Bespoke Seasoning Suppliers Discuss: Volatile Oils in Herbs and Spices

Posted by World of Spice 02/09/2021

bulk herbs and spices - mixed herbs

Volatile oils are in all herbs and spices, but what actually are they? Unlike other oils in cooking, they’re not added before or after cooking – they’re actually embedded within your spices, herbs and seasonings. Here at World of Spice, we’re expert bespoke seasoning suppliers, so we thought we’d take a closer look at what volatile oils are and what they can bring to your cooking.

What Are Volatile Oils?

Volatile oil, or V.O for short is the chemical compound form of oil. (Don’t worry, it’s not too scientific after this!) Volatile oils are found in every herb or spice and provides the distinct flavour and aroma of each individual type of seasoning. They’re included in the leaf, seed, stem, root or bark, and can contain up to several hundred chemical compounds. When combined, the oils give herbs and spices their authentic characteristics.

Most common in whole spice, volatile oils will slowly break down over time and the oil is slowly released. The same occurs when a whole spice is broken or ground. If you think about it, freshly ground herbs and spices always smell and taste much stronger when they have been crushed more recently. 

Are Volatile Oils in all Herbs and Spices?

Yes! Our bespoke seasoning suppliers can say that V.O is present in all herbs and spices. However, they vary from one herb to another. This is why all flavours and aromas are so different. It’s not just the taste and smell that differs though, the volatile oils differ in levels, strength and chemical composition.

How Much Volatile Oil Is in Dried Produce?

It really depends on the type of spice. Cinnamon is great for explaining this example: Cinnamon powder is the ground bark of cinnamon sticks, that come from cinnamon trees. The bark from each tree that is used to make the cinnamon powder contains a different level of V.O. For example, one cinnamon called Korintje contains 3% volatile oil, while Saigon cinnamon contains a high percentage of between 4% and 6%. Naturally, the difference in oil content create individual flavour characteristics for what is essentially the same spice. Cinnamon is not the only spice that has a high percentage of volatile oils. Peppercorns, coriander, cardamom and cloves also contain high levels.

What Impacts The V.O Level?

There are a few things that impact the general oil levels within herbs and spices. One main factor includes growing conditions, such as temperature and moisture levels. If these elements aren’t optimum, oil levels will never increase past a mediocre amount. The maturity of the plant at the time of harvest also comes into play. Growing conditions change year to year in each region. The quality and level of volatile oils can vary from one crop to another.

Why Do the Oil Levels Lessen?

It’s all about time. Once harvested, the volatile oil content in herb and spice plants start to diminish. Depending on the plant and whether the product is whole or ground determines the speed at which it degrades and loses potency. Overall, V.O in whole seeds lasts slightly longer than in ground produce. This is because the seed can protect the oil in its whole inner and outer layers, locking in the flavour and fragrance. Once ground, the oils are brought to life. The higher the oil content, the quicker the flavour and aroma will dissipate.

How Are They Measured?

So how do bespoke seasoning suppliers measure these oils that are such a small fraction of the herbs and spices we eat? Well, we can’t take all the credit. This test is actually conducted in a laboratory, where oils are extracted from the product. The more volatile oil, the better quality it is. Likewise, the more fragrant and potent, the fresher it stands.

It’s this factor that is helpful when deciding to buy your spices from a supermarket or in bulk from bespoke seasoning suppliers. Keep in mind that at a supermarket, herbs and spices are often left sitting for months after they have been ground. With a specialist supplier, they will ensure ultimate freshness through supply and demand.

Get in Touch

If you’re after bespoke seasoning suppliers that know all about the importance of volatile oils and the after care of ground dried produce, then we can help you! Here at World of Spice, our produce is known internationally for its delicious and strong flavour. We always deliver the highest quality products, to help restaurants create authentic cuisine. If you’re looking to bulk buy herbs and spices online, we can arrange fast and convenient delivery to meet your requirements.

From bespoke blends to a choice of packaging, complete with custom labelling, our comprehensive service can help you achieve your culinary goals. For more information about our services and what we can offer you, please email us at, or feel free to call our team on 01277 633303. We look forward to hearing from you.

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