Why it’s chilli oil not chilli water

I am the most organised person. Ever (not really).There are 87 days until Christmas and I’m planning my gifts already. You’re welcome family and friends.

I am a huge fan of the DIY Christmas gift. Partially because I’m almost at the end of a masters degree and dirt poor, but also because it’s a lot of fun for me to make, and exciting for the receiver to use. Last year was jam based on this great tutorial and this year everyone will get infused oils and extracts. **Spoiler alert family**

Last week’s post about why water and oil don’t mix forms the basis of the science of oils and extracts. Read it as a bit of a back story.

You can make an ‘oil infusion’ out of a great many things in your pantry. A quick browse of the ‘fancy oil’ shelves of the supermarket will show you the tip of the iceberg. Things from garlic oil and rosemary oil and my personal favourite: chilli oil. Some chilli oil from the shops just tastes like spicy olive oil, it’s nothing special, and doesn’t come close to the taste sensation of the home made oil infusions in restaurants.

An oil in an oil

Chilli oil... mmmm (flickr/alpha https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/2740693491)

Chilli oil… mmmm (flickr/alpha https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/2740693491)

Capsaicin (Cap-say-sin)is the hot component in chillies. It’s hydrophobic (doesn’t like water) just like oil. So by mixing chillies into oil, the capsaicin will leave the chilli flesh to be mates with the oil  – creating chilli oil. We know oil and water don’t mix so chilli can’t be extracted into water.

The same can be done with woody herbs like thyme and spices like star anise. Their key flavours are also due to oils so they also can be extracted in oil.

The main methods for creating chilli oil includes putting chopped up dried chilli in hot olive oil, bottling it and letting it sit in the fridge for a week or so to infuse. So why do all that?

Dried chilli: Dried chilli will work better in chilli oil because the water has been removed from the chilli. The water will just get in the way of all that oil socialising going on.

Chopped up chilli: The greater the surface area, the better the mixing. The capsaicin would have to travel longer to get to the surface of a whole chilli and mix with the oil. If you’re after looks though, whole chillies look beautiful in a bottle.

Hot oil: Heat starts up the mixing like an open bar at a wedding. It would happen eventually but it just makes it easier. Also heat kills baddies like botulism so you have safe to eat infusions.

Time: The longer it is left the hotter it is! More capsaicin will leave the chilli and hang out with the oil. If it’s getting too hot just add more oil.

Garlic oil brewing

Garlic oil brewing

Try these oils:

Far east spiced olive oil

Sichuan chilli oil

Roasted garlic oil

A choose your own adventure oil

Community service post: read this if you’ve gone a little OTT with the chilli oil. Because chilli isn’t soluble in water, drinking water (or beer) to wash away chilli burn won’t work. Probably don’t try downing a bottle of olive oil either. Yuck.

Not so oily infusions

So you’re not an oil fan huh? Or just like some variety? Well you’re in luck! Last weeks post notes that vinegar has characteristics of both water and oil. In fact, so does alcohol!

You can made home made extracts using some good quality vodka and citrus rinds, vanilla pods or something just as flavourful! I think I’ll give dried blueberries a try myself, although they don’t have the same intense oil content as lemon rind.

Alcohol and vinegar have a hydrophobic (doesn’t like water) part to interact with the flavour filled oils in the foods you’re extracting but they will also happily mix with water too.

Flavoured vinegars are also very popular. A lemon and thyme vinegar sounds really lovely on a summer salad.

Little jars of infusing extracts

Little jars of infusing extracts

Try some infusions and extracts. Examples:

Tina’s home made extracts for gifts (Tina also posts about making infused oils for Christmas. Great minds think alike)

Emma’s extracts (I agree with Emma here, mint seems a little ‘fragile’ to be in vodka for so long)

Natalie’s lemon extract

Priya’s extracts (I spy a berry good looking extract)

and The Brown Eyed Baker vanilla extract

For those interested in more on the science of extracts in alcohol read here.

There are SO many oils and extracts to try. Just remember that coffee and tea are the only good things extracted in water so don’t bother otherwise. 😉

Let me know how you go!

oils and extracts


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