Learn about the term essential oils, as applied popularly to medicine and traditionally to food; in the later it is used for the flavorful material in herbs and spices. With the approach of Thanksgiving, consider this great recipe for leftover turkey or chicken, which employs the fresh herb sage; we will look at more closely below. 1
Essential Oil as Found in Food
Flavor is a composite quality, a combination of sensations occurring in the odor receptors in the upper reaches of our nose and the taste buds in our mouths. Both sensations are chemical in nature: we are smelling odors and tasting tastes, when our receptors are triggered by specific chemicals in foods (in medicinal essential oils, these concentrated chemicals are either inhaled through the nostrils or applied to the skin). 2
Flavor Is Mostly Derived from Aroma
Most of what we experience as flavor is odor, or aroma (this can be seen in the effect odor molecules have on us, when biting into a fresh apple, and from the sensations derived from indulging in a roast, hot from the oven). 3
Herbs and spices heighten flavor by adding their characteristic aroma molecules (an exception is pungent spices and herbs, such as pepper and chilies, which stimulate and irritate nerves in the mouth, rather than provide aroma). These aroma molecules of herbs and spices are small, light, invisible, intangible, making them volatile, especially when heated-they evaporate from their source and fly through the air, which allows them to rise with our breath to the receptors in our nostrils. 4
Defensive Aroma Chemicals in Plants
In herbs and spices, these were actually defensive aroma chemicals in the plants themselves, which we have adopted as potent, intense sources of flavor. God placed these chemicals in plants to make them resistant to attack by animals or microbes. These defensive chemical weapons are stockpiled carefully in specialized oil-storage cells, in glands on the surface of leaves, or in channels that open up between cells, as they can have disruptive effects on the plants themselves-as well as on predators-and thus are kept from the internal workings of the plants. For more on defensive chemicals in plants see Braised Cabbage. 5
When eaten as is, most herbs and spices are acrid, irritating, numbing, and actually toxic, such as a whole oregano leaf, a clove, peppercorn, or vanilla bean. But through the art of cooking, man dilutes these, thus bringing much pleasure. 6
Term Essential Oil as Applied to Food
In food history, the traditional term essential oil reflects an important practical fact: the aroma chemicals that make up flavor are more similar to oils and fats than to water, making them more soluble in oil than water. For this reason, cooks add the deep flavor of herbs and spices to foods, by the infusing of them in oil, not water (two exceptions to this are: tea, a dried leaf, and coffee, a roasted seed). We also sometimes infuse herbs in watery vinegar and in alcohols, but the acetic acid of both are small cousins of fat molecules; thus, vinegar and alcohol help to dissolve more aromatics than plain water could. 7
When cooking with an herb, it is important to add it to our food-cooked in fats-at the last minute to preserve the fullness of its flavor.
How Medicinal Essential Oils Are Made
Likewise, medicinal essential oils are aromatic chemicals extracted from plants and combined with the carrier oil. There are eight removal methods (steam distillation, water distillation, water and steam distillation, cold-press extraction, CO2 extraction, maceration, enfleurage, and solvent extraction). Some extractions methods are best suited for the particular plant types and parts. 8
These liquefied versions of a plant have obtained the active botanical constituents from that species, thus allowing its “life force” to reach the blood stream faster than eating the plant would. 9
These essential oils, compounds extracted from plants, are indeed the plant’s captured essence, or flavor and scent, as seen with food above. Medicinal essential oils are concentrated plant extracts, and true ones must be obtained through non-chemical processes, such as distillation (via steam and/or water), or mechanical methods like cold-pressing, such as used for obtaining oils from citrus peels. 10
Flavor Components in Sage
Sage, as called for in this holiday receipt, has the following flavor notes, lending to its general sensory qualities as brought on by their contributing chemicals. Some of the major chemicals found in sage are cineole, providing a fresh note, and pinene, lending a pine flavor quality. Both of these chemicals are in the terpenes family, which as a family tends to be especially volatile and reactive, meaning these chemicals are often the first molecules to reach the nose. They thus provide the initial impression of these lighter and more ethereal notes, and for this reason, they disappear quickly in cooking. 11
Cineole and camphor add a penetrating sensory quality, while the distinctive chemical thujone-found almost exclusively in sage-contributes much of its character. All of these flavor notes pair ideally with poultry; thus, sage is the perfect herb for my recipe below. 12
It takes concentration and purposeful effort, to achieve our optimum health. We must study all the options; then, make an educated decision how best to meet our individual needs with food, medicine, and life, all three.
God gave us doctors; it is wise to seek counsel from them, in both medicine and food. Be led by the Spirit: go to one you trust and then ask lots of questions. Follow through with personal research; then, prayerfully consider your choice, for ideally meeting your specific health needs-and we all have health issues, with which we find victory!
Let us be as wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove with ourselves, as we press in for this ideal concerning our bodies, minds, and hearts.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 389.
- Ibid., p. 387.
- Ibid., p. 389.
- Harold McGee, On Food and History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 392.
Sage Turkey Delight Yields: 4 servings. Total prep time: 45 min.
16 oz frozen broccoli (Trader Joe’s has organic for $2.29/ lb.)
1 lg yellow onion, cut in 1/8” slices
3 1/2 tsp oil (Avocado or coconut oil is important, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)
4 lg carrots, about 2/3 lb, chopped in thin diagonal slices (Organic at Trader’s costs $.79/ lb.)
10 oz pkg of sliced crimini mushrooms (Trader’s has this for $2.49; though, any kind of mushrooms will do.)
4 tbsp ghee or butter (If making homemade ghee, plan on 12 min to prep; see recipe at Ukrainian Spinach with Noodles.)
3 c of leftover turkey, or chicken, in bite-size pieces
1 small herb plant of fresh sage, about 3/4 c whole leaves (This organic plant is available at Trader Joe’s for $2.49; see photo.)
Salt and pepper to taste (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)
Take broccoli out of freezer, open bag, and set aside, to begin thawing for quicker cooking.
- To caramelize onion, slice it in half at root and then in even 1/8” slices. Heat 1/2 tsp oil in a skillet, over medium heat, and when a small piece of onion begins to sizzle, add the rest. Cook, stirring every several minutes, until a light color starts to form. Then stir every minute, until onions are a dark brown and caramelized. May add a small amount more of oil toward end, if they look like they might burn. Watch carefully, while proceeding to next step.
Spray carrots with a vegetable spray (an inexpensive, effective spray that works well is a combination of 97% white distilled vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide). Rinse thoroughly and set aside.
- In a large sauté pan, heat butter or ghee (for ghee recipe see Ukrainian Spinach with Noodles.) Add mushrooms and cook for several minutes, or only until slightly limp; remove to a bowl, carefully leaving juices in pan. Take pan off heat when done.
Be sure to watch onions. (May set a timer and keep hitting repeat, as a reminder.)
- For easy, clean prep, scrape carrots with a knife in a plastic grocery bag hung over sink nozzle (see photo at direction #1). Cut carrots in thin, diagonal slices.
- Add remaining tbsp of oil to mushroom juices in pan and heat, until a small piece of carrot sizzles in pan. Add rest of carrots, distributing juices; cook for about 2 minutes (see photo above).
- With a paring knife, cut large broccoli florettes in half; add to pan, stirring well, so oils are mixed in evenly. Cook until desired tenderness, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile remove stems from sage and chop leaves into small pieces, set aside. See photo above.
- When vegetables are finished, stir in poultry pieces and chopped sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste; cook until heated thoroughly; when hot, adjust seasonings. (See photo at top of recipe.)
- Serve it forth!