Infusing Herbs in Oils - Which Method is Best?
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 ListWhen 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 EasyHeat 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 OilAlthough 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 ComeMeantime, 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.
@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!