Let’s put an end to this myth once and for all. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the best oils to fry and cook with.
I recently came across a silly article telling us that we should not cook or fry with extra virgin olive oil. In fact it said that in many cases we should prefer the standard stuff (regular olive oil).
Why you ask? Well according to the article, extra virgin olive oil may be too strong. I was also surprised to read a quote in the article from the executive director of the North American Olive Oil Association, that said that “If you want a lighter-tasting oil but still want the health benefits then use the bottles marked olive oil or light-tasting olive oil”. But that is not true, in fact regular olive oil does not have all those antioxidants that extra virgin olive oil has, so no you will not get the health benefits of extra virgin by using a regular highly refined olive oil.
The comments below the article were hilarious. Readers were saying that extra virgin olive oil is a scam and anyone who says you should fry in olive oil is clueless.
This is one of the numerous articles (many from big websites and famous chefs, nutritionists etc.) that tell you adamantly, not to fry or cook with olive oil because it is too strong, has a low smoke point, can become carcinogenic etc. All this is fake news. It simply is not true.
What is Plain Olive Oil?
Let us look once more at what plain olive oil is. It is virgin olive oil mixed with refined olive oil. Refined olive oil is basically low quality olive oil that is refined physically and chemically to remove undesirable qualities such a free fatty acids and unpleasant flavor and odor. It contains little to no antioxidants. So all you would be getting is the monounsaturated fats but really no antioxidants which are most responsible for the health benefits of olive oil.
Should I Fry With Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Yes you should. For how long will this myth continue to spread? Clueless people keep on saying this without looking at the numbers. We keep on hearing this: “Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a low smoke point blah blah blah”. Ok, extra virgin olive oil has an average smoke point of about 400 degrees F (some have higher). When you sauté or fry something you will not be exceeding 375 F. Is that clear?
Is Cooking With Olive Oil Carcinogenic?
No. Many people think that olive oil degrades very quickly when heated and this can be bad for your health. WRONG. Extra virgin olive oil contains antioxidants (other oils do not) so it is quite resistant to oxidation and there will be a less chance of the formation of harmful substances while cooking compared to other oils. So -no- frying with extra virgin olive oil is not carcinogenic, unless you burn the oil and then consume it.
Now, as with all foods when heated they will lose some of their nutrients, but not as much as you think. In extreme conditions (heating the olive oil for many hours) a decrease of some antioxidants was noted, while others were intact. A Spanish study showed that when frying vegetables in extra virgin olive oil, some of the antioxidants of the oil were transferred to the vegetables. Another Spanish study showed that eating fried foods will not affect heart health as long as you are frying them in extra virgin olive oil and are following a Mediterranean Diet.
Another reason that is cited is that extra virgin olive oil is too expensive and you should save it for drizzling. OK, yes it is more expensive than corn oil and canola oil for a reason; olives are actually a fruit and olive oil is a fruit juice. But the health benefits by far outweigh any other oil you would be buying, and I can’t help but wonder (as Carrie Bradshaw would say) why are we willing to pay 3$ for a tiny bottle of water but not pay for extra virgin olive oil?
Another reason that is mentioned is that extra virgin olive oil has a strong flavor or is too peppery. Sure, but there are many varieties of olives and they produce different extra virgin olive oils, some are strong tasting and some are not. Taste and decide what works for you, but please stay away from regular olive oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, The Basis of the Real Mediterranean Diet
Finally, and this is from personal experience as well, but one that we should take into account. The traditional Greek diet (prototype of the Mediterranean Diet), used mostly extra virgin olive oil (with the exception of special occasions where they used butter or animal fat) and at the time they were among the longest living people (circa 1960). My ancestors cooked, fried and baked with it and they lived very long lives.
You may think regular olive oil (or canola oil) is good enough but you are missing out on all the benefits (and flavor) of real extra virgin olive oil. Find a reasonable priced extra virgin olive oil and use it for all your cooking needs.
For tips on how to buy a good olive oil read my post:
For tips on how to use olive oil read this post:
Food Chemistry. Phenols and the antioxidant capacity of Mediterranean vegetables prepared with extra virgin olive oil using different domestic cooking techniques.
BMJ. Consumption of fried foods and risk of coronary heart disease: Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study.
International Olive Oil Council. Frying with olive oil. Available at: http://www.