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Essential Oils Vs. Edible Oils

When it comes to natural health, it can get a little confusing when people start talking about oils that have different health benefits. Do you eat them? Diffuse them? Rub them into your skin?

It is important to know what kinds of oils to use in what ways… it may not always be safe to mix and match, depending on what kind of oil is being recommended.

Navigating the world of oils, particularly online, can be tricky. In particular, there is a lot of confusion between essential oils and edible seed or vegetable oils.

Both types are natural oils, often with therapeutic properties, but they are made in different ways and should be used in different ways.

While essential oils and seed or vegetable oils can work together at times, it’s important to be able to differentiate between the two, particularly when most essential oils aren’t safe to ingest.

We’ve broken down the differences between the two types of oils, so you can easily tell them apart.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are made using a process of distillation and smell strongly of whatever plant the oil is derived from. Essential oils may also be known as volatile oils, meaning they evaporate when put under a certain temperature or pressure.

According to the Natural Health Zine, the distillation process is done using a variety of different plant parts, ranging from glandular hairs, sacs, glands or veins of plants ranging from flowers, trees, grasses, leaves and even the roots of plants. It all depends on which plant is being distilled and where its volatile compounds are found.

Plant volatiles are volatile compounds are naturally occurring chemicals in plants. They may have antibacterial or antifungal properties, they may possess a strong scent, they may be antispasmodic, and so on.

Generally, they are understood as part of a plant’s survival mechanism. For example, their strong aromas may signal to pollinators that they have pollen to be harvested or they may warn predators to stay away.

When plant parts containing these volatiles are distilled, the volatiles are what remain.

Essential oils are actually less oily than the name would have you believe. They actually aren’t even truly oils but they were called that when they were first discovered (thousands of years ago) because, like oils, they don’t mix with water.

They aren’t as greasy to the touch and don’t go rancid like seed or vegetable oils can because they don’t contain any fat. Though they don’t go rancid, they can still oxidize and lose potency and aroma over time.

Essential oils evaporate at or above room temperature, dissolve into alcohol and fat, and are typically used in aromatherapy through diffusion or topical application. We’ve got a whole guide on using essential oils for aromatherapy, check it out here.

When used appropriately and diluted properly, essential oils can bring your body a wide variety of health benefits.

Using essential oils topically or through diffusion is perfectly safe. When applying topically, though, it’s important to dilute the oil or mix it with a carrier oil and to be sure not to use too much. Carrier oils are often vegetable oils, which we will be comparing to essential oils later on in this blog.

The reason you should be careful when applying topically is that essential oils are extremely concentrated and very powerful. Direct application can cause skin irritation and can even burn your skin.

Also, though essential oils are naturally-derived, you should definitely think twice before drinking any essential oil.

The Hippy Homemaker explains that “there are plenty of natural sources of poison, that aren’t safe for haphazard use simply because they are natural. […] It is important to note, that no matter the brand of essential oil, ALL 100% pure essential oils are an extremely concentrated combination of multiple chemical constituents. While these chemical constituents can do great things to help us with all sorts of issues, they can also have adverse effects if not used with the proper safety and caution in mind.”

Ingesting small amounts of some essential oils can be okay, but it’s important to do thorough research before doing so. Relying on online sources probably isn’t wise — check with an herbalist or a naturopath before attempting this.

Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils, also known as base oils, fixed oils, fatty oils or carrier oils, are quite different from essential oils, though they are often confused with them because they sometimes come from the same plants.

Vegetable oils are extracted from various plant parts, depending on the type of plant. Some plants store oil in their leaves or flowers, while others store them in their seeds. Edible seed oils, like sunflower, black cumin, flax and coriander come from this type.

The best process for getting oil out while protecting it from oxidation and making it healthy for you to eat is cold pressing. Heat can cause oils to lose their therapeutic properties and can even render them harmful.

Vegetable oils are greasier and oilier than essential oils and they don’t evaporate like essential oils do. They also aren’t as fragrant as essential oils.

Hubpages says that “Unlike essential oils, fixed oils are not volatile. Meaning, they do not evaporate rapidly even when under normal temperature or pressure.”

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any plant volatiles in edible, cold-pressed oils, there can be, it’s just that they are far less concentrated because they remain mixed with the fats and other compounds that come through in pressing.

In general, the stronger the scent of a seed oil, the more volatiles it contains. Seeds like coriander and black cumin have a lot of plant volatiles in them so the edible oils made from them tend to be stronger in taste and smell.

In contrast, seeds from sunflowers or flax do not tend to possess as many volatiles, so they are much milder (notice that you never see sunflower essential oil or flax essential oil — these plants don’t lend themselves to distillation because they are not high in volatile compounds).

The function of the oils in seeds is to protect the seed while it’s still part of the plant. Once pressed, fatty acids, waxes, soluble vitamins and more nutrients come through into the edible oil.

According to Plant Therapy, in essential oils, all you’re really left with after distillation is the volatile compounds. Occasionally there may be minute amounts of certain vitamins left behind, but not enough to note.  

This is the other difference between essential oils and vegetable or seed oils — vegetable oils are completely safe to ingest and apply directly to the skin. Often, this is what you’ll mix an essential oil with, as mentioned, to make it safer for topical application.

Unlike essential oils, vegetable oils become rancid if not pressed or stored properly. Proper storage includes keeping the oil in a UV-protective glass bottle, at cool or room temperature and away from direct sunlight.

Rancid oils can do a lot more harm than good.

It’s also important to note that vegetable oils used for cooking are different than cold-pressed oils. Cooking oils have often been refined or processed.

Some plants can be used for making cooking oils that do not need to be refined — avocado oil is one such example. It has a higher smoke point than any other cold-pressed oil. For more on smoke points, check out our recent post.

Can essential oils and edible seed oils be made from the same plants?

The answer to this is yes, which is where a lot of the confusion between the two types of oil comes in.

Plants that have high volatile contents are often used for essential oils but the same plant may also possess a lot of vitamins and healthy fats that make it an equally good choice for cold-pressing.

Coriander seeds and black cumin seeds are prime examples. Let’s look at coriander since it is a more common essential oil.

Coriander essential oil, like all essential oils, is created by distilling volatile compounds from the seeds of the coriander plant. This essential oil is often confused with cilantro essential oil, because it comes from the same plant, but cilantro essential oil is distilled from the leaves, not the seeds.

Coriander essential oil is great for boosting energy and improving your mood through aromatherapy and can also be used topically for joint pain, toning the skin and more, as the Sustainable Baby Steps blog suggests.

It also has very potent antimicrobial properties and has been widely studied for its ability to kill bacteria, fungi and other microbes, including some antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. It should never be swallowed, though it can be used as an ingredient in natural mouthwash.

In comparison, edible coriander seed oils like ours, are made by cold-pressing coriander seeds. They’re great for adding to food and smoothies or for taking straight to resolve digestive issues and provide other health benefits. Ingesting coriander seed oil is beneficial for your gut health, supports healthy blood sugar balance and encourages your body’s natural detox system.

The antimicrobial volatiles that we associate with coriander essential oils are still present in the seed oil but they are diluted because of the presence of healthy fatty acids and other fat-soluble components of the coriander seeds.

This means that you can still get those antimicrobial benefits but in a form that won’t irritate or damage your internal systems.

If you are interested in using coriander for massage (a great choice, since it relaxes muscles and soothes joint pain) you can either mix coriander essential oil into a carrier oil (like sunflower, for example) or you can simply use a cold-pressed coriander seed oil straight, since it has the same volatile compounds that comprise the essential oil but mixed in with healthy fats and other fat-soluble parts of the seeds.

It’s important to know that not all coriander seeds are created equal. Coriander essential oil is usually made from Russian coriander seeds because these have the highest volatile content of any type of coriander.

When we press our Perfect Press® Coriander Oil we also only use Russian coriander seeds for this same reason. That means that in addition to the healthy fats, vitamins and other nutrients in our coriander, you are also getting a higher quantity of beneficial volatiles. That’s why our coriander has such a strong aroma and flavor compared to some other edible (i.e. cold-pressed) coriander seed oils out there.

If you want to know more about the benefits of coriander seed oil, check out our Coriander Seed Oil Benefits blog post.

Where can I get high-quality edible coriander oil?

While good essential oils are fairly easy to find online, it can be more difficult to get a good quality ingestible seed or vegetable oil.

Our proprietary Perfect Press Technology ensures the greatest care when it comes to pressing seeds. The slow, precise nature of our process means no heat, no friction and no oxidation. The nutritional properties of our seeds remain perfectly intact.

Perfect Press®  Coriander Oil is Perfectly Pressed from organic, non-GMO coriander seeds. After we press it, we store it in UV-protective Miron glass bottles to maintain quality and prevent rancidity.

Get a bottle of this special oil today and give your gut what it needs!

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