You've probably heard that olive oil is great for drizzling and dressing, but bad for high-heat cooking like sautéing and roasting. Maybe you've also heard that olive oil develops dangerous toxic compounds when you use it with high heat—we've found plenty of scare stories that say so.
Olive oil is perfectly safe to cook with. There's no proof to support this theory
Several recent studies have found that olive oil is more resistant to heat than other plant oils like sunflower, corn, and soybean. Yes, all oils break down, lose flavor and nutrients, and can develop potentially harmful compounds when you apply lots of heat. But, thanks in part to its high antioxidant content, olive oil is especially resistant to these changes.
Still, this is not to say that you should run off and deep-fry a turkey in EVOO for dinner tonight. Here's everything you need to know about cooking with olive oil:
1. Choose the right olive oil for the job.
Extra virgin isn't the only game in town. There are several different varieties of olive oils, all of which have different flavor profiles, smoke points (more on that later), and cooking purposes. Follow this quick guide to make the best choice for your dish:
Extra virgin: Made from the first cold pressing of olives, this has the strongest, fruitiest, and arguably most pleasant flavor. Use in dressings, dips, and garnishes to allow the robust flavor to shine. It's also a fine choice for sautéing.
Virgin: Made from the second pressing of olives, virgin has a milder flavor. Use in medium-heat sautéing and pan-frying.
Pure: Made from the second pressing of olive or by a chemical extraction process, pure olive oil isn't exactly "pure" and lacks the flavor and fragrance of extra virgin and virgin. Use in roasting, baking, or deep-frying.
Light: Don't be fooled—light olive oil isn't lower in fat or calories than other types of oil. And this type should actually be avoided, since it's made from a combination of virgin and refined oils, and lacks both the flavor and health benefits of virgin and extra virgin.
2. Don’t hit the smoke point.
Smoke point is the temperature at which an oil starts to break down. You'll know it's happening when the oil starts to, well, smoke. Each type of olive oil has a slightly different smoke point:
Extra virgin: 375 to 405°F
Do your best to avoid the smoke point. While it's not harmful to your health, cooking oil past its smoke point can cause nutrient loss and create unpleasant off-flavors that'll affect the taste of the finished dish.
3. Know when olive oil isn't the best choice.
Although it's safe, healthy, and delicious, olive oil isn't the be-all and end-all of cooking fats. In fact, compared with other oils, olive oil has a relatively low smoke point. This means you're more likely to get those off-flavors if you use olive oil for super-high-heat cooking, like searing meat and deep-frying. If you're cooking with high heat, you want to use an oil with a high smoke point. Corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil are all very good.
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