When immigrants came to this country they brought herb seeds with them as they were used in many ways to improve the flavors of food. We may also use herbs we grow in our gardens, purchased fresh or dried ones in the various dishes we prepare.
Along with using them in the many aspects of gardening, canning, freezing, storing, or drying of the produce, there is another item we can inexpensively make using herbs and fruits. It can enhance meats, salads, marinades, and other dishes. Not only are fresh herbs used, but dried ones may be used also.
To make flavored oils, one is mainly using any vegetable oil or virgin olive oil plus a few herbs. It is expensive to purchase the flavored oils as they only contain a few ounces in the bottle. As flavored oils have a more intense flavor than flavored extracts, only 1/4 to a 1/2 teaspoon should be used for one teaspoon extract.
One’s garden may produce various herbs that may be combined with the oil. A few of them are garlic, basil, rosemary, hot peppers, thyme and oregano. The skin, or zest, of oranges and lemons may also be used. Depending on the dominate flavor of the ingredients desired, include more of one ingredient than others. A single ingredient type may also be made.
Flavored oils may be used in any dish requiring oil, be they meat, salads, casseroles, salad dressings, marinades, etc. Vegetable oils such as canola may be used for lighter flavored ingredients while olive oil is used for stronger tasting ones. The oils do not take much time to make nor is an attractive bottle necessary. Just one with a lid. Plain or purchased flavored olive oil has a shelf life of 18 to 24 months and should be stored in a warm, dark cupboard with no light. It should never be refrigerated.
Heating the oil to just a simmering temperature makes for a stronger flavored oil than letting it steep in cold oil. Never let the oil burn. When purchased, flavored olive oils may have pieces of plant material or zests in the bottle. These are only for show as the product is already flavored. The oils should be strained to remove those ingredients for safety.
Before beginning to make the oil, sterilize the bottles in hot water before using and let dry. If the herbs need to be washed, do so then let them dry. Any wet material will impede the flavor.
There are several ways to make flavored oils. One is to just place the bruised herbs into the bottle. This may be done by drawing a spoon along the leaves and pouring the oil into the bottle. The container needs to be placed into a cool, dark spot for about a week or two. Strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth or an unbleached coffee filter before using and re-bottle.
The other way is to heat the oil until warm. Do not let it boil. Combine it with the herbs and let it cool. Place into a bottle. Let the herbed oil brew for a week or so, yet it may also be used right away. Later strain the oil to remove all plant material before re-bottling it.
Dried herbs may also be used instead of fresh. Bruise them in your hand before adding to the bottle to release the oils. Roughly use one ounce dry herbs to 10 fluid ounces of room temperature oil. Mix well and place in a dark place for several weeks. Let marinate for four to six weeks.
Herbal oil made at home does not last as long as processed herbal oils and should be used within two months. Be sure to label the oil, list the ingredients and date.
Herbal oils can be easily made and used to add interest to various foods.
Something to think about: “Herbs are the friend of the physician and the pride of cooks.” Charlemagne
BASIC RECIPE TO MAKE HERBAL OILS
1 cup chopped clean herbs, your choice
1 pint vegetable oil
Clean jar or bottle with lid
ITALIAN OIL: Combine olive oil with basil, oregano and marjoram.
HOT PEPPER OLIVE OIL: Thoroughly crush 3 Tablespoons dried red chili peppers and combine with 1/4 cup dried red chili peppers. Add to olive oil. Process.
CITRUS OILS: Thoroughly wash citrus to be used. Peel the outside skin with a sharp knife or zester. No white pith! Add to oil, warm or cold.