The effect of essential oil (EO) supplementation on carcass characteristics of Japanese quails and interactions between ingredients and intestinal morphology were investigated in this study. A total of 250 quails were fed different diet: D1, basal diet (BD); D2, BD plus palmarosa oil (PO; 100 µg/kg diet); D3, BD plus lemon myrtle oil (LMO; 100 µg/kg diet); D4, BD plus α-Tops (mixture of α-terpineol, cineole and terpinene-4-ol; 100 µg/kg diet); and D5, BD plus cyclodextrin. Overall growth performance was determined at multiple time points during 35 days of experiment. Carcass characteristics (fatty acid, pH and colour), intestinal morphology and the expression levels of meat quality-related genes including the insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), myogenin and avian uncoupling protein (avUCP) were examined at the end of the trial. Additionally, intestinal microbiome of quails was studied by next-generation sequencing-based culture-independent analysis. Although the inclusion of EOs into the diet had no effect on the growth performance of quails and the microbial profile, the significant changes in pH24 and colour (a*) of the quail's breast muscle (p < .05) in the group receiving PO were observed. Additionally, oleic acid content in the breast muscle was significantly higher in the EOs supplemented groups (p < .01). Quails fed the PO supplemented diet had higher villus and relatively rich in oleic acid. The expression levels of IGF-1 and myogenin genes in quail's muscle were not affected, but the expression of avUCP gene was significantly lower in quails fed with LMO and α-Tops (p < .05). The results demonstrated variable effects of these treatments on intestinal morphology. Taken together, dietary inclusion of EOs is found to be beneficial and hence can be recommended for improving the quality of poultry meat. © 2020 Wiley-VCH GmbH.