Cooking with Olive Oil
Cooking with olive oil has roots tracing back to almost every major civilization we know about today.
As such, it may come as no surprise that cooking with oil – olive oil, in particular – has continued to stand out as a modern culinary staple.
Olive oils has a variety of health benefits and creative uses in the kitchen. Here, we take an in-depth look at why and how olive oil is the healthiest oil you can cook with.
What Kind of Olive Oil is Best for Cooking?
Cooking with olive oil is as easy as pouring a tablespoon or two into a pan, right?
Well, yes and no.
You can technically cook with any kind of olive oil. In order to get the best tasting food and the most health benefits, however, you have to consider a few factors.
In this section, you’ll learn about the types of olive oil to use with various cooking methods.
If you haven’t read our comprehensive post about cooking with olive oil yet, you can read it here.
The Different Kinds of Olive Oil
Whether you’re a long time olive oil fan or just now learning about it’s holistic (and tasty) benefits, there’s a lot more to choose from when compared to other types of cooking oil.
To help make your trip to the supermarket a little more friendly, we’re going to give you a quick lesson on all the different types of olive oil so you can buy with confidence.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest quality and best type of olive oil you can buy. Made using the strictest of standards, EVOO is produced explicitly from the first cold press of olives.
In fact, there are multiple international organizations that monitor and inspect the production methods used at companies producing EVOO.
By controlling the temperature at which the olives are pressed and minimizing processing down to basics such as bottling, extra virgin olive oil is able to retain nearly all of its beneficial compounds by the time it reaches shelves.
This is the primary reason EVOO will be the darkest in color and most robust in flavor of the different types of olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil reigns as the healthiest of the olive oils you can buy. It also has the lowest smoke point for cooking estimated at 374 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t saute or pan fry with it. Carefully heating the oil will ensure it doesn’t start smoking. This is a sign the beneficial compounds have begun degrading.
If you don’t want to take the risk of heating EVOO, some of the most popular ways to use it include drizzling over dishes. It’s also popular as a dip, making marinades, and for salad dressings thanks to the distinctive, pronounced flavors.
2. Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil is actually produced using the same methods in which extra virgin olive oil is made. This makes it the second highest quality oil you can buy.
The only differences between EVOO and virgin olive oil are the presence of defects and level of free acidity.
Once pressed, if the oil is graded to have only minimal defects and a free acidity level between 0.8 and 2.0, it’s labeled as virgin olive oil.
Still undergoing rigorous quality standards, virgin olive oil packs just as many antioxidants as its EVOO counterpart.
Similar to EVOO, pure olive oil is going to have a smoke point only marginally higher.
As far as flavor goes, with virgin olive oil, the aromas and profiles will be slightly less intense when compared to EVOO. This makes it a strong contender for dips, marinades, drizzles, and whatever other tasty creations you can think of.
When using virgin olive oil for cooking, heat it slowly to ensure it doesn’t reach the smoke point.
3. Pure Olive Oil
Pure olive oil is the oil that doesn’t pass the quality tests to be graded as extra virgin or virgin due to impurities or free acidity.
As a result, pure olive oil typically gets further processed with chemicals or heat in order to remove the flavors and aromas that aren’t desired.
In order to give it color and flavor since it’s common for the resulting oil to lack both after processing, pure olive oil is mixed with virgin olive oil.
While you’re still getting some of the beneficial compounds found in virgin and extra virgin products, pure olive oil will have drastically reduced amounts.
Because pure olive oil is processed to a higher extent than EVOO and virgin olive oil, it’s going to have a higher smoke point right around 410 degrees fahrenheit.
Being both lighter in color and flavor, pure olive oil serves as the perfect all purpose cooking oil.
Whether grilling, sauteing, pan frying, or even baking, pure olive oil stands up extremely well to cooking temperatures without starting degradation.
4. Light Olive Oil
Light olive oil is the lowest quality oil of the bunch and, as the name confusingly suggests, comes with the lightest color and flavor (but still full calories).
Similar to pure olive oil, light olive oil is refined using methods such as extreme heat, solvents, or other chemicals during extraction.
As a result, light olive oil is typically very light in color (almost clear in some cases) and tastes neutral.
Because it’s not blended with any virgin oil, light olive oil contains the lowest concentration of antioxidants and beneficial compounds.
Despite the lack of color, flavor, and nutrients, conversely, light olive oil has the highest smoke point of the varieties covered in this article.
Topping out between 470 and 490, light olive oil can safely be used for just about any cooking method you can think of.
When looking for a cooking oil that doesn’t impart flavor on the dish you’re cooking, light olive oil can be your go-to.
Start Cooking With Olive Oil Today
Now that you’ve got the rundown on everything related to cooking with olive oil, are you ready to put all this knowledge to use?
Give us a call or swing by in-person to have one of our friendly, knowledgeable staff members get your kitchen stocked with the olive oil you’ve been looking for.
Common Concerns When Cooking With Olive Oil
Now that we’ve covered the different kinds of olive oil, it’s time we debunk some of the myths and concerns surrounding olive oil when used for cooking.
Myth #1: You Shouldn’t Cook With Olive Oil
Even though many other oils can lose their stability and become oxidized during the cooking process, olive oil is very different.
Unlike the composition of so many other popular cooking oils, which are primarily polyunsaturated fats, olive oil is nearly 85% monounsaturated fat.
The molecular structure of monounsaturated fats makes them very resistant to oxidizing when exposed to heat.
High levels of antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil also lend a helping hand because they’re naturally stable when heated.
Because of these protective measures, olive oil is an incredibly safe and stable oil to use for cooking without having to worry about carcinogenic compounds.
Myth #2: Heating Olive Oil Produces Trans Fats
While it is true that heating oil to extreme temperatures for a prolonged period of time can produce trans fats, it’s almost impossible to replicate in a residential kitchen.
The truth of the matter is, trans fats are almost exclusively produced in industrial kitchens via partial hydrogenation.
Not only is olive oil one of the most stable cooking oils you can use, which we just covered in the above myth, but studies have also shown that olive oil is almost completely resistant to trans fat formation during the cooking process.
One study used olive oil for deep frying eight times back to back to find that the trans fat content only went up by less than a fraction of a percent.
The takeaway from this myth is that you don’t have to worry about trans fats when cooking with olive oil.
Myth# 3: The Type of Olive Oil Doesn’t Matter
As you probably already know, there are dozens of different types and brands of olive oil lining the shelves at your local supermarket.
Between the different price tags and labels, it’s easy to conclude that they’re really all the same and it doesn’t matter which one you buy – but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Even though olive oil is largely revered as the healthiest oil on the planet, the type of olive oil you choose to cook with does make a difference.
To keep it simple, “light” olive oil is the lowest quality while “extra virgin” is the highest quality (you can also tell because of the noticeable price difference from bottle to bottle).
Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed of all the olive oils meaning it’s going to maintain most of the beneficial compounds.
This is incredibly important, especially when being used for cooking, because the antioxidants are what helps keep the oil stable under heat.
You also want to be careful when shopping for olive oil and ensure that you avoid the fake oils (link to blog post about fake olive oil) that in recent years have flooded the market.
Myth #4: Olive Oil Destroys a Food’s Nutrients
Depending on the kind of oil you use, heat, and length of cooking time, some foods can have their natural nutrients destroyed – but not when cooking with olive oil.
The nutrient rich nature of olive oil appears to not only help preserve a food’s natural nutrients, but they can actually increase the total amount as well.
In fact, a recent study found that sauteing vegetables with extra virgin olive oil increased the total number of antioxidants rather than reduce it.
By comparison, the same study found that boiling the same vegetables actually reduced their overall phenol count!
Even though there’s not a study for every dish you can cook with olive oil, the mounting evidence suggests that olive oil is by far the healthiest oil to cook with when concerned about preserving nutrients.
Why Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Unless you’re well read on the topic of olive oil, a quick trip to the supermarket can quickly result in purchasing the lowest priced bottle. After all, does the “extra virgin” label really make that much of a difference or even justify the higher price tag? The answer is yes.
It’s All About the Process
What makes extra virgin olive oil so special is the way it’s produced.
Olives that are used to produce extra virgin oil are extracted using natural, standardized methods that are closely monitored by global organizations to ensure quality and purity.
Specifically, extra virgin olive oil is obtained from the first cold press, which helps to preserve all of the nutrients and beneficial properties.
Other, lower quality olive oils such as “extra light”, “light”, and even “pure” can be obtained by crushing the olives multiple times under higher heat in order to get the highest yield per fruit.
While that may seem like a good idea from a business standpoint, this process will often destroy a large portion of the oil’s nutrients and result in a lower quality product.
Chemical extraction is another popular method that large scale producers will often use to make their olive oil.
Between harsh chemicals such as solvents, heat treatment, and even blending with lower quality oils, by the time it reaches the shelf, the olive oil you’re purchasing has little to no beneficial value left.
True extra virgin olive oil will have a rich color and distinctive taste as a result of the minimal processing, making it ideal for cooking purposes.
At D’Olivo we source from Veronica Foods who has an Ultra-Premium designation specifically to indicate to consumers that they provide only the highest quality of olive oil available (link to blog post about Veronica Foods)
Nutrients Your Body Will Love
So, now that we’ve covered why extra virgin olive oil is better from the production side of things, let’s talk about the nutrients and what they do for your health.
Extra virgin olive oil is simply packed with more than 30 different types of phenolic compounds (antioxidants).
These powerful nutrients help the body in a number of different ways, though they’re often most revered for their ability to protect you from free radicals.
Free radicals are responsible for cellular damage and have been shown to contribute to a variety of different diseases.
Because the lower quality olive oils are extensively processed, most if not all of the phenolic compounds are often lost.
Chronic inflammation in the body has been scientifically linked to a number of different diseases including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimers, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and many more.
Between the abundance of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants present in extra virgin olive oil, studies have found that it may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Oleic acid, the dominant fatty acid found in olive oil, has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in the body.
Even more convincing, multiple studies have shown that the antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil act similarly to OTC anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
3. Disease Prevention
As the leading causes of death in the world, it may come as a surprise to learn that countries around the Mediterranean have some of the lowest instances of heart disease and stroke.
The regular use of extra virgin olive oil in the Meditteranean diet is largely considered to be the reason that these mortality rates are so low.
In fact, extra virgin olive oil has been shown to help fight against heart disease in multiple different levels.
In addition to helping to reduce inflammation, one of the key factors to heart disease, EVOO also prevents LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized, can help prevent blood clots, and even lower blood pressure.
Tips For Cooking With Olive Oil
Now that we’ve covered just about everything there is to know about olive oil, it’s time to get into the exciting stuff – actually cooking with it!
Below, we’ve covered some helpful culinary tips that will allow you to make the most of each bottle of olive oil.
How to Fry With Olive Oil
Since you now know that cooking with olive oil is perfectly safe, let’s talk about one of the most popular cooking methods – frying.
So long as you keep olive oil under its smoke point, you can fry food without having to worry about harmful compounds.
Because frying is going to be one of the higher temperature cooking methods used, we highly recommend 100% true extra virgin olive oil since it has the best stability.
Though this can vary slightly from bottle to bottle, EVOO has an average smoke point of about 410 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than enough considering most foods fry between 350-375.
For the best results, heat your oil in a pan or pot over medium heat and monitor the temperature closely to ensure it doesn’t get too high.
Only add your food to the oil once it’s at temperature to minimize absorption and begin frying up that tasty meal.
How to Bake With Olive Oil
This may come as a bit of a shock, but did you know that you can actually bake with olive oil as well?
That’s right, olive oil isn’t just a great substitute for frying or sauteing, but you can also use it in place of butter or margarine while baking.
Because olive oil, especially extra virgin, is vastly different from butter or margarine, we’ve provided some easy-to-remember conversions when substituting:
1 teaspoon of butter/margarine = ¾ teaspoon of olive oil
¼ cup of butter/margarine = 3 tablespoons of olive oil
Depending on what you’re baking, you can experiment with different olive oils and intensities to find the one that works best for each respective recipe.
For example, you may want to use an olive oil that’s mild in flavor when baking desserts and something more robust when baking breads or rolls.
How to Grill With Olive Oil
Whether using it as a marinade before your food even touches the grill or as a basting sauce, olive oil can instantly elevate any grilled dish.
When being used for basting, simply brush a light layer of olive oil onto each side of the food that’s being grilled and let the heat do the rest.
Similar to frying with olive oil, the beneficial antioxidants will also work protectively on your food and prevent carcinogenic compounds from forming.
We highly recommend trying out some flavored olive oils as well when grilling to see how you can take your grilling game to the next level.
Browse our high-quality selection to see what you’ve been missing!