You Are At The Archives for March 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013 in , , , , , , , , , , ,

Super Sensitive Skin - Why it's on the rise and best tips on how to deal with it

Best tips on how to deal with sensitive skin

The concept of sensitive skin isn't new.  Some of us just have more temperamental skin for better or worse.  Your skin is your body's first defense against the exterior world and it takes a lot of abuse.  It's no surprise that sometimes it reacts with a bit of irritation.  It has a big job to do.

What is new though is the increase in severe sensitivities and the overwhelming number of people dealing with them.  I thought when we designed our initial Blissoma collection that we had done a good job of targeting very sensitive skin.  We eliminated nut ingredients, petrochemicals, parabens, sodium laurel sulfate and so many other commonly identified irritants.  What I found as the years progressed is a significant enough number of people who were still having trouble with our formulations that included essential oils.  Essential oils are generally one of my absolute favorite skin healers, detoxing helpers, and especially acne fighters.  But many clients couldn't even use a product with a natural scent.

That led us to introduce our new yellow coded collection for Ultra Sensitive Skin which has absolutely no scents and was specifically designed for these most reactive people.  In the process of creating these products I had to do a lot of research into the herbs I wanted to use.  I didn't want to make a product that was so neutral it did little besides moisturize.  That meant a lot of experimentation and reading to figure out which herbs would specifically offer anti-irritant properties and not be tagged by any particular group for allergen issues.

Skin comfort and allergic reaction is a very real issue for those dealing with it on a daily basis.  Over 50% of women in a 2001 study described themselves as having sensitive skin.  Men, as well report a high incidence with that trend increasing after shaving irritation occurs.  Herbs are powerful, and even natural products can indeed be a culprit for reaction, which is why it is important to choose the right ingredients for your skin.

Do you have sensitive skin?  

A list of common sensitive skin symptoms:

  1. Stinging when products are applied
  2. Redness and flushing, rashes
  3. Inflammation and swelling
  4. Itching
  5. Excessive dryness, tightness, soreness and uncomfortable sensation
If you have any of these symptoms directly after applying a product you are likely sensitive to an ingredient in that particular product.  If you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis you should consider using protective, nourishing skincare made specifically for the most sensitive skin.

Skin aggravation and sensitivity can be merely topical or it can have its roots internally as well.  Lifestyle choices and your environment contribute too.  You may develop new sensitivities with age or even with changes in the weather. 

Causes of very sensitive skin:

  1. Genetics - You may have simply inherited a predisposition to skin sensitivity.  Interestingly Asian and White skin types have been reported to have thin skin barrier function, while African American skin types are thicker.  This means sensitivity may be more prevalent in Asian and White skin types.  Dehydration is very common with African American skin types, however which can contribute to sensitivity.

  2. Irritating Cosmetic Products -  Some products may contain acids that are simply too challenging for your skin, or may block your skin's natural respiration and toxin release processes.  You can develop new sensitivities with overuse of some ingredients or just as you age, so the products you used to use may not always be good for you as your skin changes.

  3. Detergents and Synthetic Fragrances in Cleaning Products and Laundry Soap - It's not just skincare that touches your skin.  The detergents used to wash your clothing and household cleaners are not required to declare ingredients, meaning they can contain any number of unknown ingredients.  Some of these detergents are quite strong and may break down your skin's defensive barriers, causing irritation.

  4. Extreme Weather - Very hot, cold, and dry conditions all stress your skin.  It is already working hard to keep hydrated and at a proper temperature and may become more reactive.

  5. Dryness - Dryness breaks down your defensive mantle, causing the nerve endings in skin to be more exposed and prone to react.  Very dry skin is one of the top causes of skin reactions as reported to us by estheticians that see clients with severely dehydrated skin on a regular basis.  Dryness is caused internally as well as externally through lack of proper fluid intake.  If you are drinking only caffeinated beverages like coffee and soda throughout the day you may be causing your own dehydrated state.

  6. Age and Hormonal Fluctuation - New sensitivities may crop up as you get older.  Your body is less efficient about general maintenance and slower to repair as you age.  Hormones shift especially for women in pregnancy, each month with our cycles, and make a huge change in menopause.  Your body is not static by any means, so watch for problems related to your natural body rhythms.

  7. Stress - Studies with mice have shown eczema, dermatitis and general skin aggravation triggered specifically by stress and the "fight or flight" chemical response in the body.  Blood flow to skin is decreased and the steroidal hormones released to fuel muscle reaction and overall survival degrade the skin's barrier function.

  8. Poor Diet and Food Allergies - If you eat low nutrient foods and lots of sugary, empty calories you fuel inflammation in the body.  Specific allergies to foods can also make you predisposed to rashes, hives, flakiness, and sluggish cell renewal.

  9. Overall Body Toxin Load - This is one of the primary factors I see affecting the increasing number of people reporting sensitive skin.  Much like increases in internal allergies to nuts, milk, fish, strawberries, tomatoes, food colorings, and too many other foods to count external allergies are increasing in commonality and severity.  Allergies are an improper immune system response.  The overabundance of foreign chemicals in our air, food, water, and everywhere around us is giving us quite a load to process on a daily basis.  Special circumstances like chemotherapy for cancer patients can trigger excessive sensitivity as well as the body tries to deal with being flooded with what is essentially a toxic cocktail of chemicals.

Most people will experience a good number of these triggers throughout their lives at various points, so really anyone can have sensitive skin.  Even if you didn't at one point it can develop.

When thinking of the toxin load your body is bearing on a daily basis I'd liken this to a stack of books.  Put one book in your hands and you're fine.  Two, three, four... maybe even 10 you can balance quite well.  But as the stack gets higher it gets heavier and harder to hold for a length of time.  It also just gets more difficult to balance.  Eventually as more books are added your arms get tired, you get overwhelmed, lose control and the stack comes tumbling down.
 

This is like the load of foreign chemicals our bodies process each day and throughout our lifetimes.  A few here and there are not a big deal.  We have detox systems in our bodies that convert and handle unhealthy chemicals.  Our liver is a major detox organ, and cleans many substances out of our blood each day.  However if the system is overloaded it starts to behave in unexpected ways.  An allergic response may occur because your body is so burdened it is having trouble telling the difference between friendly and toxic substances.  By reacting it is forcing you to limit the variety of chemicals you are exposed to each day.  Your "stack of books" has started to topple, and it wants you to take a few off the pile so it becomes bearable again.

I also believe many people actually have sensitive skin but are ignoring the symptoms or just proceeding with routine as usual because they don't know what else to do.  If you are suffering from breakouts, redness, and skin that is not smooth and supple you may actually be reacting to the products you are applying.  

So what can you do?

Steps to heal and minimize sensitive skin reactions:

  1. Put your skin on an elimination diet.
    Strip your routine down to the simplest possible elements.  Reduce your skincare to single ingredients.  Use unblended oils such as organic jojoba, grapeseed, or tamanu for moisturization, perhaps a bit of oat flour made into a paste for cleansing, and aloe vera to calm and hydrate irritations.  Give yourself several weeks on an incredibly basic routine like this.  Sometimes if your skin has gotten into a place of perennial reactivity it may take some time for it to settle down.  Start adding ingredients back in once your skin isn't raw and broken, red, or stinging when something is applied.

  2. Eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water.
    Get rid of excessive caffeine in your diet and drink plenty of water.  Focus on consuming a majority of organic produce, only whole grains (and consider limiting wheat), and lots of healthy fats with plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids.  Because gluten allergies can cause rashes and skin breakouts for some people you may wish to try a diet that focuses on brown rice and non glutinous grains.

  3. Start slowly adding simple products back to your routine.
    Once your skin is past the initial stage of elimination consider adding organic, truly natural, and very mild products back to your routine.  
         - Avoid acids like AHAs and glycolic acid and even Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) as acids cause exfoliation of the skin and may irritate you all over again.  
         - Avoid retinols, as these are irritating for even normal skin types.
         - Avoid propylene glycol and butylene glycol.  These substances break down your skin's barrier and increase how much other ingredients penetrate the deeper layers of your skin.  For sensitive individuals this is not an advantage as irritants will travel further in.
         - Avoid products with even natural scent or ethyl alcohol.  While these can be fine in small amounts for "normal" or even healthy sensitive skin they carry too high a probability of reaction for individuals with severe sensitivity.
         - You may wish to skip using a toner initially, or if you do consider just apple cider vinegar.
         - Use products with plenty of healthy, organic plant oils and butters.  Part of reactivity comes from environmental stimulation like pollutants or things that inadvertently touch your skin.  The better lipid barrier your skin has the more ability to repel foreign substances it will have.  As well, since dryness is a cause of sensitivity you may short circuit one cause just by keeping your skin well moisturized.
         - Look for anti-reactive herbs like Comfrey, Calendula, Plantain, Heather Flowers, Marshmallow, and Self Heal in the products you choose.  These contain mucilage that soothes skin and substances that spur skin to rebuild cells faster.
         - Add products to your routine slowly and one at a time so your skin isn't overwhelmed. 

  4. Keep your stress level down.
    Stress is the enemy of healthy skin.  Get more sleep, make yogic deep breathing a part of your day (love me some pranayama!), stretch, consume less caffeine, take a walk, laugh with a friend, and make time to be kind to yourself.  Incidentally this is great for your overall health as well, not just skin.


  5. Don't go back to whatever you were doing before.
    It's tempting once the reactivity has subsided to think your problem is solved.  Maybe it is for the moment, but your long term reactivity and skin problems should stay improved if you don't backslide.  It may seem tempting to just purchase a cheap bottle of cleanser or creme from the local drugstore.  We tend to so easily forget problems once they heal, and re-irritate our bodies.  What I know for sure, though, is that petrochemical ingredients are not helping your skin, not one iota.  At best they may be neutral.  At worst you may cause yourself a whole new round of problems.  Mass market products often contain hidden preservatives and undeclared ingredients, as well, even hidden fragrances in "unscented" products (they still use a "masking" scent to make base ingredients smell better).  You honestly just don't know what you're putting on your skin when you purchase a synthetic-packed product, making it even harder to determine your actual sensitivity triggers.
    For lots of further reading the paper Sensitive Skin: A Complex Syndrome from 2011 provides a wealth of information.

    Wishing you the best of luck and comfort finding solutions for your sensitive skin!



    in , , , , , , , , , , ,

    Super Sensitive Skin - Why it's on the rise and best tips on how to deal with it

    Best tips on how to deal with sensitive skin

    The concept of sensitive skin isn't new.  Some of us just have more temperamental skin for better or worse.  Your skin is your body's first defense against the exterior world and it takes a lot of abuse.  It's no surprise that sometimes it reacts with a bit of irritation.  It has a big job to do.

    What is new though is the increase in severe sensitivities and the overwhelming number of people dealing with them.  I thought when we designed our initial Blissoma collection that we had done a good job of targeting very sensitive skin.  We eliminated nut ingredients, petrochemicals, parabens, sodium laurel sulfate and so many other commonly identified irritants.  What I found as the years progressed is a significant enough number of people who were still having trouble with our formulations that included essential oils.  Essential oils are generally one of my absolute favorite skin healers, detoxing helpers, and especially acne fighters.  But many clients couldn't even use a product with a natural scent.

    That led us to introduce our new yellow coded collection for Ultra Sensitive Skin which has absolutely no scents and was specifically designed for these most reactive people.  In the process of creating these products I had to do a lot of research into the herbs I wanted to use.  I didn't want to make a product that was so neutral it did little besides moisturize.  That meant a lot of experimentation and reading to figure out which herbs would specifically offer anti-irritant properties and not be tagged by any particular group for allergen issues.

    Skin comfort and allergic reaction is a very real issue for those dealing with it on a daily basis.  Over 50% of women in a 2001 study described themselves as having sensitive skin.  Men, as well report a high incidence with that trend increasing after shaving irritation occurs.  Herbs are powerful, and even natural products can indeed be a culprit for reaction, which is why it is important to choose the right ingredients for your skin.

    Do you have sensitive skin?  

    A list of common sensitive skin symptoms:

    1. Stinging when products are applied
    2. Redness and flushing, rashes
    3. Inflammation and swelling
    4. Itching
    5. Excessive dryness, tightness, soreness and uncomfortable sensation
    If you have any of these symptoms directly after applying a product you are likely sensitive to an ingredient in that particular product.  If you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis you should consider using protective, nourishing skincare made specifically for the most sensitive skin.

    Skin aggravation and sensitivity can be merely topical or it can have its roots internally as well.  Lifestyle choices and your environment contribute too.  You may develop new sensitivities with age or even with changes in the weather. 

    Causes of very sensitive skin:

    1. Genetics - You may have simply inherited a predisposition to skin sensitivity.  Interestingly Asian and White skin types have been reported to have thin skin barrier function, while African American skin types are thicker.  This means sensitivity may be more prevalent in Asian and White skin types.  Dehydration is very common with African American skin types, however which can contribute to sensitivity.

    2. Irritating Cosmetic Products -  Some products may contain acids that are simply too challenging for your skin, or may block your skin's natural respiration and toxin release processes.  You can develop new sensitivities with overuse of some ingredients or just as you age, so the products you used to use may not always be good for you as your skin changes.

    3. Detergents and Synthetic Fragrances in Cleaning Products and Laundry Soap - It's not just skincare that touches your skin.  The detergents used to wash your clothing and household cleaners are not required to declare ingredients, meaning they can contain any number of unknown ingredients.  Some of these detergents are quite strong and may break down your skin's defensive barriers, causing irritation.

    4. Extreme Weather - Very hot, cold, and dry conditions all stress your skin.  It is already working hard to keep hydrated and at a proper temperature and may become more reactive.

    5. Dryness - Dryness breaks down your defensive mantle, causing the nerve endings in skin to be more exposed and prone to react.  Very dry skin is one of the top causes of skin reactions as reported to us by estheticians that see clients with severely dehydrated skin on a regular basis.  Dryness is caused internally as well as externally through lack of proper fluid intake.  If you are drinking only caffeinated beverages like coffee and soda throughout the day you may be causing your own dehydrated state.

    6. Age and Hormonal Fluctuation - New sensitivities may crop up as you get older.  Your body is less efficient about general maintenance and slower to repair as you age.  Hormones shift especially for women in pregnancy, each month with our cycles, and make a huge change in menopause.  Your body is not static by any means, so watch for problems related to your natural body rhythms.

    7. Stress - Studies with mice have shown eczema, dermatitis and general skin aggravation triggered specifically by stress and the "fight or flight" chemical response in the body.  Blood flow to skin is decreased and the steroidal hormones released to fuel muscle reaction and overall survival degrade the skin's barrier function.

    8. Poor Diet and Food Allergies - If you eat low nutrient foods and lots of sugary, empty calories you fuel inflammation in the body.  Specific allergies to foods can also make you predisposed to rashes, hives, flakiness, and sluggish cell renewal.

    9. Overall Body Toxin Load - This is one of the primary factors I see affecting the increasing number of people reporting sensitive skin.  Much like increases in internal allergies to nuts, milk, fish, strawberries, tomatoes, food colorings, and too many other foods to count external allergies are increasing in commonality and severity.  Allergies are an improper immune system response.  The overabundance of foreign chemicals in our air, food, water, and everywhere around us is giving us quite a load to process on a daily basis.  Special circumstances like chemotherapy for cancer patients can trigger excessive sensitivity as well as the body tries to deal with being flooded with what is essentially a toxic cocktail of chemicals.

    Most people will experience a good number of these triggers throughout their lives at various points, so really anyone can have sensitive skin.  Even if you didn't at one point it can develop.

    When thinking of the toxin load your body is bearing on a daily basis I'd liken this to a stack of books.  Put one book in your hands and you're fine.  Two, three, four... maybe even 10 you can balance quite well.  But as the stack gets higher it gets heavier and harder to hold for a length of time.  It also just gets more difficult to balance.  Eventually as more books are added your arms get tired, you get overwhelmed, lose control and the stack comes tumbling down.
     

    This is like the load of foreign chemicals our bodies process each day and throughout our lifetimes.  A few here and there are not a big deal.  We have detox systems in our bodies that convert and handle unhealthy chemicals.  Our liver is a major detox organ, and cleans many substances out of our blood each day.  However if the system is overloaded it starts to behave in unexpected ways.  An allergic response may occur because your body is so burdened it is having trouble telling the difference between friendly and toxic substances.  By reacting it is forcing you to limit the variety of chemicals you are exposed to each day.  Your "stack of books" has started to topple, and it wants you to take a few off the pile so it becomes bearable again.

    I also believe many people actually have sensitive skin but are ignoring the symptoms or just proceeding with routine as usual because they don't know what else to do.  If you are suffering from breakouts, redness, and skin that is not smooth and supple you may actually be reacting to the products you are applying.  

    So what can you do?

    Steps to heal and minimize sensitive skin reactions:

    1. Put your skin on an elimination diet.
      Strip your routine down to the simplest possible elements.  Reduce your skincare to single ingredients.  Use unblended oils such as organic jojoba, grapeseed, or tamanu for moisturization, perhaps a bit of oat flour made into a paste for cleansing, and aloe vera to calm and hydrate irritations.  Give yourself several weeks on an incredibly basic routine like this.  Sometimes if your skin has gotten into a place of perennial reactivity it may take some time for it to settle down.  Start adding ingredients back in once your skin isn't raw and broken, red, or stinging when something is applied.

    2. Eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water.
      Get rid of excessive caffeine in your diet and drink plenty of water.  Focus on consuming a majority of organic produce, only whole grains (and consider limiting wheat), and lots of healthy fats with plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids.  Because gluten allergies can cause rashes and skin breakouts for some people you may wish to try a diet that focuses on brown rice and non glutinous grains.

    3. Start slowly adding simple products back to your routine.
      Once your skin is past the initial stage of elimination consider adding organic, truly natural, and very mild products back to your routine.  
           - Avoid acids like AHAs and glycolic acid and even Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) as acids cause exfoliation of the skin and may irritate you all over again.  
           - Avoid retinols, as these are irritating for even normal skin types.
           - Avoid propylene glycol and butylene glycol.  These substances break down your skin's barrier and increase how much other ingredients penetrate the deeper layers of your skin.  For sensitive individuals this is not an advantage as irritants will travel further in.
           - Avoid products with even natural scent or ethyl alcohol.  While these can be fine in small amounts for "normal" or even healthy sensitive skin they carry too high a probability of reaction for individuals with severe sensitivity.
           - You may wish to skip using a toner initially, or if you do consider just apple cider vinegar.
           - Use products with plenty of healthy, organic plant oils and butters.  Part of reactivity comes from environmental stimulation like pollutants or things that inadvertently touch your skin.  The better lipid barrier your skin has the more ability to repel foreign substances it will have.  As well, since dryness is a cause of sensitivity you may short circuit one cause just by keeping your skin well moisturized.
           - Look for anti-reactive herbs like Comfrey, Calendula, Plantain, Heather Flowers, Marshmallow, and Self Heal in the products you choose.  These contain mucilage that soothes skin and substances that spur skin to rebuild cells faster.
           - Add products to your routine slowly and one at a time so your skin isn't overwhelmed.  

    4. Keep your stress level down.
      Stress is the enemy of healthy skin.  Get more sleep, make yogic deep breathing a part of your day (love me some pranayama!), stretch, consume less caffeine, take a walk, laugh with a friend, and make time to be kind to yourself.  Incidentally this is great for your overall health as well, not just skin.


    5. Don't go back to whatever you were doing before.
      It's tempting once the reactivity has subsided to think your problem is solved.  Maybe it is for the moment, but your long term reactivity and skin problems should stay improved if you don't backslide.  It may seem tempting to just purchase a cheap bottle of cleanser or creme from the local drugstore.  We tend to so easily forget problems once they heal, and re-irritate our bodies.  What I know for sure, though, is that petrochemical ingredients are not helping your skin, not one iota.  At best they may be neutral.  At worst you may cause yourself a whole new round of problems.  Mass market products often contain hidden preservatives and undeclared ingredients, as well, even hidden fragrances in "unscented" products (they still use a "masking" scent to make base ingredients smell better).  You honestly just don't know what you're putting on your skin when you purchase a synthetic-packed product, making it even harder to determine your actual sensitivity triggers.
    For lots of further reading the paper Sensitive Skin: A Complex Syndrome from 2011 provides a wealth of information.

    Wishing you the best of luck and comfort finding solutions for your sensitive skin!



    Tuesday, March 12, 2013 in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

    Cooking with Essential Oils - A Complete Guide to the "Essence of Flavor"

    Photo by Jonathan Gayman
    Most people have never cooked with essential oils either due to lack of familiarity, lack of access, or the common repetition by many aromatherapy sources that say not to ingest them.  One secret of the food industry is that essential oils are used ubiquitously in packaged foods as a source of extra flavor.  Anyone consuming canned, frozen, or even boxed foods is almost assuredly already eating essential oils and a large list of essential oils is approved by the FDA for consumption as safe.  While they are potent, and best used with care my personal feeling is that people are missing out on an amazing sensory experience skipping these ingredients in their cooking.  

    To help you venture into the world of essential oils for your home cooked meals I put together a complete guide to cooking with essential oils with the help of Feast Magazine St. Louis.  Armed with a little knowledge you can begin to have all kinds of exotic flights of flavor fancy.  The story below includes links to 6 recipes I created from scratch for the article to help you make 4 complete courses all devised for maximum aromatic impact.  Enjoy, and please let me know if you try them!

    From Feast Magazine St. Louis, February 2013 
    Essential oils are most commonly associated with candles, fragrances and beauty products. However, the volatile oils produced by plants, their roots and their fruits are the building blocks upon which we create flavor in cooking. We grind herbs in a mortar and pestle when making vinaigrettes to extract the rich oils. We zest lemons and limes for the concentrated flavor found in the oils of their skins. So why don’t most people cook with bottled essential oils? Many oils available on the market aren’t intended for consumption. But seek out those essences made for cooking and you’ll open your kitchen to a whole new world of flavor.

    Cooking with essential oils is simply another way to season dishes, much like using spices and herbs. But they bring with them a number of benefits. Most notably, the concentration of flavor. Oftentimes just one drop of essential oil is enough to infuse an entire dish with flavor. No picking, peeling, chopping, grinding or grating necessary. The distiller has already done all the work for you by presenting the volatile oils in their straight form. And unlike with dried herbs or ground spices, shelf stability isn’t a concern. Essential oils are not vulnerable to bacteria and don’t go rancid like vegetable oils might. Some oils can change a bit over time or oxidize, but in general, essential oils keep for years.

    If the oils are purchased from a reliable source, quality and freshness of flavor are unmatched. Essential oil suppliers grow specific varieties of plants and use the best growing conditions to maximize the aromas in the plants they harvest. The plants are sent straight to distillation to capture their true profile, and distillers are careful not to compromise the quality of their oils with heat or other factors. In addition, one can access varieties of plants and unusual flavors that are simply not available in other forms. Neroli, for example, is the bitter orange flower. It’s very famous in perfumery and is only available as an oil. Bitter orange flowers are not sold for use, and even if they were, the aroma is so delicate and transient that by the time the blossoms reached you it would have deteriorated.

    So how do you begin working with these intense and intriguing oils? Start by substituting them for the herbs and spices in your favorite recipes, keeping the following guidelines in mind.
    Essential oils are oil-based and will dilute well in alcohol, vinegars, oils and fats. These elements need to be present in the recipe you’re using. Foods that are naturally rich in fat, such as dark or rich meats, fatted dairy products and coconut milk, work well. Starchy vegetables, beans, lentils and grains can also distribute the oils well enough if they’re also blended with a little cooking oil. Stews and chunky, thick soups are a good place to start, and dips, pestos and creamy sauces are the perfect testing ground for working with essential oils.

    Essential oils are quite potent. If following a recipe, you can use the ratio of 1 Tbsp dried herb = 3 Tbsp fresh herb = 1 drop essential oil. If you need to use less than one drop in a recipe, dip a toothpick in the oil and swirl it into the dish. Essential oils can also be diluted with food-grade oils. Create 50 percent, 25 percent or 10 percent dilutions for use in smaller batches of food. If you’re experimenting on your own, start slowly by adding one drop at a time. Taste the dish and adjust the seasoning based on your preference.

    Essential oils will “flash off.” With extended heat, so using them in cold applications is a wonderful way to get the maximum benefit. Using a small amount in olive oils and vinegars as a final dressing to foods works well. If using them in soups and sauces, add them at the last possible step, when heat exposure is minimal. Baked goods obviously will be exposed to heat, so some loss may occur. Consider increasing the amount of essential oils used in baked items to ensure the final product will still have lots of flavor.

    Tips are included in the link to Feast's website including a list of good oils to start with and ones to avoid to help guide you through cooking with essential oils.   Visit their site to see my list of recommended and favorite oils.

    And, check out a collection of recipes linked below that feature a variety of essential oils in a number of applications.  Each recipe was devised by myself through my 10+ years of experimenting with oils in my herbal studio and home kitchen.  Flavor is really my strength and while I may not have all the skills of a gourmet chef I can season a sauce and achieve something that will really please a palate.  Several recipes are vegan and numerous are gluten-free for my followers that pursue alternative food lifestyles.


    Photo by Jonathan Gayman
    Triple Celery Soup (Vegetarian and Gluten-Free)
    This delectably creamy soup offers a full, savory taste built on a bevy of veggies. Celery root, celery stalks and potato make a satisfying base, while white wine and apple lend a pleasant sweetness in the mouth. Celery leaf extract, parsley and the unusual touch of star anise create an aromatic treat that will have you taking your bowl back for seconds.

    Coriander and Pink Pepper Flatbread (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
    These crunchy flatbreads don't disappoint. Whole spelt flour creates a healthy base for a subtle but insistent blend of coriander and pink pepper. Horseradish loses its bite in the baking process but provides a full, mellow undertone.

    Whiskey, Fenugreek and Fig Balsalmic Chicken Wings
    Take wings in a sophisticated direction with a smoky, spicy marinade and syrupy molasses and balsamic reduction. The whole dish will have you smacking your lips and licking your fingers for the last drops of the delicately flavored sauce. Jicama sticks soak up the sweet stuff and offer a clean, satisfying crunch between bites of fragrant meat.
     
    Cumin, Apricot, and Grapefruit Braised Winter Vegetables (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
    This tasty vegetable dish is thoroughly infused with the bright flavors of apricot and grapefruit, which contrast nicely with earthy cumin essence and saffron. It's an unexpected combination but an irresistible one.
    Photo by Jonathan Gayman

    Raspberry, Rose, and Neroli Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
    A dairy-free, rosy dessert that cleanses the palate and offers an inviting combination of fruit and precious flowers. Super-simple preparation but a big wow factor for flavor. Altogether a singularly intriguing and elegant dessert experience.


    Rose, Ginger, and Assam Tea Cookies (Vegetarian)
    These turbinado sugar-topped cookies offer a crunch that makes a delightful companion to ice cream. The decadent Ginger Aftelier Chef's Essence dominates on the tongue with a hint of rose otto flitting about in the background. This buttery, classy take on a shortbread makes fine friends at a luncheon or tea or as a snack or dessert.

    Following is a list of essential oils used as food flavorings that are GRAS by the FDA.  See the original list including latin names on their site.

    Alfalfa, Allspice, Almond - bitter (free from prussic acid), Ambrette seed, Angelica root, Angelica seed, Angelica stem, Angostura (cusparia bark), Anise, asafetida, Balsam of Peru, Basil, Bay leaves, Bay (myrcia oil), Bergamot (bergamot orange), Bois de Rose, Cacao, Chamomile flowers  (Hungarian, Roman, and English), Cananga, Capsicum, Caraway, Cardamom seed, Carob bean, Carrot, Cascarilla bark, Cassia bark (Chinese, Padang, Batavian, and Saigon), Celery seed, Cherry wild bark, Chervil, Chicory, Cinnamon bark (Ceylon, Chinese, Saigon), Cinnamon leaf (Ceylon, Chinese, Saigon), Citronella, Citrus peels, Clary Sage, Clover, Coca (decocainized), Coffee, Cola nut, Coriander, Cumin, Curacao Orange peel, Cusparia bark, Dandelion root, Dog grass (quackgrass triticum), Elder flowers, Estragole (esdragol, esdragon, tarragon), Estragon (tarragon), Fennel sweet, Fenugreek, Galanga, Geranium (East Indian and rose), Ginger, Grapefruit, Guava, Hickory bark, Horehound, Hops, Horsemint, Hyssop, Immortelle, Jasmine, Juniper berries, Kola nut, Laurel (berries and leaves), Lavender, Lavender spike, Lavandin, Lemon, Lemon Balm, Lemongrass, Lemon peel, Lime, Linden flowers, Locust bean, Lupulin, Mace, Mandarin, Marjoram sweet, Mate, Melissa (lemon balm), Menthol, Menthyl acetate, Molasses extract, Mustard, Naringin, Neroli bigarade, Nutmeg, Onion, Orange bitter (flowers and peel), Orange leaf,  Orange sweet (flowers and peel), Origanum, Palmarosa, Paprika, Parsley, Pepper (black and white), Peppermint, Peruvian Balsam, Petitgrain (lemon, mandarin, and tangerine), Pimenta, Pimenta leaf, Pipsissewa leaves, Pomegranate, Prickly ash bark, Rose absolute, Rose otto and attar of roses, Rose (buds, flowers, fruit/hips), Rose geranium, Rose leaves, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage (officinalis, Greek and Spanish), St. John's bread, Savory (summer and winter), Schinus molle, Sloe berries, Spearmint, Spike lavender, Tamarind, Tangerine, Tarragon, Tea, Thyme (white, wild or creeping), Triticum (dog grass), Tuberose, Turmeric, Vanilla, Violet (flowers and leaves), Violet leaves absolute, Wild Cherry bark, Ylang-ylang, Zedoary bark

    Questions?  Comment and I'll be happy to reply with answers to guide you.

    Article originally published in the February 2013 issue of Feast Magazine.  Story and recipes by Julie Longyear, dishes prepared by Angela Komis. 
     

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    Cooking with Essential Oils - A Complete Guide to the "Essence of Flavor"

    Photo by Jonathan Gayman
    Most people have never cooked with essential oils either due to lack of familiarity, lack of access, or the common repetition by many aromatherapy sources that say not to ingest them.  One secret of the food industry is that essential oils are used ubiquitously in packaged foods as a source of extra flavor.  Anyone consuming canned, frozen, or even boxed foods is almost assuredly already eating essential oils and a large list of essential oils is approved by the FDA for consumption as safe.  While they are potent, and best used with care my personal feeling is that people are missing out on an amazing sensory experience skipping these ingredients in their cooking.  

    To help you venture into the world of essential oils for your home cooked meals I put together a complete guide to cooking with essential oils with the help of Feast Magazine St. Louis.  Armed with a little knowledge you can begin to have all kinds of exotic flights of flavor fancy.  The story below includes links to 6 recipes I created from scratch for the article to help you make 4 complete courses all devised for maximum aromatic impact.  Enjoy, and please let me know if you try them!

    From Feast Magazine St. Louis, February 2013 
    Essential oils are most commonly associated with candles, fragrances and beauty products. However, the volatile oils produced by plants, their roots and their fruits are the building blocks upon which we create flavor in cooking. We grind herbs in a mortar and pestle when making vinaigrettes to extract the rich oils. We zest lemons and limes for the concentrated flavor found in the oils of their skins. So why don’t most people cook with bottled essential oils? Many oils available on the market aren’t intended for consumption. But seek out those essences made for cooking and you’ll open your kitchen to a whole new world of flavor.

    Cooking with essential oils is simply another way to season dishes, much like using spices and herbs. But they bring with them a number of benefits. Most notably, the concentration of flavor. Oftentimes just one drop of essential oil is enough to infuse an entire dish with flavor. No picking, peeling, chopping, grinding or grating necessary. The distiller has already done all the work for you by presenting the volatile oils in their straight form. And unlike with dried herbs or ground spices, shelf stability isn’t a concern. Essential oils are not vulnerable to bacteria and don’t go rancid like vegetable oils might. Some oils can change a bit over time or oxidize, but in general, essential oils keep for years.

    If the oils are purchased from a reliable source, quality and freshness of flavor are unmatched. Essential oil suppliers grow specific varieties of plants and use the best growing conditions to maximize the aromas in the plants they harvest. The plants are sent straight to distillation to capture their true profile, and distillers are careful not to compromise the quality of their oils with heat or other factors. In addition, one can access varieties of plants and unusual flavors that are simply not available in other forms. Neroli, for example, is the bitter orange flower. It’s very famous in perfumery and is only available as an oil. Bitter orange flowers are not sold for use, and even if they were, the aroma is so delicate and transient that by the time the blossoms reached you it would have deteriorated.

    So how do you begin working with these intense and intriguing oils? Start by substituting them for the herbs and spices in your favorite recipes, keeping the following guidelines in mind.
    Essential oils are oil-based and will dilute well in alcohol, vinegars, oils and fats. These elements need to be present in the recipe you’re using. Foods that are naturally rich in fat, such as dark or rich meats, fatted dairy products and coconut milk, work well. Starchy vegetables, beans, lentils and grains can also distribute the oils well enough if they’re also blended with a little cooking oil. Stews and chunky, thick soups are a good place to start, and dips, pestos and creamy sauces are the perfect testing ground for working with essential oils.

    Essential oils are quite potent. If following a recipe, you can use the ratio of 1 Tbsp dried herb = 3 Tbsp fresh herb = 1 drop essential oil. If you need to use less than one drop in a recipe, dip a toothpick in the oil and swirl it into the dish. Essential oils can also be diluted with food-grade oils. Create 50 percent, 25 percent or 10 percent dilutions for use in smaller batches of food. If you’re experimenting on your own, start slowly by adding one drop at a time. Taste the dish and adjust the seasoning based on your preference.

    Essential oils will “flash off.” With extended heat, so using them in cold applications is a wonderful way to get the maximum benefit. Using a small amount in olive oils and vinegars as a final dressing to foods works well. If using them in soups and sauces, add them at the last possible step, when heat exposure is minimal. Baked goods obviously will be exposed to heat, so some loss may occur. Consider increasing the amount of essential oils used in baked items to ensure the final product will still have lots of flavor.

    Tips are included in the link to Feast's website including a list of good oils to start with and ones to avoid to help guide you through cooking with essential oils.   Visit their site to see my list of recommended and favorite oils.

    And, check out a collection of recipes linked below that feature a variety of essential oils in a number of applications.  Each recipe was devised by myself through my 10+ years of experimenting with oils in my herbal studio and home kitchen.  Flavor is really my strength and while I may not have all the skills of a gourmet chef I can season a sauce and achieve something that will really please a palate.  Several recipes are vegan and numerous are gluten-free for my followers that pursue alternative food lifestyles.


    Photo by Jonathan Gayman
    Triple Celery Soup (Vegetarian and Gluten-Free)
    This delectably creamy soup offers a full, savory taste built on a bevy of veggies. Celery root, celery stalks and potato make a satisfying base, while white wine and apple lend a pleasant sweetness in the mouth. Celery leaf extract, parsley and the unusual touch of star anise create an aromatic treat that will have you taking your bowl back for seconds.

    Coriander and Pink Pepper Flatbread (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
    These crunchy flatbreads don't disappoint. Whole spelt flour creates a healthy base for a subtle but insistent blend of coriander and pink pepper. Horseradish loses its bite in the baking process but provides a full, mellow undertone.

    Whiskey, Fenugreek and Fig Balsalmic Chicken Wings
    Take wings in a sophisticated direction with a smoky, spicy marinade and syrupy molasses and balsamic reduction. The whole dish will have you smacking your lips and licking your fingers for the last drops of the delicately flavored sauce. Jicama sticks soak up the sweet stuff and offer a clean, satisfying crunch between bites of fragrant meat.
     
    Cumin, Apricot, and Grapefruit Braised Winter Vegetables (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
    This tasty vegetable dish is thoroughly infused with the bright flavors of apricot and grapefruit, which contrast nicely with earthy cumin essence and saffron. It's an unexpected combination but an irresistible one.
    Photo by Jonathan Gayman

    Raspberry, Rose, and Neroli Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan and Gluten-Free)
    A dairy-free, rosy dessert that cleanses the palate and offers an inviting combination of fruit and precious flowers. Super-simple preparation but a big wow factor for flavor. Altogether a singularly intriguing and elegant dessert experience.


    Rose, Ginger, and Assam Tea Cookies (Vegetarian)
    These turbinado sugar-topped cookies offer a crunch that makes a delightful companion to ice cream. The decadent Ginger Aftelier Chef's Essence dominates on the tongue with a hint of rose otto flitting about in the background. This buttery, classy take on a shortbread makes fine friends at a luncheon or tea or as a snack or dessert.

    Following is a list of essential oils used as food flavorings that are GRAS by the FDA.  See the original list including latin names on their site.

    Alfalfa, Allspice, Almond - bitter (free from prussic acid), Ambrette seed, Angelica root, Angelica seed, Angelica stem, Angostura (cusparia bark), Anise, asafetida, Balsam of Peru, Basil, Bay leaves, Bay (myrcia oil), Bergamot (bergamot orange), Bois de Rose, Cacao, Chamomile flowers  (Hungarian, Roman, and English), Cananga, Capsicum, Caraway, Cardamom seed, Carob bean, Carrot, Cascarilla bark, Cassia bark (Chinese, Padang, Batavian, and Saigon), Celery seed, Cherry wild bark, Chervil, Chicory, Cinnamon bark (Ceylon, Chinese, Saigon), Cinnamon leaf (Ceylon, Chinese, Saigon), Citronella, Citrus peels, Clary Sage, Clover, Coca (decocainized), Coffee, Cola nut, Coriander, Cumin, Curacao Orange peel, Cusparia bark, Dandelion root, Dog grass (quackgrass triticum), Elder flowers, Estragole (esdragol, esdragon, tarragon), Estragon (tarragon), Fennel sweet, Fenugreek, Galanga, Geranium (East Indian and rose), Ginger, Grapefruit, Guava, Hickory bark, Horehound, Hops, Horsemint, Hyssop, Immortelle, Jasmine, Juniper berries, Kola nut, Laurel (berries and leaves), Lavender, Lavender spike, Lavandin, Lemon, Lemon Balm, Lemongrass, Lemon peel, Lime, Linden flowers, Locust bean, Lupulin, Mace, Mandarin, Marjoram sweet, Mate, Melissa (lemon balm), Menthol, Menthyl acetate, Molasses extract, Mustard, Naringin, Neroli bigarade, Nutmeg, Onion, Orange bitter (flowers and peel), Orange leaf,  Orange sweet (flowers and peel), Origanum, Palmarosa, Paprika, Parsley, Pepper (black and white), Peppermint, Peruvian Balsam, Petitgrain (lemon, mandarin, and tangerine), Pimenta, Pimenta leaf, Pipsissewa leaves, Pomegranate, Prickly ash bark, Rose absolute, Rose otto and attar of roses, Rose (buds, flowers, fruit/hips), Rose geranium, Rose leaves, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage (officinalis, Greek and Spanish), St. John's bread, Savory (summer and winter), Schinus molle, Sloe berries, Spearmint, Spike lavender, Tamarind, Tangerine, Tarragon, Tea, Thyme (white, wild or creeping), Triticum (dog grass), Tuberose, Turmeric, Vanilla, Violet (flowers and leaves), Violet leaves absolute, Wild Cherry bark, Ylang-ylang, Zedoary bark

    Questions?  Comment and I'll be happy to reply with answers to guide you.

    Article originally published in the February 2013 issue of Feast Magazine.  Story and recipes by Julie Longyear, dishes prepared by Angela Komis. 
     

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