How to Make Flavored Herbal Oils for Cooking

Herbal Oils

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Herb-infused flavored oils for cooking, such as basil, rosemary, or garlic, are widely available at high-end grocery stores and specialty cooking shops, but they can be very expensive and they 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 decanted into pretty bottles, are always welcome as gifts. 

Difficulty Level

  • Average

Time Required

  • About 1 to 2 hours to make, 1 week to steep

Materials You Will Need

  • Sterilized, heat-resistant glass bottles or jars (the more attractive, the better. You can make your flavored oils in large jars and decant into smaller decorative bottles later if you wish)
  • Bottle corks or jar lids
  • Herbs of your choice (some suggestions are listed below)
  • Cooking oil (light olive oil is a good choice, but any cooking oil will work)
  • Large pot or cauldron for sterilizing jars. 
  • Saucepan for heating the oil
  • Jar labels
  • Decorative ribbon (optional)

How to Infuse Cooking Oil With Herbs

  1. Always start with clean, dry herbs and sterilized jars or bottles. Do not use herbs that show any sign of mold. It is crucially important when preserving any type of food, that you always follow the processing instructions specified in the recipe and to adhere to the USDA guidelines on how to sterilize jars and other products for canning.
  2. It is best to choose sprigs of herbs that do not require washing. Simply shake off any soil and do a once-over for any hitchhiking 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.
  3. Sterilize clean glass bottles or jars by boiling them in water for ten minutes. Even brand new jars just out of the box will need to be cleaned and sterilized.
  4. Allow the bottles and jars to dry thoroughly. There should be no water droplets.
  5. Slightly bruise your herbs with a wooden roller, to release their oils, then stuff them into the bottles. You don’t need a large quantity of herbs. Depending on the pungency and freshness of the herbs, a sprig or two could sufficiently infuse the oil.
  6. Heat the cooking oil on low heat, just until warm, then carefully pour the oil into the bottles, over the herbs. Allow the contents to cool.
  7. 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 these are also strained out. 
  8. Seal the bottles with lids or corks, and allow the bottles to sit in a cool spot out of direct sunlight, for about 1 week before using.
  9. Label the jars, and attach decorative ribbons if you intend to give them away as gifts. It's nice to also attach a fresh sprig of whatever herbs were used to flavor the oils, so the receiver can get a whiff of the scent of the herb, before using.

Caution: 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, at most. Straining out the herbs and refrigerating the oil will help the oil last longer. Many gift recipients won’t want to use something so beautiful, so be sure to put a "Use By" date on the label and remind them the oil won’t stay fresh for long, and promise to make more next year.

Tips for Making Flavorful Herb Infused Cooking Oils

  • 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 canola oil might be a better choice.
  • Good choices for herbal oil infusions include basil, bay, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme. You could also add things like citrus peel and dried berries, for even more flavor.
  • Consider including a favorite recipe or two, when giving as gifts.