Herb 'infusion' pumps up the bland with flavor Changing your oil

September 21, 1994|By Joyce Gemperlein | Joyce Gemperlein,Knight-Ridder News Service

If oil is in -- and it definitely is -- where's flavored oil?

So in that it's in-fused.

So in that supermarkets may soon be in-undated with enough flavors to have an Infused Oil of the Month Club.

So in that they are not in-expensive -- unless you make your own, which will make you appear to be in-genious.

But first, a bit about the trend.

Sales of olive oil in the United States have shown double-digit growth in the last 10 years. In much the same way that bottled water led to flavored waters, oil marketers have decided that there is money in oils that have gained flavor and aroma by having herbs and the like steeped or soaked in them -- hence the moniker "infused."

Infused oils are considered one of the fastest-growing segments of the oil market. At this year's Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, approximately 30 new infused oils were being hawked by companies to store representatives.

"This began about two years ago after restaurateurs began infusing oils as a way to add flavor without adding a lot of butterfat or other animal fats," said Ron Tanner, communications director for the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade.

A group of Napa County entrepreneurs is convinced there is a lucrative future in infused oils.

Napa Valley Kitchens, a merger of three companies, presented 10 flavored oils at the Fancy Food show. Four, produced by Michael Chiarello, chef and co-owner of Tra Vigne in St. Helena, have been sold nationally for some time under the Consorzio label.

Flavors you may have already noticed or sampled under that label are basil, roasted garlic, rosemary and porcini mushroom.

The flavors being added to those, either under the Consorzio label, the Napa Valley Kitchens or Napa Valley Mustard labels -- the two others in the new company -- are five-pepper, oregano, mustard, garlic, cilantro and jalapeno.

Ann Grace, director of public relations for the group, said a key to the quality of the oils is an infusion process that helps prevent oxidation and deterioration of flavors. The process was developed by Mr. Chiarello and Moshe Shifrine, a food technologist, former professor at the University of California, Davis, and a principal in Napa Valley Kitchens.

But, like many trendy "new" ideas in foodstuffs, infused oils were not just invented yesterday. Olive oil flavored with rosemary sprigs, chilies and herbs has long been common in Mediterranean cooking. There, it is often used in marinades or is served in a little bowl with fresh or grilled vegetables. The plain vegetables take on a whole new taste when the infused oil is drizzled over them.

The Chinese have been using chili-infused oils for centuries. Mustard-seed oil used in Asian and Indian cooking imparts a characteristic flavor.

Today's chefs are using flavored oils like condiments, to introduce flavor without pieces of herbal matter in the food or adding animal fats. When drizzled on a plate, lightly hued infused oils are decorative and flavorful.

Oils are 100 percent fat. But they have a high ratio of mono- and polyunsaturated fats to saturated fatty acids and so are considered healthier.

Even keeping in mind that oil is all fat, infused oils are nonetheless a bright and relatively healthful alternative to butter to drizzle over a baked potato. They can be used in salad dressings, marinades, in making mayonnaise, and to brush over pizza just out of the oven. They also give cooks a way to season without having to chop or buy ingredients that may be out of season.

These new oils sell for between $8 and $12, depending where you buy them, for a 12.6-ounce bottle.

You don't really need recipes to make flavored oil, but here are a few to get you started.

*

Use this one on fish before grilling, brush on bread after grilling, pizza crusts after baking, or use to saute vegetables, meats, fish or poultry.

Roasted Garlic Oil

1 cup bland olive, canola or peanut oil

5 cloves garlic, peeled

Place the oil and the garlic in a saucepan over medium heat.

Cook until the garlic turns golden brown. Turn off the heat and cool the mixture to room temperature before pouring into a clean bottle with an airtight lid. Keep in a cool, dark place or refrigerate. It will remain flavorful for about 1 month.

*

This oil, identical in flavor to the expensive brand on the market, is great for sauteeing mushrooms to intensify the woodsy flavor. Try cooking up portobellos to which you've added minced garlic and rosemary. Place the mushrooms on a platter, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and serve with crusty French bread.

Porcini Mushroom Oil

about 12 dried porcini mushrooms

about 1/2 cup hot water

2 cups pure olive oil

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