Herb-infused flavored oils for cooking, such as basil, rosemary, or garlic oil, are widely available at high-end grocery stores and specialty cooking shops, but they can be very expensive and don't always have a true, robust herbal flavor. They are often processed and may have been sitting on a shelf for months. Fortunately, herb-flavored oils are very easy to make yourself either from the herbs you grow or purchase. They are wonderful to cook with, and when decanted into pretty bottles, they're always welcome as gifts.
It is best to choose sprigs of herbs that do not require washing. The total prep time reflects that the oil needs to steep for one week to ensure maximum flavor.
- Fresh or dried herbs of your choice
- Light cooking oil such as vegetable, canola, or virgin olive oil
Gather your ingredients, as well as jars for storing the oil.
Shake off any soil from the herbs and check for any insects. If you must clean your herbs, rinse them off and give them several hours to thoroughly dry before using. Any water left on the herbs will impede their contact with the oil.
Sterilize clean glass bottles or jars by boiling them in water for 10 minutes. Allow the jars to dry thoroughly.
Slightly bruise your herbs with a wooden roller to release their oils. Add the herbs to the bottles. You don’t need a large quantity of herbs; depending on the pungency and freshness of the herbs, a sprig or two should sufficiently infuse the oil.
Heat the oil over low heat in a saucepan just until warm.
Carefully pour the oil into the bottles, over the herbs. Allow the contents to cool.
If you used fresh herbs, you will need to strain them out of the oil by pouring the oil from the bottle through a strainer or coffee filter, and into a new bottle. Dried herbs can remain in the oil, but the oil will stay fresh a bit longer if they are also strained out.
Once the herbs are removed, seal the bottles with lids or corks. Allow them to sit in a cool spot out of direct sunlight for about one week before using.
- The lighter the oil flavor, the more pronounced the herb flavor will be. While extra-virgin olive oil is a kitchen favorite, it has a very pronounced flavor of its own. Lighter olive oil or something like virgin olive oil, canola oil, or vegetable oil are better choices.
- Good choices for herbal oil infusions include basil, bay leaves, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme. You could also add things like citrus peel for even more flavor.
Notes on Food Safety for Infused Oils
- Always start with clean, dry herbs and sterilized jars or bottles. Do not use herbs that show any sign of mold. It is crucial when preserving any type of food that you always follow the processing instructions specified in the recipe and adhere to the USDA guidelines on how to sterilize jars and other products for canning.
- Homemade oils do not stay fresh as long as processed oils, and they will need to be used within a short time after opening. Flavored oils should be used within two months. Straining out the herbs and refrigerating the oil will help the oil last longer. Many gift recipients won’t want to use it up quickly, so be sure to put a "use by" date on the label and remind them the oil won’t stay fresh for long.
United States, Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Complete Guide to Home Canning. Revised 2015. Prepper Press, 2017.