Infused oils and vinegars for dipping and topping have become increasingly popular for use as hors d'oeuvres and as complements to bread courses. Fairly new to the culinary mainstream and home entertaining, dipping oils and dipping vinegar are lighter and less filling than most cream-based dips.
Dipping oils and vinegar, or "infused" oils and vinegars are similar to salad dressings, in that they are based in quality, great tasting oils or vinegar (or both) with herbs, spices or vegetable bits for flavor. Infused recipes, particularly infused oil recipes, contain a higher percentage of oil or vinegar than most salad dressings. It is the oil that gives the recipe weight for dipping. Infused vinegar solutions are used more often as a spritz, marinade, or topping for vegetables.
Safety Concerns with Infused Mixes
When making infused dipping oils at home, food safety is the greatest concern. Oil by itself cannot grow bacteria, but herbs and vegetable pieces containing water mixed into dipping oils can.
The botulinum organism can grow in food sources containing even trace amounts of water and cause botulism. For this reason, blending and storing infused dipping oils without refrigeration is not recommended.
Since botulinum need water to grow, anything that does not contain water cannot host botulinum toxins. Herbs, garlic, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes and many other ingredients that make delicious dipping oil ingredients should theoretically be safe to add to oils if these ingredients have been completely dried in a food dehydrator or by some other means of food dehydration.
The difficulty in a home kitchen environment is ensuring that the food is completely dry and without any trace of water whatsoever. Still, dipping oil blends make fabulous gifts for holidays, house warmings and more.
The threat of botulism contaminating your homemade oils is real and should not be ignored. However, there are ways to make oil and vinegar preparations at home that can be used promptly or given as gifts. For the absolute safest route—a little creativity is called for.
If you’re mixing oils to use as hors d'oeuvres or for immediate home use, botulism is of little concern. Even fresh herbs and ingredients can be used for a mix that will be consumed immediately.
Mix your infused oils according to recipe instructions and store in the refrigerator. Mixing a day ahead of time gives the ingredients extra time for the flavors to blend while remaining safely refrigerated to prevent bacteria growth. Homemade infused oils are safely stored for one to two weeks.
Alternative Infused Oil Gift Idea – Turn Your Gift Into a Pre-Made DIY
A great alternative to infusing an oil as a gift is to give a bottle of good quality oil accompanied with a packet of premixed dried ingredients and mixing instructions.
Like oils infused for use at your home, the herb and oil mixes will be safe if mixed by the recipient before use with the instruction to store in the refrigerator.
Now the gift can be transported in a gift basket or gift bag without the need for refrigeration.
Be sure to add a recipe tag detailing simple mixing instructions and most importantly, safe handling (i.e., "For safety's sake, please mix herbs and oils when you plan to consume them and store in the refrigerator until served. Discard unused oil after one to two weeks"). Between using dried ingredients and safe handling practices (refrigeration), you’re following safe food handling standards.
While it’s unlikely that well dried ingredients would pose a threat anyway, delaying the introduction to the oil and refrigerating gains an added layer of safety.
Prepare Homemade Infused Vinegar
Homemade infused vinegar is generally considered safe. Vinegar naturally cures foods and prevents the growth of bacteria like botulinum toxins.
Use five percent or higher vinegar solutions are adequate to ensure food safety. Five percent solutions are what is commonly sold in grocery stores, and higher solutions are available through specialty and restaurant suppliers.
For added safety—only mix vinegar with dried herbs, spices, garlic, and vegetable bits.
Gifting an Oil and Vinegar Infusion
Many dipping mixtures are combinations of vinegar and oils with herbs and additional ingredients. Despite the antibacterial properties of vinegar, it's still safer to give items separately to be mixed prior to use, as oil and vinegar separate and herbs may settle in the oil and potentially grow bacteria.
The practical meaning of this is err on the side of caution, and do not give a premade mix of oil, vinegar, and additives unless going directly from your refrigerator to theirs and consumed within two weeks.
However, you can create a safe gift basket of breads, a bottle of olive (or another) oil and a previously mixed infused vinegar (again, with mixing and handling instructions).
Mixing Your Infused Oil and Vinegar
Safety aside, what should go into a great tasting infused oil or vinegar recipe? A Web search will return enough recipe results to get you started, or experiment with flavors to create your own. Some require heating, others simple mixing. Heating helps blend and intensify flavors, but so too will combining ingredients a day or so ahead of time.
Oil and vinegar recipes range from the very simple to very complex.
Try a very basic dried-roasted garlic as a delicious gift or serving option. Add sun dried tomato bits, roasted red pepper, thyme, parsley, or oregano to a garlic oil or vinegar.
Start with one or two of your favorite ingredients and expand from there. Think along the lines of salad dressings and sandwich oils.
Basic Ratios for Making Infusions
To get you on your way, use herbs in equal measurements.
One-half teaspoon of one or more dried herbs to one half cup oil or vinegar. Increase or decrease any given ingredient to taste.
Infused vinegar and dipping oil make tasty hors d' oeuvres, welcome alternative bread courses and fabulous gifts. Dried herb packets and unmixed ingredients attractively combined for gift baskets are the safest for gift giving.
For gift presentation, build an attractive gift basket. Include a bottle of oil and separate herb packets with instructions for mixing, and if desired, vinegar or infused vinegar. This is enough to give by itself and allows total package preparation ahead of time. For a larger gift, include cheeses and a loaf or two of fresh, crusty bread for dipping.
Wrap the gift basket with cellophane for security if desired.
With a little understanding of food safety, infused vinegar and dipping oils are safe and attractive gifts to give. Everyone on your list or in your home will appreciate this unique and delicious gift as an added component to their meals.