Infusion is a process in which fresh herbs are added to oil and allowed time to sit and soak, to enhance the flavoring or scent of the oil. Most cooking oils can be used in the infusion process but olive oil is one of the most popular choices. This is most likely because of its ability to incorporate the flavors of the herbs so completely, not to mention it’s also one of the healthiest cooking oils available. While scent can be important, the main goal when infusing oils for cooking is the enhancement of flavoring.
Anytime you would use a traditional, non-flavored, cooking oil, these oils can be used in its place to provide additional flavoring and interest to the dish. It is also common to use these oils as dressing on a salad and as a dipping option for dinner bread.
There are three different ways to infuse your favorite herbs and spices into your cooking olive oil:
- Room Temperature Infusion
The easiest way is to put the olive oil into a clear bottle and add the desired amount of herbs or spices before sealing tightly, and allowing to sit at room temperature for a few hours. Once the oil has been infused to the desired flavor strength it’s a good idea to put it into the refrigerator so that the oil does not become rancid.
- Cold Infusion
If you’re using dry herbs or spices you’ll want to use this method. It involves putting the olive oil and herbs or spices into a food processor and mixing until everything is blended together well. Straining the herb and spice that remains is a personal choice, and not necessary to the overall flavoring of the final product. Once the oil and herbs are mixed, they can be transferred into bottles and kept in the refrigerator to guarantee optimal flavoring when they are needed.
- Hot Infusion
The final option is performed over the stove. The oil and herbs or spices are heated in a small saucepan over a low heat on the stove and brought to about 185-195 degrees F. This allows the full release of flavors to be absorbed into the cooking oil. When it reaches the desired temperature and has finished being mixed it is time to strain out the herbs and spices, and pour the oil into a bottle to be refrigerated.
If you’ve never infused cooking oil before you may be wondering what you should add, or even what different options you can add besides herbs and spices, for different flavorings. Here is a list of the most commonly used herbs, spices, zests, nuts, and other flavors used to infuse cooking oils.
While you can mix one of these ingredients with olive oil and get a great tasting oil in return, it is worth it to try mixing and matching flavors that you enjoy together, into your oil infusion as well. They will become more potent and powerful when they are infused into the oil in which you are cooking, therefore making your dishes combined flavors stand out better.
Once you’ve infused your first batch of oil, go ahead and try it out on some of your favorite dishes. You’ll find that the scents and flavors are dramatically improved by the infusion process and that although the flavors are stronger, they have actually been incorporated into the dish more smoothly.
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