Flavored olive oils add a subtle layer of complexity to pastas, breads and other dishes. You can buy flavored oils, but keeping a range of flavors on hand can be expensive. Making infused oils by submerging garlic or herbs in olive oil can be dangerous, as the bacteria that causes botulism can flourish in olive oil. Using extracts to flavor olive oil allows you to create as many flavors as you like, and avoids food safety risks.
Extracts are made by submerging a flavorful herb or spice in alcohol to extract their flavor compounds, which dissolve in the alcohol. The alcohol will kill any bacteria present on the herbs, making the resulting extract shelf-stable and safe to use for up to five years.
Why Use Extracts
Extracts have several advantages for flavoring olive oils. They do not carry bacteria that can cause spoilage. It takes a very small amount of extract to flavor an entire bottle of olive oil. You do not have to flavor the entire bottle, however. If you keep a variety of flavored extracts on hand, you can flavor as little olive oil as you need, leaving the rest of the bottle unflavored. The next time you cook, you can use the olive oil in its pure state, or flavor it to enhance the dish you are preparing. Infusing olive oil by submerging herbs or spices can take several weeks before the oil takes on new flavors. Extracts immediately impart flavor to the olive oil.
Buying or Making Extracts
Most extracts available in grocery stores are intended for baking, and do not pair well with olive oil. Natural and health food stores may carry herbal extracts, or you can find them online. Making your own herbal extracts is not difficult. Clean fresh herbs or spices thoroughly, then chop them finely. Place the chopped herbs or spices in a bottle and cover with clear vodka or grain alcohol. Cover tightly and store in a dark cupboard for four to six weeks. Shake the bottle to mix the herbs and alcohol every few days. After four to six weeks, strain the extract and discard the herbs.
Olive oil pairs well with other strong flavors such as onion, garlic, rosemary and oregano. If you want a spicy olive oil, use a chili pepper extract. Consider the flavors in the dishes you make with olive oil for inspiration. If the dish features tomatoes, a basil olive oil would be a classic pairing. Sage or thyme would go very well with poultry.