Dissolving spices in olive oil (for popcorn)

I add flavor to olive oil (dried herbs, white pepper, salt, hot paprika, etc) and keep those in a convenient bottle with a spout to use for flavoring popcorn. I have to shake the bottle to redistribute everything before using the flavored oil.

I’ve been giving away the flavored oil to family and friends. They were always forget to shake the bottle.

My current solution is to heat a little bit of oil, cook the spices a bit to extract their flavor, and then dilute that with uncooked oil. It definitely makes a difference, but you can still see the spices sitting at the bottom of the bottle.

Is there a way to dissolve the spices in the oil, even if the end result is murky? I know I could use something like Xanthan Gum to create an emulsion, but I’d prefer a technique without an extra ingredient.

the biggest issue is the rather significant risk of botulism in flavored oils – apparently the combination of dried plant materials with the oil creates an anaerobic environment perfect for the stuff to grow.

more here: extension.uidaho.edu/owyhee/files/2013/10/PNW664-Making-Garlic-and-Herb-Infused-Oils-at-Home.pdf

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Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I had been putting off reading about botulism for quite some time, so it was good to get that out of the way.

Since I cook the dried herbs now, I should be okay. Even though I also cook the spices, I’m curious if raw spices would be a concern, too.

The document linked was a bit unsure about dried herbs, but recommended to play it safe. What I understood is that more research on dried herbs is necessary.

The article doesn’t mention cooking as a way to make the herbs and spices safe, and in fact mentions that moisture is the trigger for c. Botulinum growth.

Four days in the fridge max or freezing the oil is the only method mentioned.

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The solids won’t dissolve in oil. Salt would dissolve in water, but not oil. I think the best you could do would be to grind your dry ingredients as fine as possible and put a note on the bottle to shake well. But if the oil is infused with the flavor, the solids shouldn’t really matter and could even be strained out.

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Oops, the relevant info was towards the bottom:

Since you’re using oil, the 250f for three minutes should be easy to achieve without special equipment. I think it wouldn’t be so hot as to burn the spices, but definitely do a small test batch to make sure.

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dried spices have no water and are of less concern. If you use raw ingredients you have to heat up the oil high enough to kill all spores (>250F)

The article mentions “raw” and “fresh” a few times. I understood that as a way to clearly distinguish the subject matter from cooked garlic and herbs.

I.e., cooked garlic and herbs could be safe, or could not be safe. But this article is only concerned with raw garlic and herbs.

Then I made my own assumption about cooked being okay.

It took me forever to realize this. Thanks for the reminder. This means the flavored oil always must be shaken, no matter what I do…

… even if I strain out the solids. I leave the solids for looks. The popcorn looks yummier with specks of paprika and dried parsley.

I found a site which warns against spices, too, but then reads “if prepared using fresh ingredients”. It was confusing.

I was already cooking for longer than three minutes on low heat, but I’ll use a thermometer next time to be certain. Although it doesn’t seem like my original problem has a solution, it’s good to know my partial solution accidentally saved lives. Thanks for the education.

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I often crush a few bulbs of garlic and leave it in the fridge for up to two weeks. I wonder if the moisture released while breaking the cell walls can lead to botulism even though I don’t add any oil to it.

I found a mention that even cooked garlic was susceptible, but it was from a discussion many years ago. The “How Not to Die” poster above seems to refute that claim. Also, some are saying dried garlic is okay, while others are saying no. Furthermore, cooking times differ between sources.

Whole thing is just making my head spin. I use raw garlic in so many butters, chutneys, sauces, and dressings.

Botulism doesn’t grow on fresh foods as-is. The food may have the spores on it, but it won’t grow unless it has the right conditions. It grows when those fresh foods are submerged in oil or other thick liquid that doesn’t “breathe”. The botulism spores then have the ideal environment to grow in, with a lack of oxygen.

Commercial oils with herbs/garlic are processed and contain an acid/preservative to kill and prevent botulism from growing.


Some sources say moisture AND oxygen-free, while others seem to imply that, although not as likely, just moisture is enough. Something like homemade pesto sitting in your fridge for a month would have enough oil to be both moisture and oxygen free. While a jar of homemade marinara with fresh basil thrown in would still be trouble if moisture is the only requirement.

Although I am not certain, I think the case with the homemade marinara finished with fresh basil is as follows. If I proceed to seal my marinara jar in a water bath and all that, then I’ve created an oxygen free environment; I’m in trouble. If I don’t can it and leave it in the fridge, it should be okay.

I was warning the family of botulism today, as a lot of homemade achaar (South Asian pickle/preserve) uses garlic and is oil-heavy. I got the usual replies of we should all be dead by now. “Maybe you’re already dead. But the real question: is this Heaven or Hell?”

Correct. It’s the canning and sealing process that creates the condition, not the sauce.

Achar is rarely a problem because there is always an acid of some sort. That acts as the preservative. I make homemade achars too and all my recipes handed down to me have either lemon juice or vinegar in them. There’s also salt, which also hinders bacteria growth.

From everything I read, the amount of acid in many achaar recipes wouldn’t be enough to prevent growth of the harmful bacteria. Maybe combined with salt the two can act as a botulism killing combo, I don’t know. I have seen recipes with a 1:1 ratio of oil and vinegar. Our recipes have much less acid, and one has no acid at all. Some recipes use whole lemon wedges – I’m not sure if I can count that as acid.

Personally, I find the USDA recommendations to be generally over-cautious, and often implemented in an “easy to remember” format, rather than a format that takes into account all aspects of the growth cycle of an organism. That said, I tend to be relatively cautious when giving food to others.
It’s true botulism grows best in non-acidic, moist, low oxygen environments, and grows appreciably at room temperature and not much at refrigerator temps. So if you have acid and low moisture, you’re likely okay, and according to this website http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=1307 you kill botulinum spores by cooking at 120 C (248 F) for 30 minutes or more, and inactivate the toxin itself by boiling for 10 minutes or more.
I make scallion oil all the time, for myself, which is neither acidic or low moisture, but keep it in the fridge for a few weeks and haven’t had problems (yet).

That would have been my answer as well.

I do the exact same thing. The “how not to die” poster above informs that keeping food at 250 degrees for 3 minutes should be enough, that’s why I’m still using our scallion oil (I cook it longer than 3 minutes.) However, the exact wording is for canned foods, and I’m making my own extrapolations to reason that uncanned scallion oil stored in the fridge is relatively safe.

The tidbit about a pint jar of botulism killing the world scared the heck out of me. Usually I’m in the “Italian grandmother” camp, but that was too hard for me to ignore. The history of botulism-related food regulations is interesting and leaves me with many questions. Probably a discussion for another thread once I’ve thought about it some more.