Key difference: Extracts are a type of flavoring ingredients. They are mainly used in a number or recipes to give them the flavoring and/or aroma of the original ingredient. Essential oils, on the other hand, are a “concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants.” Essential oils are effectively oils that carry the essence of the ingredient they are cultivated from.
Extracts are a type of flavoring ingredients. They are mainly used in a number or recipes to give them the flavoring and/or aroma of the original ingredient. Commonly available extracts are of spices, nuts, herbs, fruits, some flowers, etc. The best known of these are extracts of almond, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, lemon, nutmeg, orange, peppermint, pistachio, rose, spearmint, vanilla, violet, and wintergreen.
Dictionary.com defines an extract as a substance separated or obtained “from a mixture by pressure, distillation, treatment with solvents, or the like.” While referring to food ingredients, an extract is made by combining oil from the ingredient with an alcohol. This creates a stable, longer-lasting flavoring agent. Alcohol is used as a binding agent for preserving the flavor’s strength. Ethyl alcohol and vodka are commonly used to make extracts, while, alcohols such as gin, brandy and rum may also be used.
Essential oils, on the other hand, are a “concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants.” Essential oils are also known as volatile oils, ethereal oils, aetherolea, or the “oil of …”
Essential oils are effectively oils that carry the essence of the ingredient they are cultivated from. They are often extracted by the process of distillation; however, many may be extracted through expression or solvent extraction. There are four main methods used to produce essential oils:
- Expression – when the oil is very plentiful and easily obtained, as in lemon peel.
- Absorption – generally accomplished by steeping in alcohol, as vanilla beans.
- Maceration – used to create smaller bits of the whole, as in making peppermint extract, etc.
- Distillation – used with maceration, but in many cases, it requires expert chemical knowledge and the erection of costly stills.
The most common essential oils, including lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus are extracted through the process of distillation. This requires the raw plant material to be into an alembic over water. An alembic is a type of distillation apparatus. The raw plant material may include any and/or all of following parts: the flowers, leaves, wood, bark, roots, seeds, or peel of the original ingredient. In the alembic, the steam, which is created as the water heats, passes through the plant material. This leads to the vaporization of the volatile compounds. The vapors then flow through a coil, where they condense back to liquid. This liquid is then collected, packaged and sold.
Essential oils have a variety of uses today. It is often used for medical, pharmacological, or culinary purpose. They are commonly used for flavoring food and drinks. Essential oils are also used for adding scents to perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, incense, and various household cleaning products. Some claim that essential oils have medicinal properties that can be used from skin treatments to remedies for cancer. However, these claims are often made by practitioners of alternate medicine.
A popular branch of alternate medicine that often incorporates essential oils is aromatherapy. Practitioners of aromatherapy claim that essential oils and other aromatic compounds have curative effects. In aromatherapy, oils are often diluted and used in massage, diffused in the air, heated over a candle flame, or burned as incense.
Image Courtesy: astronutrition.com, hopshop.co.uk