The Spice Infusion

The Spice Infusion


Making your own culinary infused oils can be a very creative and inexpensive activity to do, especially if you are into spices and herbs. I recently wrote an article about my mothers paprika oil that she always made at home. Growing up with this beautiful, red-hued oil was something that I became used to seeing on-hand at all of our meals.


Now, you can walk down the aisles of most supermarkets and specialty food stores and see various blends of oils from garlic to red-hot chili peppers, from basil to thyme, et al. These infused oils make great bases for salad dressings, sauces, and marinades, as well as enhance the flavor and appearance to any dish. Not only are they great to cook with, they also make the perfect gift or basket stuffer for special occasions.


However, with the growing popularity of culinary oils, most of them can be quite expensive to buy on a regular basis. So why sacrifice your predilection for good taste when you can cut costs and be as creative as you wish?


The process of infusing oil is relatively simple. The hard part is deciding the types of bottles to use. But, hey, after that everything is pretty easy.


Lets discuss bottle types?

Any clear bottle with an airtight cover will suffice. Try to find the bottles that come with rubber-neck tops, as this type of cap locks in the aroma for longer periods. Avoid bottles with metal caps as they can rust easy and leave a metallic taste. Another point, easy-to-pour spouts are great to use as they avoid messiness and dripping. They can cost more, but they are also re-usable saving you money in the long-run. Please make sure to sterilize the bottles before using. Allow the bottles to dry without wiping.


What spices or herbs to use?

Use whatever spices or herbs you fancy.

I prefer to use dried spices and herbs rather than fresh, as the water content is evaporated and there is little chance of bacteria growth. (This is from my own perspective -- of course you can change this to whatever you prefer). I use my mothers recipe for making paprika oil, substituting the paprika for the spice that will be perfect for adding a distinct flavor and fragrance to the oil. The intensity of the taste and fragrance depends on the strength and quantity of herbs or spices used.


If you have the patience and time to go the traditional way, which means allowing the spices or herbs to infuse the oil for several days, then that is the process I would suggest to follow. If you want quick and easy, then follow the Hot Infusion method below.


The Creative Process


Hot Infusion Method:

Using heat to infuse oil is a much quicker process, and the oil can be used soon after making it. For quicker results place all the ingredients into a crock-pot and cook until the mixture begins to bubble (this method is a better way to cook the oil to prevent burning). Turn off heat. Let the oil mixture cool. After it is cooled, then strain the mixture by using a cheese-cloth until you are left with a clear liquid. Then pour the infused oil into bottles and store, or use straight away.

Please note: It is best to keep your infused oils in the refrigerator for optimum freshness and longevity.


Cold Infusion Method:

Place the dried spices or herbs into a sterilized bottle. Pour in the oil. Cover with an airtight top or lid. Store at room temperature for several days. After the infused oil has reached the desired flavor level, it should be refrigerated to ensure freshness and used within a week's time. If it doesn't taste strong enough, then add more spice or herbs, and let stand for a few more hours. The same procedure applies to fresh herbs & spice infused oil as well.


Important Notes on Garlic Infused Oils:

Botulism bacteria are present on many foods and throughout our environment. The problem is when they multiply -- which they do in an oxygen-free environment when the acidity is not too high and the temperature is not too low. This is the reason that when making oils or canned products it is best to stick to tested recipes and follow the instructions about sterilization and processing.


Garlic has a tendency to have botulism spores on the surface of the bulbs. Garlic sitting in oil, unrefrigerated, is an environment in which botulism bacteria can grow to dangerous levels within a day or two. Infusing oil with garlic poses little risk if you immediately use the oil for cooking. But it cannot be stored unrefrigerated, because the heat level used for infusion is not enough to kill Botulinum bacteria. The only way to guarantee safety is to cook the garlic at above 250 degrees for a few minutes. You could cook it in a pressure cooker, roast or stew the bulbs in hot olive oil at 250 degrees or higher to guarantee safety. It's a very different flavor than oil infused with raw garlic, though as commercial production of garlic-infused oil presumably involves steps that eliminate the bacteria, so that the product can be stored outside the fridge.


The risk for botulism exists for other herb-infused oils as well so it is wise to follow the same procedures when making oils with garlic. Local Health Organizations recommend that homemade infused oils be kept refrigerated and should be used within 2-3 days if using the cold infusion method, and within one week if using the hot infusion method.


A normal recipe: Approximately 1 & 1/2 Tbsp. of dried spices or herbs to 1 cup olive oil. Use a mortar and pestle for bruising the herbs and spices just a little in order to release their flavors.


Be bold! Be Creative! Be daring! And above all, have fun!


The following are some simple and flavorful recipes. Just click on the link for instructions:

Spicy Chili Infused Oil

Classic Infused Oil

Harissa Oil


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