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Cooking with Olive Oil Facts

Below you will find a handy dandy chart relating specific FFA of extra virgin olive oil to its smoke point. However, FFA as it relates to the smoke point of an extra virgin olive oil is not the end of the story.  The phenols found in fresh extra virgin olive oil also protect the oil from forming aldehydes which are more or less toxic to our cells, whether we eat them or inhale them while cooking. Aldehydes will begin to form in any type of cooking oilas soon as it begins to oxidize as a result of being heated up, and are increased when an oil is heated for a long duration or at very high temperatures.  The phenols (antioxidants) unique to fresh, well made extra virgin olive oil “sacrifice” themselves to this heat oxidation thus preventing or diminishing the formation of toxic aldehydes, which makes a strong, if not iron clad case for exclusively cooking with high phenol, low FFA extra virgin olive oil above all other cooking oil options available.  

Beyond this, when we use high phenol olive oil for higher heat applications, we may still be left with some phenols and of course the flavor they impart, which does not speak strictly to the prevention of bad compounds, but does address the sensory and health benefit unique to fresh, well made EVOO.

The following diagram shows the influence of FFA on the smoke point of an extra virgin olive oil. The green band shows the smoke point range of good quality low acidity extra virgin olive oil. The pink band shows the smoke point of lower quality high acidity oils. In culinary terms, these real differences are huge!

To see the origin of this chart and get more in depth information about cooking oil and smoke point, please go to: Richard Gawel's EVOO Blog: Slick Extra Virgin

 

Does olive oil loose its health benefits when heated?

Olive oil has been used for cooking for thousands of years. It is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. So why do some people believe that olive oil should not be used for cooking? One persistent rumor is that olive oil will lose its health benefits when heated. This rumor is false. Here's why:

Olive oil's main health benefit is its fat composition. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fat.  Cooking with an oil will not change its fat composition. Olive oil's percentage of monounsaturated fat remains the same after heating, even to high temperatures.

According to the American Heart Association, monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 2004, approved a health claim for olive oil on the basis that the monounsaturated fat in olive oil may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease when used in place of saturated fat. 

All olive oils, whether extra virgin or refined, heated or raw, contain a comparable amount of monounsaturated fat.

What about trans fats?

Cooking oils, when heated, may form small amounts of trans fats. However, the concentration is minuscule – less than 1% - even with lengthy heating.

Smoke point 

All oils will become unhealthy if heated past the smoke point. Stovetop cooking is usually around 350ºF.  The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is 350 - 410°F and the smoke point of olive oil or light-tasting olive oil is 390 - 468°F.  It is unlikely that you will exceed the smoke point of olive oil with typical cooking methods. It is of course possible to burn food and burn olive oil. Regardless of your cooking oil, use caution to avoid burning your food! Read more about olive oil smoke points.

Carcinogens or other toxic compounds

Heating any oil past its smoke point will produce toxic compounds. Fortunately, olive oil contains phenols and antioxidants that prevent it from creating toxic compounds when heated.  In 2004, a team studied the aldehydes produced by heating extra virgin olive oil, olive oil and canola oil to 464°F.  The study found that both extra virgin and regular olive oil were healthier than canola oil. Read more

Oxidation

Unsaturated fats have the potential to oxidize when heated.  Olive oil has been scientifically proven to resist oxidation when heated.  Polyunsaturated oils (such as Canola) are significantly more likely to oxidize over the monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil).  Read more 

Phenols

We have heard that you should not cook with olive oil because the phenols will be destroyed by the heat. It is true that phenols in olive oil are sensitive to heat. However, a recent study made a remarkable discovery. When cooking with extra virgin olive oil, the phenols move into the food. Potatoes fried in EVOO contained more phenols and antioxidants than potatoes boiled in water. Read more.

What about the taste?

The flavor compounds in olive oil are delicate and will evaporate when heated. Heating olive oil does not damage the health benefits but it will make the olive oil lose flavor.  Some people consider this to be a good thing as they do not want their foods to taste like olive oil. However, if you have an expensive olive oil with complex flavors, you may want to save it for finishing and cold uses.

In conclusion, olive oil is safe to cook with. Heating olive oil will not destroy the health benefits or turn olive oil unhealthy. You can feel confident using olive oil in all of your recipes. 

When a cooking oil is exposed to heat, light and oxygen, it can oxidize. Oxidized oils can produce harmful compounds and toxic by-products and make your food taste bad. The more an oil can resist reacting with oxygen and breaking down, the better for cooking. This quality is measured as oxidative stability and is considered by many oil experts as the best predictor of how an oil performs during cooking. Oxidative stability is measured via induction time. This is the point when an oil breaks down and potentially produces harmful compounds. A greater induction time indicates an oil is more resistant to oxidation, a shorter induction time means the oil will oxidize easily.

When a cooking oil is exposed to heat, light and oxygen, it can oxidize. Oxidized oils can produce harmful compounds and toxic by-products and make your food taste bad. The more an oil can resist reacting with oxygen and breaking down, the better for cooking. This quality is measured as oxidative stability and is considered by many oil experts as the best predictor of how an oil performs during cooking. Oxidative stability is measured via induction time. This is the point when an oil breaks down and potentially produces harmful compounds. A greater induction time indicates an oil is more resistant to oxidation, a shorter induction time means the oil will oxidize easily.

 

What Influences Oxidative Stability of an Oil?

There are three major factors that determine an oil’s stability.

  1. Number of Antioxidants

As the name suggests, antioxidants protect against oxidation, which is the undesirable process that occurs quicker when an oil is exposed to high heat for extended periods. Therefore, antioxidants play a key role in an oils oxidative stability and health benefits. It’s important to consider which oils contain and retain their naturally high antioxidant levels.

  1. Type and Ratio of Fats

A fat is more resistant to heat if it contains fewer double bonds between its molecules. Double bonds oxidize and break down easier when exposed to heat.

Saturated fats (SFA): These do not contain any double bonds and are solid at room temperature. 

Monounsaturated fats (MUFA): These contain only one double bond but are also stable at high temperatures. 

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA): These have two or more double bonds, which makes them prone to oxidation. 

  1. The Extent of Refining

Some cooking oils require refinement because the oil is not consumable after extraction.  Seed and vegetable oils usually are refined with high heat, high pressure and chemicals to to bleach, deodorize and neutralize the oils in order to remove objectionable odors or tastes and residues of chemical solvents used to extract the oil. This process strips away natural antioxidants. Refinement lowers the oxidative stability of oil because the process strips away natural antioxidants and also exposes the oil to heat. Virgin and extra virgin olive oils are not refined. They are extracted by mechanical means only and are not exposed to heat or chemicals. Ordinary olive oil contains a mixture of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils; refined olive oil undergoes a refining process to remove flavor defects, but the process is relatively mild because olive oil is extracted without chemical solvents. 

Here is a list of the average fat ratios, oxidative stability and antioxidant content of common oils. 

Source: https://olivewellnessinstitute.org/resource/showdown-what-is-the-best-oil-for-cooking/

This table shows that coconut oil has the highest oxidative stability due to its saturated fat content. However, it has the lowest antioxidant content. Most nutrition experts recommending limiting saturated fats and thus, it should be used sparingly even though it is a stable cooking oil.

All the vegetable oils – which are refined and typically high in PUFA – have a low oxidative stability and low antioxidant content.

Extra virgin olive oil contains the highest amount of antioxidants by far and also high oxidative stability which is why we recommend choosing olive oil for cooking, baking and frying, even under high heat. The natural antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil protect the oil, and the consumer, from oxidation and the oil is naturally stable due to the high percentage of monounsaturated fat. 

Cooking with Olive Oil

For thousands of years, olive oil has been a versatile ingredient used for everything from sautéing and baking to a drizzle for soups and salads. Like anything else, different types of olive oil complement different types of food. It is finding these combinations that make the culinary adventure all the more exhilarating!

In general, robust olive oils are best used for cooking meat & seafood, in a marinade, or as a drizzle over bold flavors like peppers or garlic. For those of you who enjoy dipping your bread in a great EVOO, a medium intensity oil is for you. A well-rounded medium intensity olive oil is also fantastic on mozzarella, used as vinaigrette, or drizzled on cooked vegetables. Finally, the delicate olive oils are ideal for baking or as a substitute for butter or mayonnaise. No matter what its application, the delicious flavor of fresh olive oil will add a new dimension to your favorite meal. EVOO really enhances the flavors in your dish, while also adding body and depth.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is also wonderful for sautéing or frying, thanks to its high smoke point (410 degrees Fahrenheit) and the fact that moderate cooking does not destroy the healthy polyphenols EVOO is known for. Baking with olive oil is another great option to reduce fat and make your baked goods more heart-healthy. Substitute olive oil for butter in your cake and cookie recipes for a delicious treat without the large amounts of saturated fat or cholesterol! In fact, using olive oil in place of butter means you can use three tablespoons of olive oil per quarter cup of butter you would have used originally.

What is your favorite way to cook with olive oil? Here are just a few of the ways we use it on a regular basis:

  • As part of a marinade for either meat or seafood
  • Drizzled over cooked pasta or veggies
  • As part of a vinaigrette for salad dressings
  • Mixed with herbs to use as a bread dip
  • Drizzled over toasted garlic baguette
  • Mixed into mashed potatoes with a variety of seasonings
  • As part of a sauce
  • A replacement for butter in dessert recipes
  • To sauté vegetables
  • As a finish or condiment

We’ve all heard about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet, but did you know that a cornerstone of this diet is actually the consumption and use of olive oil? Olive oil actually helps enhance the various flavors and spices of food while simultaneously providing a great mouth feel and satisfying the appetite. Olive oil actually satisfies hunger more quickly, causing you to eat less calories at each meal. Of course, Mediterranean diets are also rich in vegetables, fruit, and fish, which are all healthy foods. A big part of why the Mediterranean diet has endured for centuries is that olive oil makes other healthy foods taste fabulous – delicious and healthy.  Indeed, a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine further confirmed that adherence to the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.