Infusion is the process of extracting chemical compounds or flavors from plant material in a solvent such as water, oil or alcohol, by allowing the material to remain suspended in the solvent over time (a process often called steeping). An infusion is also the name for the resultant liquid. The process of infusion is distinct from both decoction—a method of extraction involving boiling the plant material—and percolation, in which water is passed through the material (as in a coffeemaker).
Tea is far older than this, dating back to the 10th century BC as the earliest recorded reference.
Infusion is a chemical process that uses botanicals (typically dried herbs, flowers or berries) that are volatile and release their active ingredients readily in water, oil, or alcohol. In this process, a liquid is typically boiled (or brought to another appropriate temperature) and poured over the herb. After the herb has been allowed to steep in the liquid for an appropriate period of time, it is removed (possibly by straining) leaving an infusion. Unless the infusion is to be consumed immediately, it is bottled and refrigerated for future use.
The amount of time the herbs are left in the liquid depends on the kind of infusion. Infusion times can range from seconds (for some kinds of Chinese tea) to hours, days, or months (for liqueurs like Sloe Gin).
There are several accessories and techniques for removing the steeped or leftover botanicals that were used to infuse liquids, including metal steepers (which look like clamps), tea infusers (which act as strainers), and french presses (which are commonly used to infuse water with various teas and coffee). The most commonly used technique is the teabag, which is made with filter paper and filled with various tea flavors.
A common example of an infusion is tea; most varieties of tea call for steeping the leaves in hot water, although some variants (e.g. Moroccan mint tea) call for decoction instead. Many herbal teas are prepared by infusion, as well; lemon, chamomile, senna, apple, ginger, rooibos, and many other plants are used individually or in combination. Herbal infusions in water and oil are both commonly used as herbal remedies. Coffee can also be made through infusion (as in a French press), but is more often made through percolation.
Plants with desirable flavors may be steeped in an edible oil or vinegar for an extended period; the infused oil or vinegar is often sold still containing the plant and is then used as flavoring. Chilis, lemon, garlic, and many other plants may be used. There can be ambiguity in the labeling of these oils: for example, what is described as sesame oil may be oil extracted from sesame seeds or another vegetable oil infused with sesame.
- Chinese herbology
- List of cooking techniques
- Maceration (food)