The phrase “flavored oils” might conjure images of Italian-ish garlic and herb oils, chile oils to dress Sichuan dishes or maybe supermarket truffle oils. But there are some new players on the scene that are changing the concept: deep green pine oils and dill oils, intense and dimensional rose oils, oils flavored with not-previously considered-edible things such as aromatic woods, onion ash or hay. In the kitchens of creative restaurants around the world, infused oils let cooks add a precise dose of concentrated, blendable flavor to any dish. Think of them as a customizable, flavor-capture-and-delivery technique — or maybe cocktail bitters for food.
A little chemistry is useful here. The simple phenomenon that oil and water don’t mix — that matter prefers the company of other matter that is similar on a molecular level to itself — is what enables the flavor concentration that makes such oils so versatile. Much of flavor comes from aroma — that is, most of what you taste when you eat something is actually the result of your sense of smell — and aroma molecules tend to be nonpolar, like fat and oil, instead of polar, like water. So, flavor molecules will happily take up residence in nonpolar materials like oils and fats, a process called extraction — or sometimes infusion or tincturing.