Two bottles of essential oils

Consumers continue to demand transparency and cleaner ingredients for the food and beverages they purchase. Essential oils have proven to be a valuable asset for food manufacturers in either shifting or maintaining a clean label on their products.

Kalsec was a pioneer in the industry of extraction and over time evolved our portfolio of offerings to include essential oils. These aromatic extracts are gaining attention for their unique culinary applications. Understanding how they are produced and the benefits they impart could add a new dimension to product development. 

How Essential Oils Are Crafted

Essential oils are obtained through a process known as steam distillation, which extracts the volatile flavor constituents from spices, herbs and other natural ingredients. Here’s a glimpse into the process:

  • Steam distillation: Steam is passed through a bed of the chosen botanical, effectively volatilizing flavor and aroma compounds, carrying them into the steam stream.
  • Condensation: The steam, laden with essential oil, is then run through a condenser, which cools the steam to form water and the essential oil. These two immiscible components then form distinct layers.
  • Separation: The oil can be easily separated from the water, though it's worth noting that some essential oils are denser than water. Not all herbs and spices yield essential oils; some require solvent extraction, like capsicum.

Citrus Essential Oils Play Their Own Game

While the above process is true for the majority of essential oils, others, mainly citrus, follow a different pattern. Much of the flavor in citrus comes from the oils in their peels. To obtain as much of those oils as possible, the whole fruit is pricked with small needles and the essential oils exudes from the peels is collected. This process obtains fresher smelling oils when compared to a distilled citrus – this is especially true for lime oil. Expeller-pressed lime oil has a citrusy and fresh green note while limes distilled with the fruit have the lime “lollipop” flavor associated with sodas and confections. 

Balancing Aroma and Flavor: Essential Oils vs. Oleoresins

When it comes to essential oils, it's all about the aroma. These oils closely mirror the botanical they originate from, capturing the very essence of the plant's characteristic flavor, hence their name. However, they miss out on the vital "taste components" found in the original botanical. In contrast, oleoresins go the extra mile, encompassing the complete flavor profile. For instance, take black pepper essential oil and black pepper oleoresin; they share remarkably similar aromas. Yet, the oleoresin boasts additional elements like pigments, waxes, and piperine, the fiery "heat" component of black pepper, which are absent in essential oil. This means that essential oils can provide the aromatic notes of black pepper without the accompanying pungency. It's important to note that oleoresins, due to a desolventization step in their production process, may miss some of the lighter notes that essential oils retain, offering a unique balance between flavor and aroma.

Why Essential Oils are a Culinary Game Changer

So why and when would you want to use essential oils in product formulations? These products offer unique advantages that cater to specific needs: 

  • Intense aroma: Essential oils are perfect for those seeking a powerful aromatic impact. Their ability to deliver an immediate wave of aroma is ideal for enhancing the sensory experience of foods.
  • Dispersibility: Being oil-soluble with minimal color and low viscosity, essential oils seamlessly blend into food products, making them a preferred choice in the flavor industry.
  • Concentration and Purity: Like oleoresins, essential oils are concentrated and commercially sterile forms of spices and herbs. They are free from pigments and non-volatile constituents, making them an excellent option for maintaining product purity.
  • Clean Label: Essential oils offer a clean label ingredient option for manufacturers while providing some opportunities for front-of-pack claims for certain spices, herbs and other natural ingredients.

With all that, keep in mind that essential oils are more volatile and susceptible to degradation from heat and air, necessitating proper storage and handling. In a Kalsec study published in Perfumer & Flavorist, essential oils tend to have light floral and perfumy aroma notes as compared to the oleoresin.

Ultimately, if you desire the delicate, authentic aroma of herbs and botanicals with minimal heat damage, clarity, low viscosity, and freedom from pigments and non-volatile constituents, essential oils emerge as a valuable choice for culinary innovation. These aromatic treasures hold the power to elevate your food creations and provide consumers with the natural flavors they crave.