Essential Oils as Food Flavors

If you eat prepared foods, or eat peppermint candy for example, you have ingested essential oils.

That’s not snarky, that’s a fact.

There is a HUGE difference between the internal therapeutic use (oral, vaginal or rectal) of essential oils and “ingestion” of essential oils as food flavorings.

The Alliance of International Aromatherapists does not recommend internal therapeutic use “unless recommended by a health care practitioner trained at an appropriate clinical level. An appropriate level of training must include chemistry, anatomy, diagnostics, physiology, formulation guidelines and safety issues regarding each specific internal route (oral, vaginal or rectal).

Herbal medicine
Herbal medicine

In the USA there a law called DSHEA which was introduced in order to allow certain ingredients or combinations of ingredients to be sold as “Dietary Supplements”. This is a great thing, it is why we can buy herbs, and vitamins without a prescription and without them being regulated as over-the-counter drugs. But it is also an unfortunate loophole for the suppliers who sell essential oils, and who do so with certain claims which are not allowed for essential oils sold for topical use.

An essential oil labeled according to the Trade Requirement & Guidance Policy of the American Herbal Products Association will have:

  • Common name;
  • Latin name;
  • Plant part;
  • The extraction process;
  • “Keep out of reach of children”
  • “External Use Only”or “Not for Internal Use” or “Not for Ingestion”

These product labels and their marketing, cannot make any medical claims, nor can they make any “structure or function” claims, because products sold for topical use with structure or function claims, are automatically considered drugs (OTC or prescription). [Example – FDA Warning Letter to Young Living]

So certain companies have decided to market and label their essential oils “as” dietary supplements for the sole purpose of being able to make structure function claims!

Nothing different about the ingredient itself is requiredthe only difference is the labeling.

THAT is why people – in my opinion – who are purchasing essential oils, need to understand the FDA regulations, whether they *believe* in the FDA or not.

There are also companies which sell essential oils as food flavorings.

The food industry is the largest consumer of essential oils next to the perfume industry. Essential oils sold as food flavorings are often standardized, because foods need to taste the same from batch to batch, year to year. So the industrial use of essential oils requires the ingredient fit a standard, often the ISO standard. So a certain year’s peppermint might be a bit off and so constituents from other essential oils are added to make the oil fit the required profile. But most people in the practices of  aromatherapy  want 100% pure essential oils – as they come off the still – not standardized for consistency. Standardization is considered to be a form of “adulturation” in the aromatherapy world.

And here is where the discussion took a confrontational turn.

Stating the fact that essential oils can and are used safely as food flavorings is not even remotely the same as saying that essential oils can be ingested safely as dietary supplements (or medically for that matter, unless one is properly trained in Aromatic Medicine).

“…I think that it gets confusing because people often refer to GRAS status, so they will say that this essential oil has GRAS status which means that it is generally recognized as safe by the EPA and the FDA. But actually what that applies to is the use of essential oils in food flavorings; specifically this only applies to food flavorings and not to other uses such as medicines. So GRAS status doesn’t mean this essential oil is safe to ingest, it means this essential oil is safe to use in food flavors, which yes does result in ingestion but the word ingestion is where the confusion happens because it is not a way of saying that this is OK to use as a medicine.” Robert Tisserand

There IS no diet which is missing essential oils, no diet which needs to be supplemented with essential oils. PERIOD.

There is no biological reason to ingest essential oils daily, or regularly for dietary or nutritional reasons or to improve the structure or function of the body. The marketing of essential oils for the purpose of improving the structure or function of the body is selling them as SNAKE OIL. It’s a money making scheme and nothing more.

When people use essential oils as food flavorings, they are adding perhaps a drop or two of oregano to an entire pot of spaghetti sauce or a drop of peppermint in an entire batch of chocolate frosting – where it is incorporated into the fats and other ingredients and can be ingested safely. It is never safe or appropriate to drink essential oils in water or add them to sports drinks. People have died from drinking lemon EO in water. It has been covered up, but they have died of liver failure. Other people have been near death in liver failure from ingesting “blends” sold as dietary supplements by MLMs.

This is one of the reasons professional aromatherapists avoid the big two MLMs, not just because both companies have been accused (and scientifically proven in many instances) to have sold adulturated EOs, but because the corporate culture of these companies puts not only their customers at risk, but risks the future for the entire aromatherapy industry.