Can You Cook with Olive Oil?
Updated: Aug 4
Hey everyone, today we're gonna answer the question, "Can you cook with olive oil?"
Specifically, extra virgin olive oil. Now, if you're looking for the short answer
then yes, absolutely.
If you are already using it then great, and if not, then we're going to find out not only why you can cook with olive oil, but also why you should.
I did a quick Google search to find out what people are saying about cooking with extra virgin olive oil and these are some of the things that I found:
you can't heat it.
low smoke point equals breathing in toxic smoke.
And there was so much more!
We can all agree that the internet can be as informative as it can be sketchy so let's jump in and see if we can shed some light on this topic.
First off, when it comes to cooking with any oil we need to consider a few things:
the composition - basically what is that oil made out of
is it refined or unrefined - basically is it processed or has it been chemically altered?
and the smoke point - Yes, the smoke point! And how it is not the deciding factor when choosing which oil to cook with.
Let's start with composition, specifically, fat composition because all oils are made out of staturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. People tend to generalize when they talk about
the composition of an oil and tend to put them all into buckets.
saturated = coconut oil
monounsaturated = extra virgin olive oil
polyunsaturated = sunflower oil.
But it's important not to generalize, because, for example, although extra virgin olive oil is mostly made up of monounsaturated fatty acids it also contains amounts of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. This composition is important because it has a direct effect on how the oil is going to behave when heated and also on our health.
This is a deep topic, but for our purposes today let's just say that chemically speaking saturated fatty acids are the most stable, monounsaturated fatty acids the second most stable, and polyunsaturated fatty acids are the least heat stable. Unfortunately this is where most people
on the internet stop; by concluding that saturated fatty acids are the best ones for cooking.
But this stability is only one side of the equation. There's a whole health aspect to the composition
of an oil that is linked to the other two fatty acids. On one side, where saturated fatty acids give you that heat stability they've also been linked to many cardiovascular diseases, obesity and increasing your LDL or bad cholesterol.
On the flip side, mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids have been linked to many health benefits, including decreasing the risk of heart disease, weight loss, and regulating your cholesterol levels
although they do have different levels of thermal stability. When talking about extra virgin olive oil, you can count on a great balance between health and stability.
Now let's talk about refined vs unrefined. A refined oil, simply put, is an oil that has been refined or processed. It's linked to words like clean, purified or lite. One might refine an oil to increase its
production yield, or to smooth out imperfections or defects to produce the same oil year after
An unrefined oil is a natural oil It's an oil that has not been chemically altered or processed retaining all of its natural composition. As such we can't expect that oil to be the exact same year after year.
So, what does this have to do with cooking?
Well, refining an oil usually increases the smoke point and here is again where most people on the internet stop. But I'm going to put my foot down, because smoke point is not the only deciding factor when choosing an oil to cook with.
It's not really about temperature but rather about oxidative stability - meaning how susceptible is an oil to oxidation and how long can you heat the oil before it starts to break down causing real damage.
When choosing an oil, on top of what we've already mentioned, you want to look for an oil that's rich in antioxidant compounds and in extra virgin olive oil these antioxidant compounds are called polyphenols.
These polyphenols tend to neutralize, absorb, and destroy free radicals delaying the natural onset of oxidation and also giving you that extra heat stability boost.
But if we did want to talk about temperature or smoke point, the question is, what are we planning on cooking anyways? I mean, unless you're caramelizing, to deep fry all you need is around 350 Fahrenheit or 176 Celsius. If I'm using extra virgin olive oil the low end of the smoke point range starts at 374 Fahrenheit or 191 Celsius. This gives me plenty of headroom to cook anything that I want.
Plus, it's packed with polyphenols which not only give me that added heat stability but they are also linked to many health benefits.
Now, let's put it all together. If looking at fat composition, if it's refined, or smoke point individually that will not give enough information to determine whether cooking with extra virgin olive oil is a good thing or not. But when we put it all together, it then starts to make sense.
When I choose an oil, I'm looking for an oil that is mostly monounsaturated fatty acids for the health benefits and good thermal stability. I would also look for an oil that is unrefined in order to retain all of its natural benefits and attributes and an oil full of antioxidant compounds forthat health and heat stability boost.
And if you still want to talk about smoke point, I'm looking for an oil that will let me deep fry or cook anything that I want. And since extra virgin olive oil is the only oil that checks all those boxes, to answer the question, then yes, you can cook with extra virgin olive oil.
In fact, you probably should!