directions on their bergamot oil page to use it as flavoring.
However, on Now Foods, they have essential oils as well and sell plenty of things for ingestion. Yet they have an entire FAQ section about food grade essential oils that explicitly says not to ingest them and outlines the reason why.
Both of their essential oils are listed as 100% pure.
One company chooses to use them as a flavoring, and another says they are not meant for that.
So which is it?
In this industry, it is entirely possible that the oils came from the same supplier.
This is why non-regulation of terms can get so darn confusing!
To buy essential oils for cooking, there are specific characteristics to look for.
Yes, you may see food grade, but we now know this isn’t reliable and is not regulated.
However, for certain oils that can be used in the kitchen, you want to look for those in the same way as you would look for ones to use therapeutically.
Keep in mind that edible essential oils are not the same as food flavoring oils or food grade extracts, which are often made up of synthetic chemicals.
So, to buy food grade essential oils, you want to look for those that are 100% pure, natural, and unadulterated with the correct botanical name on the bottle. And if you want to make sure the plant was grown without the use of chemicals, look for organic.
What essential oils are edible?
This is debatable.
Unless you have studied the chemistry of oils and know what you’re doing, I recommend you stick to a select few.
There are some floral ones on the following list, but the majority are made up of fruit and spice oils.
Here is a starter list of edible essential oils:
- Lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Neroli oil (Citrus aurantium)
- Lemongrass oil (Cymbopogon flexuosus)
- Sweet Orange oil (Citrus sinensis)
- Lemon oil (Citrus limon)
- Lime oil (Citrus aurantifolia)
- Clove Bud oil (Syzygium aromaticum)
- Nutmeg oil (Myristica fragrans)
- Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi)
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)
- Melissa oil (Melissa officinalis)
- Spearmint oil (Mentha Spicata)
- Peppermint oil (Mentha piperita)
- Cinnamon oil (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives you an idea.
How do I use essential oils in cooking?
Here are some practical tips to help you in your quest to figure out what essential oils are edible and how to use oils in the kitchen:
If an oil is listed as toxic, do not try to use it in food, even if it has the same name as something you already use, i.e., ‘mustard.’
A single drop is often all you need. Sometimes that is too much. In this case, dip the tip of a toothpick in the essential oil and swirl it into your food. A little goes a long way!
You should not use oils to substitute for certain things. For example, you don’t want to try and find chocolate essential oil to use in place of cocoa powder for brownies. Use common sense.
Another thing is that just like anything else, some items may be called different things, yet can be used in the same way.
For instance, when looking for lemon oil for food, you may find organic lemon oil, lemon extract, or even essence of lemon.
But they are all under the category of edible lemon oil whichever way you look at it.
Be sure to read the ingredients list to check for chemicals in all cases, and choose the purest form for the best results.
If you already know how to cook, it is likely that you will intuitively know what oils to use with what, just like with spices.
Some cool things to try would be adding edible lavender oil in ice cream, peppermint oil for baking, or lemon oil for fish.
Another cool trick to using essential oils in the kitchen is making flavored oils and vinegars. To make them, start by adding one drop of the oil per two fluid ounces of the oil or vinegar.
You could also mix up oils to use for salads, marinades, dips, and much more. Whenever a recipe calls for a food grade extract, try using an edible essential oil instead.
One thing to remember though is that you will not need near as much.
As concentrated as extracts are, essential oils are much more potent. Do not try to use a teaspoon of essential oil as a substitute for a teaspoon of extract. It will ruin the recipe by being way too overpowering.
There are a lot of terms in the essential oil industry that are nothing more than marketing ploys. Therapeutic and food grade are among them.
But this doesn’t mean that you can’t use essential oils for cooking or for baking or even for flavoring your tea and ice cream.
What it does mean is that just because something has a term on the label or is natural, it does not make it accurate or safe.
Just like you seek out quality oils for aromatherapy use, you want to look for pure, unadulterated, 100% natural oils to use in your food recipes.
Do you use essential oils for food recipes?
I love to cook, and would like to hear about them in the comments!