SINGAPORE COOKS

Cooking with essential oils

Design agency co-owner Diana Loo uses them in place of herbs and condiments

Step into the home of Ms Diana Loo and the zesty scent of grapefruit wafts from an essential oil diffuser.

The 58-year-old has a collection of more than 200 bottles of essential oils that are arranged in alphabetical order in a wooden chest. The mind-boggling variety of flavours range from rosemary and nutmeg to lemon and tangerine.

The co-owner of a design agency says: "I have been using essential oils since I was in my 20s and they have become my natural perfume. I cannot live without them."

Her love of essential oils goes beyond inhaling them. She takes essential oil capsules as a health supplement, drinks water mixed with lemon or peppermint essential oils for detoxing and uses them in her cooking.

Her dark chocolate orange mousse with mixed berries, for example, contains orange essential oil which injects a citrus punch.

She says with a laugh: "I am too lazy to cut and zest oranges, so I just add a drop or two of the essential oil, which is concentrated and has an intense flavour."

Instead of using eggs, sugar and cream for the mousse, she uses tofu, which yields a similar silky texture but lighter consistency. Mascarpone cheese binds the ingredients in the mousse.

She says: "Chocolate mousse desserts are too heavy, so I looked for a way to create a guiltless pleasure."

The rum she adds to the dessert enhances the chocolate flavour and she tops the mousse with a layer of tart berry-flavoured jelly.

Ms Loo says not all therapeuticgrade essential oils are edible and it is important to check the source of the oils before cooking with them as some may contain solvents.

She says the essential oils she uses are made from natural plant-based extracts that do not contain chemicals.

Instead of buying herbs and condiments, she has a nifty "kitchen kit" comprising 20 bottles of "herbs" - essential oils in flavours such as black pepper, cardamom, basil and dill.

She says: "I use herbs in only small amounts for garnishing or to flavour my dishes lightly, so it is a waste to use only a fraction of them and throw the rest away."

With the intensity of essential oils, a drop or two should suffice when cooking with them, so her "readily available set of condiments" can last a long time.

Some of her essential oil-infused dishes include sticky date pudding scented with nutmeg and cinnamon essential oils, quiches with thyme essential oil, baked fish drizzled with lemon essential oil and salads tossed with citrus essential oils.

Her interest in cooking with essential oils started three years ago, when a friend introduced her to wolfberry juice infused with citrus essential oils to combat her lethargy and poor health.

Revitalised by the beverage, she explored ways of incorporating aromatherapy into her cooking and started inviting friends over to try the dishes.

The frequent home-cooking demonstration sessions led to her starting Drool (droolsg.com) in August last year. The recreational cooking group has a monthly themed "potluck tea party" held at cooking studios. The sessions attract 20 to 40 home cooks, who have to present their take on the theme and share their dishes.

The divorcee started the cooking club as her two daughters, who are 30 and 26, do not eat at home often.

"I like to experiment with cooking, but there was no one at home to eat the food," she says.

Creating a sharing platform for home cooks has boosted her confidence in the kitchen.

She says: "Setting a theme forces me to learn to come up with something to present at each session and it is interesting to see the creativity of other cooks."


MAKE IT YOURSELF: DARK CHOCOLATE TOFU MOUSSE WITH ORANGE AND MIXED BERRIES

INGREDIENTS

For the mousse

150g silken tofu

150g dark chocolate baking chips

85g mascarpone cheese

1 tsp vanilla essence

3 Tbs maple syrup

2 Tbs rum

1 to 2 drops of orange essential oil

For jelly topping

40g frozen raspberries

40g frozen blueberries

40g frozen blackberries

2 tsp strawberry-flavoured gelatin powder

Mixed berries to garnish

DIRECTIONS

1. Place the tofu in a blender, turn on the machine and let it run until the tofu is smooth and creamy.

2. Pour 250ml of water into a medium pot set over high heat. Place a heatproof bowl over the pot, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Pour dark chocolate baking chips into the bowl. Bring the water to a simmer and turn off the heat. Let the chocolate sit until it has melted.

3. Stir the melted chocolate with a spoon and remove the bowl from the water bath. Set it aside to cool.

4. Pour the melted chocolate, mascarpone cheese, vanilla essence, maple syrup and rum into the blender with the tofu. Add one or two drops of orange essential oil and blend well.

5. Using a funnel, pour the mixture into four serving glasses, filling 2/3 of each glass. Refrigerate the mousse for at least 30 minutes.

6. Place the berries in a small saucepan over medium heat and simmer for five to eight minutes, until they turn soft and syrupy. Turn the heat down to low.

7. In a small bowl, stir together the strawberry- flavoured gelatin powder and 4 Tbs of water. Mix well before pouring the gelatin mixture into the saucepan with mixed berries. Stir the contents to ensure the powder is dissolved before turning off the heat.

8. Use a strainer to sieve out the seeds and undissolved bits of gelatin from the jelly mixture. Discard the seeds and gelatin bits.

9. Cool the jelly mixture to room temperature before gently spooning 1 or 2 Tbs on top of the chocolate mousse.

10. Refrigerate for four hours until the jelly sets. Garnish with fresh berries and serve.

Serves four

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 12, 2016, with the headline 'Cooking with essential oils'. Print Edition | Subscribe