Infusing Herbs in Oils - Which Method is Best?

Confession time.

To date, I have been a believer that 'you can't rush excellence' when it comes to macerations and that sun infusion is the best way to capture herbal goodness in oil.

But sometimes, stuff happens.

A conversation with Vivienne Campbell of the Herbal Hub inspired me to rethink and revisit oil infusion methods – even after all these years.



Side-by-Side Testing Just Made the To-Do List

When this kind of thing happens, testing is in order, and that's what that totally un-sexy-looking photo is about up there. (My apologies - I really tried to pep it up a bit, but this pic was quite simply un-pepp-able).

Pictured: the beginning of a side-by-side test of coriander seeds infused into apricot kernel oil. The jar is going on the windowsill for a few weeks, while the bag will be undergoing 'heat treatment'.

If We're Going to Make it Easy, Let's Make it Real Easy

Heat infusing oils can be done a few different ways. Although I have used the bain marie/ double boiler method to melt butters, waxes and make all kinds of anhydrous products forever, I have a never-ending fear of steam (or any moisture) making its way into the precious contents.

Since a sudden pile-up of testing to-do's just made their way to the docket, I decided to take the easy-peasy, worry-free route and bought a sous-vide stick and a kit to 'bag' things to be sous-vide'ed.

We're talking about cooking equipment here, and if you don't know this method, it consists of sealing food in a special type of food-safe plastic and submerging the bag in temperature-controlled water for however many hours one decides. It's also referred to a slow-cooking by some.

I made a discovery. This method is so fun and easy, it almost feels like cheating.

Side by Side Coriander Seeds in Oil

Although it isn't very clear in the picture above, the coriander seeds have all been lightly crushed using the same method to release as much coriander goodness as possible. My method is quite primitive: place coriander seeds in sturdy, food-safe plastic bag. Close bag and place on hard surface. Whack bag with rolling pin until seeds are lightly crushed.

Top Tip: If you prefer to use a spice grinder, prepare to keep that spice grinder as your dedicated coriander seed spice grinder for the remainder of your life. You're welcome.

To heat-infuse oil, it is generally recommended to heat at a temperature of about 55º C / 131º F  for around 2-3 hours.

Pictured below, a batch of coriander seeds on top of a batch with lavender buds with sous-vide stick in place and controlling the temp to perfection.

The rose quartz is a gift I have had for many years and happened to be right at hand when the bags kept floating to the top and I needed a weight to keep them under the water. The quartz has since become an indispensable tool for my heat infusions.






How Do They Compare?

This is one of numerous batches I have made over the past few months with different herbs and because these things need proper attention, it may be a while before any hard-core conclusions can be made on how the methods compare, but I will give you feedback on the pictured batch.

Testing consisted of a standard nose test and application test. My husband (who is painfully honest and a great tester) proclaimed the heat-infused oil the winner in scent and could not feel any difference in application.

I could not decide on a winner in the scent comparison. The cold infused oil seemed to have a bit more strength, but every other time I sniffed the one before the other, my impression changed so it was impossible to compare.

In this batch, I found no difference in feel.

More to Come

Meantime, some of the other herbs I am testing include lavender, wild rose, rosemary, chamomile, dandelion (leaves and bossoms), plantain, and calendula. Updates to be reported as results come in.

If you want to get started making plant extracts, there's a bundle offer in the shop right now. 



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Find the fabulous Vivienne Campbell and the Herbal Hub here

Comments

Unknown said…
I used to infuse dry herbs straight into oil and leave them for a few weeks. After talking to a herbalist, I now grind them as finely as possible and soak them in alcohol (vodka) for a few days with the lid on, then for a few more days with the lid off so that the alcohol can evaporate. After that I add the herbs to oil and heat gently for a few hours. The herbalist told me the alcohol releases parts of the plant matter that oil alone won't release. It's an extra step but it makes for stronger infusions. It also accelerates the process so I don't need to leave infusions for weeks if I want to make an infusion quite quickly.
Jade Forest Co. said…
I have two elite gourmet mini Crocks , they run at around 120. I paid 11dollars each. I leave the oil and herbs for infusion in there for a few hours and voila😋 it does eliminate waste but you have to use electricity, so I suppose it's a trade off for jar/plastic vs electricity.
Unknown said…
I've been infusing oils with a sous vide machine for a couple of years and can't imagine any other way. I find this is the best way to regulate the temperature throughout the infusion. Nice to see more people using this method.
Tenli said…
I have infused oils in a yogurt maker and can lower the temp to below 100F. I leave it for about 3 days. Works great but the jars are small so I have to use 8 jars, the sous vide sounds much easier and quicker. I have one but never thought to use it for that!
Nichole said…
Candle melter! You can get them a dime a dozen (Ok, for a couple bucks) at thrift shops and they warm to a perfect 120-140 temp. Some even have settings control. Oil and herbs in a mason jar, lid loosely, and go about your day. Every time you walk past, tighten the lid, grab a towel, and shake shake shake, then return and loosen the lid back up.
LisaLise said…
@Unknown - interesting process that sounds like it needs a bit of expertise to get right. Thanks for sharing.

@Jade Forest - OOh those mini-crocks are just the thing! I wonder why they aren't more popular in Europe-- I rarely see them.

@Unknown - another sous vide fan! Welcome to the club!

@Tenli - Oh yes indeed - I can imagine a yoghurt maker also has the right temp control but would give space problems as well. Must be good for smaller portions though!

@Nichole - What a clever idea! This would be the right temperature indeed. Thanks for sharing!