Baking Tip: When to Use Flavoring Oils vs. Extracts

Nine times out of ten, recipes will guide us toward using an extract, like vanilla extract or peppermint extract, to add flavor to our baked goods.

But then what are those tantalizing bottles of flavoring oils doing on the shelf? Ever wonder when we might use those oils instead?

Flavoring extracts are usually made by literally extracting the flavor of the source ingredient into a liquid base, usually alcohol. For instance, pure vanilla extract is usually made by steeping vanilla beans in alcohol for an extended period of time.

Flavoring oils, on the other hand, are the essential oil squeezed from the ingredient itself - the oils from the vanilla bean, the oils from the almond nut, the oil from the orange rind, and so on. These oils are much more concentrated and intense than their extracts, and their flavor is often more pure and clear-tasting. (Also, some extracts are made by diluting the oil in alcohol.)

We tend to use extracts in our everyday baking where the flavor is playing a supporting, rather than a starring, role. Things like the vanilla in a batch of cookies or the peppermint flavor in brownies. The oils are really fantastic when you want that specific flavor to really shine through. We'll use them to give intense flavors to things like candies, frosting, and buttercream fillings.

Flavoring oils and extracts can be easily substituted for one another in most recipes. Since flavoring oils are so much more concentrated, you only need a few drops in place of a teaspoon of extract.

One other thing to note is that flavoring oils are usually less shelf-stable than extracts. They have to be refrigerated after opening and will eventually go rancid. For this reason, only buy oils that you'll be sure to use up within a few months.

Look for flavoring oils at gourmet food stores and well-stocked kitchen stores. One of our favorite online sources for both extracts and oils is King Arthur Flour:

Extracts from King Arthur Flour
Flavoring Oils from King Arthur Flour

Do you ever bake with flavoring oils or do you always use extracts?

Related: Blogging Cook's Illustrated: Real or Imitation Vanilla Extract?

(Images: King Arthur Flour)