Essential oil smells vs. their edible counterparts

OK, so this is a little off-topic from actual cooking, but since many essential oils are made from products that are also used in cooking (and since several google searches on this have revealed nothing) I thought I'd ask you all anyway, in case someone can help enlighten me about this.

So I cannot stand the smell of essential oils. I experience them as suffocatingly overpowering and cloying, with the exception of pure citrus oils, which I find very pleasant. Because of this I have a very negative association with them and have stayed away from them completely.

Then yesterday a client of mine came in with some essential oils on her hands that apparently had something to do with boosting the immune system among other things (I have no opinion on the validity of this idea, btw). She said it was a combination of orange, clove, cinnamon, and thyme. Now if I had these exact things simmering in water on my stove I would probably love the smell, but in essential oil form I found it overpowering and disgusting. Anyhow, a few minutes later I had a bizarre coughing attack, and then a few minutes after THAT my previously very clogged sinuses cleared completely. I was intrigued, and yet because of my extreme aversion still don't really relish the idea of using the oils.

It got me thinking, though, I have told a number of people about my reaction to essential oils, and so far no one seems to share it. I googled many variations on the sentence "I find essential oils cloying and disgusting" and found nothing. So I thought I would ask you, a community of people who I assume have a pretty refined sense of smell on the whole, are there others like me out there? Is it merely the intensity of the smell of the oils that makes me react to the oil-version so differently than the food-version (citrus excepted)? Is there something present in, say, thyme oil or cinnamon oil or that is perhaps mitigated by other compounds present in thyme-the-herb or cinnamon-the-spice so that it doesn't bother me in food-form? Any thoughts?

Kristen W.


HalfPint September 28, 2015
@Kristen W.,
It may be that you are taking too much of a 'hit' of the essential oils. Essential oils (with volatile odor components) are highly concentrated and the reason you don't have reaction when they are in whole form is because in plant form, it's extremely dilute. Sometimes so dilute that it is difficult to measure even with the best spectroscopic instruments. Each oil has it's own particular chemical structure which is what makes a clove oil smell like cloves and citrus oil smell like oranges, lemons, or limes. Some are much more potent than others, as you found with most except citrus oils.

When using essential oils, you almost always use a drop or two unless you are making a large batch of something (cookies, lotions, perfumes, etc).

You may also be more sensitive to volatile oils (fragrances) than most people. There are people who get ill from perfumes that linger, even minutes after the wearer leaves the room.

I have a theory that you had a reaction to the cinnamon oil. Cinnamon oil can sort of give you a bit of a high as well.

So use it diluted and use it sparingly.
HalfPint September 28, 2015
@HLA, that smelling technique is called 'wafting'. It's the first thing we learn in chemistry. You NEVER take a sniff of anything directly. Gently waft your hand over the bottle opening and sniff the fragrance that is coming towards you. Because the oils are volatile (i.e. they vaporize easily at room temp, hence the fragrance) organic (in the chemistry definition) liquids, they can give you a headache and in high enough doses, can burn your nasal passages.
Kristen W. September 28, 2015
Well, as always, I so appreciate the feedback and I do feel a bit less singular in my reaction now. Yes, it's too bad I can't easily take advantage of whatever useful properties they may have , but if at some point I decide to I suppose I can always explore the benefits of lemon and orange oils alone, since I actually like those two.
HapppyBee September 27, 2015
I'm a huge fan of essential oils and find them to be wonderful replacements for many items in the medicine cabinet. Perhaps the answer is twofold in that the oils are extremely potent if CPTG, certified pure therapeutic grade, meaning they contain no additives. They are extracted from the source as previously mentioned by distillation or pressing. Some are extracted from the stems, leaves or stamens. I believe one drop of peppermint oil in a cup of hot water is equal to 28 peppermint tea bags? Or you could just be hypersensitive to the smells of the oils. Or a combination of the two. That you still could smell them in your car and house after double-bagging them is impressive. The oils are frequently diluted with fractionated coconut oil if applied to the skin, but that is just for sensitivity issues. I doubt it would help you to lessen the aroma. Sorry you have that reaction as it seems they help you with your sinuses. They actually do wonders on so many ailments, but I know some people can't tolerate the smell or are too sensitive to the oils on their skin. Best to you!
Kristen W. September 27, 2015
Hardlikearmor, I didn't tell the rest of my story (for the sake of brevity). So that evening I had an appt with an osteopath I go to, and I told her about my experience that day. She asked me if I'd like to try the same combination of oils, but just a drop of each on a piece of gauze to take home and use for my sinuses. I said sure, so she put a one tiny drop of each in a piece of gauze, which she then put in a ziplock bag for me. I took the bag home, but the smell was still bothering me so I put the bag inside ANOTHER ziplock bag and then went to go fetch something out of my car, which no longer had the bags with the gauze in it, and my car still STANK. I can still smell it in there today! Then I went back into my house and my house STANK, so, not wanting to throw it away b/c of the benefit to my sinuses, I finally put the two sealed ziploc bags in an empty glass jelly jar and sealed that tightly, and then finally I could no longer smell it. I don't know how much more diluted (at least by air) I could get and I still found it nauseatingly sweet - kind of like the sickly sweetness of laughing gas. So that's what prompted me to ask the question.

@Susan W: yes, the heat/humidity is atrocious, but it was even worse a few weeks ago! I live out in La Mesa, so the temp is even higher here. And I'm so glad you mentioned that restaurant! (I've never been there (I don't eat in north county that often b/c I live in east count), but our local Mexican joint that we used to love has gone downhill over the past few years so I am very glad to get recommendations for a replacement - thanks!
hardlikearmour September 27, 2015
Whoa! That's awful!
hardlikearmour September 27, 2015
I would suggest not sniffing them directly, rather wave/scoop your hand over the open bottle toward your face to get the aroma. My guess is the sheer concentration of the oil is overpowering when sniffed straight from the bottle.
Jenn60 September 27, 2015
That should be "They"
Jenn60 September 27, 2015
I can't stand essential oils. Try give me a headache.
Susan W. September 27, 2015
I'm touchy about essential oils. I use eucalyptus and lemon in various homemade cleaning products. I REALLY love them in the products themselves, but I don't enjoy them straight out of the bottle. There are two methods of extracting the oils. Distilling (using water) or pressing. With either method, you end up with nothing but the oil, so imagine how much stronger it is than the cinnamon stick, eucalyptus leaf or lemon peel. I was walking my mom's dogs here in SD yesterday and grabbed a eucalyptus leaf, broke and smelled it. So much different than the oil. The plant matter really almost made it smell musty to me.

Off subject, but it's so horribly hot and humid here in SD. Even right down on the boardwalk in Mission Beach. AND..have you been to Agave in Del Mar? OMG..some of the best mole I've ever had and what a great little spot. Up on the hill in Del Mar Plaza with a nice view of the ocean.
ktr September 27, 2015
I also find essential oils to be better smelling when diluted. The good news is that they are so concentrated that they are usually meant to be used in a diluted form. They can sometimes cause skin irritation if not diluted.
Susan W. September 27, 2015
I only use them for cleaning products so far. I use 5 drops in my toilet bowl cleaner that also has baking soda, washing soda, hydrogen peroxide and water to make a pint, so it's very diluted.
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