America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo
Cooking Tips

Infusing vs. Steeping: What's the Difference?

Infusing and steeping aren’t exactly the same thing. Time to spill the tea.

Published July 11, 2022.

Flavored oils and other DIY condiments make for a fun and delicious weekend project. You’re infusing flavors by steeping. . .

Wait. Aren’t “steeping” and “infusing” the same thing?

Not exactly. It’s easy to use “steeping” and “infusing” interchangeably, but it’s a bit more technical than that.

Let’s clarify and also talk about the benefits of infusing at home.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

Steeping vs. infusing: what’s the difference?

Steeping means soaking an ingredient in a liquid of choice for a certain amount of time to extract its soluble flavors. This often includes oil, vinegar, or water. 

When steeping, heat matters. Steeping often involves heat, but not boiling heat. The temperature should be at a level below the boiling point as steeping benefits from slow extraction.

Technically speaking, you infuse flavor into something by steeping an ingredient.



Take your dishes from simple to spectacular with 125 exciting recipes that harness the power of spices; plus, find easy spice blends that you can use in many different ways.

So why should you infuse? Other than the whole fun project thing? Here are a few reasons.

  1. Infusing liquid or fat with flavor from spices brings out a whole new side of complex flavors. Spiced oils are a favorite example; we tasted fennel in a new way once we steeped seeds in warm oil.
  2. DIY infusions give a longer shelf life to ingredients that might be on their way out. Rather than toss dusty chiles into the trash, throw them into some vinegar for a shelf-table splash of pungent heat. 
  3. When seasonings are allowed to steep, they balance each other out. Take our Chipotle Ketchup, for example. No more bold and contrasting flavors. They’re getting to know each other on a deeper level. They’re balanced. 

This is a members' feature.