Essential Oils vs Extracts: What’s The Difference?

Now that we are getting into the nitty-gritty of essentials oils, we want to learn as much as we can. While these scents that we use in diffusers and blend for health benefits are taken from plants, they aren’t the only products that are created that way. You may have noticed that lavender is available for purchase as an oil and as an extract.

“But we thought oils were extracts?” is why you might be thinking, and I can understand why. I have used the term “extract” while writing pieces for this blog in reference to essential oils. Still, when we talk about it technically, oils and extracts are completely different products.

Essential Oils And Extracts Comparison

​​​Essential Oils

​Extracts

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  • Have health benefits
  • Are pure volatile compounds
  • Can be blended to create amazing scents
  • Used by inhaling, applying topically after dilution, or sometimes ingested
  • LEARN MORE
  • Used for cooking only
  • Do not contain any health benefits
  • Is mixed with alcohol
  • Are less expensive

  • LEARN MORE

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oil bottle with a flower on the side placed on the knitted mat

The funny thing about this is that, technically, essential oils are extracts, but only in the sense that they are extracted from the plants. This is done in one of two ways, and they are either taken from the host plant via steam distillation or cold pressing. While the process is complicated, it pretty much comes down to this, all citrus oils are obtained by cold pressing and the rest are collected via steam distillation.

When a citrus rind is cold pressed, it is basically picked and prodded until the oils release themselves from the pores in the rind. Oils like lavender, frankincense, and chamomile are all steamed in a pressure cooker. The steam is cooled after moving through the host plant and the oil separates from the water. In the end, you have the purest essence from that plant.

This is the difference between essential oils and all other scented products, including extracts. They are complex volatile compounds extracted from more plants than we can cover in this small article. These compounds have health benefits for humans that are not only physical but mental and spiritual if that’s what you desire.

What Are Extracts?

Three liquid bottles with different colors placed on a tray, with scattered white petals of flowers on the desk, towel, in a blurry background.

Surprisingly enough, extracts are made with essential oils. The specific essence is combined with ethyl alcohol, glycerol, or propylene glycol for dissolving. Some extracts also contain water, food coloring, and possibly a sweetening agent. Then they are bottled and sold at the stores.

Uses

Essential oil bottle in a white bowl with a pipette on white designed mat.

While you might think that you could substitute one for the other easily, you are sorely mistaken. Let’s take a look at each product closely.

Extracts 

These are used solely for consumption purposes. If you are a baker of any type, then you must be familiar with vanilla extract. It’s a prime ingredient from things like chocolate chip cookies to chocolate cake. There are so many types of extracts available and I should know, I once owned my own cookie business.

For a short period last year, I thought it would be a great idea to make gourmet biscotti and sell them. It didn’t work out because, even though I was getting orders and everyone loved my biscotti, I found that I hated making them. I feel life is too short to do things you aren’t enjoying, and I love to cook and bake and didn’t want to ruin that for myself. So I walked away from it learning that making cookies and giving them away was more fun than selling them.

Pantry. Shelves with bottles, jars, plates, bowls.

Through this little venture though, I learned the extent of extracts and how many flavors were available. In my pantry, as I write this, I have several small brown bottles of flavors sitting there waiting to be thrown in a recipe. Orange, lemon, anise, vanilla, and almond are just a few.

I learned through my short-lived time as a business owner that you can create a myriad of flavors in your baking using extracts. But what they will not do is much more than taste good. They won’t ease that muscle pain or help you breathe again when your allergies are acting up. There is another natural product for that.

Essential Oils 

Volatile compounds sound intense and scary, which is a good thing because they can be. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, essential oils are safe to use as long as you use them correctly. There are three ways you can get the best results from your scents. You can inhale them, apply them topically, and ingest them. But you can’t ingest all of them.

Diffusers are great ways to get the most of your oils. When you have a cold or are feeling stressed, there is an oil that can help you if you just put a few drops in the water basin and let it go for an hour or so. When we have a muscle ache, a little peppermint oil in a carrier like a jojoba oil and rubbing into it will ease the pain.

6 bottles of essential oil bottles at the center is a diffuser in white background.

As for ingestion, there are some folks that swear by a few drops of lavender oil in their pitcher of lemonade, but through my own research, I have found that there are quite a few that you should not consume internally. Check out our complete guide to essential oils for a list of each one along with their benefits and possible side effects.

Conclusion

Both oils and extracts serve a purpose in our lives, but there is no denying that essential oils have a more powerful punch. While we love to put extracts in our latest cake creations, all that will do for us is make our baked goods taste fantastic.

Oils have properties that can aid us in so many areas of our lives. Whether we want a relaxing bath or something that will keep the insects away this summer, there is an oil for that. Just be sure to know the proper dilution formulas and techniques before just putting any scent on your body or in your stomach.

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