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What You Might Not Know About Cooking With Olive Oil

Olive oil and olives. (This image, found on Wikimedia Commons, was originally posted to Flickr by stu_spivack)
Olive oil and olives. (This image, found on Wikimedia Commons, was originally posted to Flickr by stu_spivack)

A lot of customers ask what our olive oil is best used for: salads, bread dipping, cooking, etc, so I wanted to address this common topic.

Olive oil is great for everything- but how you use it can vary based on your taste preferences and the dish you are making.

Olive oil is a lot like wine, and each variety will complement different dishes and flavors. It can be used for sauteing, browning, stir-frying, deep frying, as an ingredient in marinades, dressings, and sauces such as mayonnaise and pesto, or as a condiment, drizzled over various dishes.

It is always a great start to a meal as a bread dipper by itself or with some garlic or Italian spices added in.

The strong and more robust extra virgin olive oils can be used for cooking meat, to make marinades, or to drizzle on strongly flavored ingredients. A medium intensity, well-rounded extra virgin olive oil is great on mozzarella, in dressings or cooked with veggies.

A mild and less flavorful extra virgin olive oil could be used in baking a cake or to make mayonnaise. The one thing to keep in mind when cooking with olive oil is that excessively heating olive oil will evaporate the alcohols and esters that make up its flavor characteristics.

Use a less expensive olive oil that doesn’t have much flavor to begin with if you want to fry with it, add a more flavorful olive oil after cooking or at the table.

Our flavored olive oils are great for adding a specific flavor to a dish when cooking (my personal favorites being the garlic and roasted onion).

One of the most common myths, that cooking with olive oil makes the oil less health is addressed by the Olive Oil Source:

One common myth is that heating olive oil will make it saturated or trans-fatty. This is not true.

As far as making a saturated fat, according to Dr. A. Kiritsakis, a world renowned oil chemist in Athens, in his book Olive Oil from the Tree to the Table -Second edition 1998, all oils will oxidize and hydrogenate to a tiny degree if repeatedly heated to very high temperatures such as is done in commercial frying operations.

Olive-pomace oils and virgin olive oils are both highly monounsaturated oils and therefore resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation. Studies have shown oxidation and hydrogenation occurs to a lesser degree in olive oil than in other oils.

But in any case, the amount of hydrogenation is miniscule and no home cook would ever experience this problem.

The large refinery-like factories that take unsaturated vegetable oil and turn it into margarine or vegetable lard do so by bubbling hydrogen gas through 250 to 400ºF (121 to 204ºC) hot vegetable oil in the presence of a metal catalyst, usually nickel or platinum. The process can take several hours.

You cannot make a saturated product like margarine at home by heating olive oil or any other vegetable oil in a pan. We don’t know where this weird notion has come from.  (source: http://www.oliveoilsource.com/page/heating-olive-oil#Myths)

Another common topic that I discuss with my customers when it comes to cooking with olive oil, is something called the smoke point, or temperature at which the oil will start to burn.

High quality extra virgin olive oil has quite a high smoke point, and the lower the acidity of the oil, the higher the smoke point. Generally, depending on the type of olive and quality of the oil, this range is from 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit.

According the International Olive Oil Council, the smoke point of olive oil makes it suitable for any type of cooking, even deep frying.

Here is what the International Olive Oil Council has to say about frying food with olive oil:

When heated, olive oil is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying temperatures.

Its high smoke point (410ºF or 210ºC) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (356ºF or 180ºC).

The digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is re-used several times for frying.

As a reference point, the table from the IOOC shows standard cooking temperatures:

  • High water content: vegetables, potatoes, fruit … Medium (266-293ºF or 130-145ºC)
  • Coated in batter, flour or breadcrumbs, forming a crust Hot (311-338ºF or 155-170ºC)
  • Small, quickly fried: small fish, croquettes Very Hot (347-374ºF or 175–190ºC)

Here is a challenge, for those who have questioned what the difference is between my oil (meaning the oils we purchase from reliable sources and sell at the store) better than those on grocery store shelves: get some olive oil off the shelf and heat it up in a saucepan with a frying thermometer to measure the smoke point.

This is properly done in a lab with special lighting which shows the first hint of smoke, but we will have to settle for our own kitchens! My stove top experiment yielded 350ºF for a jug of store oil and 390ºF for a my Organic Spanish Picual EVOO.

So go ahead: dip, saute, and cook with your olive oil. (And in general eat more olive oil!)

Editor's note: Heidi Burrows is co-owner of New Canaan Olive Oil at 98 Elm St.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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