Is there any cooking ingredient more loved the world over than olive oil? Professional chefs and home cooks alike sing its praises as the nectar of the gods, a golden liquid that improves more recipes than you can count. It’s delicious, it’s nutritious, and it enhances just about any meal you’re preparing for family and friends. Lots of folks enjoy olive oil straight from the bottle, as the prime ingredient in salad dressing or dips. In many places, dipping a piece of crusty baguette into a small dish of olive oil is a great way to enjoy bread at mealtime.
In the world of health and wellness, cooking with olive oil has long been seen as the wisest way to add healthy fat to recipes. Lately, however, another debate has been brewing: do the health benefits of cooking with an olive oil change once it’s heated? Does use olive oil for frying, for example, allow heat to make it rancid or toxic in any way? In this article, we do a deep dive into the benefits of cooking with olive oil and look at the safest ways for you to use it. We also explain when it might be best to reach for a different kind of oil – canola, perhaps, or vegetable oil.
The healthy benefits of cooking with olive oil
Olive oil has been used for cooking for many, many centuries. It’s also been a popular ingredient in many holistic medicine practices. Olive oil is a prime ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, which has been hugely popular in many places. The benefits include:
- A healthy heart. Olive oil has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels (the bad ones!) and help control high blood pressure as it reduces your risk of heart disease. (Insert link here).
- Olive oil can help prevent certain cancers. There are studies that suggest that cooking with olive oil may help prevent colon and breast cancers.
- Manage your weight. Although olive oil is quite high in calories, it can help you control weight gain, and even contribute to weight loss. Olive oil adds to that feeling of fullness a healthy meal engenders, and that helps control cravings and appetite.
- Brain function. There are monounsaturated fats in olive oil, and research shows that these may help combat cognitive decline.
- Skin and complexion health. Olive oil contains antioxidants, which some studies say help protect your skin from the signs of aging and damage done by exposure to sunlight. Some people use olive oil directly on their skin, as a treatment for minor problems like eczema. You can even use olive oil to moisturize your face, particularly in winter when the air is dry and cold.
- Gut health. Olive oil acts as an anti-inflammatory in your stomach, which may help control insulin levels. Olive oil promotes good gut health overall.
- Blood sugar levels. Some research suggests that olive oil contributes to controlling blood sugar levels and may be beneficial to people with Type 2 Diabetes.
Understand different types of olive oil
The amazing feature of olive oil is that, in all its varieties, one aspect remains consistent: it comes solely from olives, with no additives or chemicals. It is always in its pure state; only the grading varies, such as virgin olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, and so on. They go from the olive grove to the mill for pressing and bottling, then straight to you, the consumer. Olive oil is made from pure olives, plain and simple. You can buy virgin, extra virgin, or regular olive oil, but all of these are made in precisely the same way.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) comes from the very first cold pressing of the olives. It’s considered the finest of the grades, the top in quality. Its taste is somewhat fruity, and even a tad bitter. Also, there is no mistaking the aroma of extra virgin olive oil – it’s wonderful! Virgin olive oil is also from the first pressing, but its flavor is a little milder, and it has a higher acidity level. Regular olive oil is a combination of virgin and refined olive oil. Its taste is less full, and less unique than the other olive oils described here.
Extra virgin olive oil is the tastiest, most delicious of all these types. But since cooking with olive oil demands you choose the one that’s right for the recipe, be sure to invest in the olive oil the guidelines mention.
Consider the smoke point of your olive oil
The smoke point refers to the temperature reached when the oil stops heating and begins smoking. This isn’t something you want to experience, as it can leave an unpleasant odor lingering in your kitchen. Furthermore, smoking may release harmful chemicals from the oil which in turn alter the flavor of your dish. Nobody wants a smelly kitchen and a weird flavor in their food just because the oil started smoking!
The smoke point of olive oil is different for each type. Much depends on how the olives were harvested and processed.
Extra virgin olive oil smokes at around 375°F (191°C). That’s a relatively low smoke point, so it’s best to use this type for dips and dressings, and perhaps when drizzling olive oil over a steaming plate of roasted vegetables, like asparagus or carrots. The smoke point of virgin olive oil is a bit higher – approximately 390°F (199°C). You can use this type of olive oil when sauteing vegetables, for example, or roasting meat and baking. Regular virgin olive oil has the highest smoke point of them all – around 410°F (210°C). This is the best choice for cooking with olive oil if you’re frying fish or veggies.
It’s vital that you take the smoke point into account when buying olive oil. Use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for dressings and dips, and choose one of the other types for cooking over high heat. In fact, having a bottle of each type on hand when preparing meals means you’ll always be cooking with precisely the right type of olive oil.
The do’s of cooking with olive oil
To get the biggest health bang for your buck, it’s important that you cook olive oil correctly. You want the most health benefits possible while avoiding any potential negative effects.
First, know the smoke point of the olive oil you’re cooking with. Pay close attention to how high the heat you’re cooking with olive oil is rising. Don’t let it overheat! Best to use medium heat no matter which grade of olive oil you’re cooking with – EVOO, regular, etc. Doing this maintains the pure flavor of the olive oil and won’t jeopardize its quality.
Secondly, be sure you’re using precisely the right amount of olive oil the recipe calls for. Using too much can make food oily or mushy, so heed the exact amount called for.
Third, choose the best type for the recipe. If it calls for EVOO, use it! Because different olive oils have different smoke points, recipes often specify which one is best for the dish you’re preparing. Follow that advice.
Try to add olive oil to the late stages of what you’re cooking. Doing this ensures the preservation of its flavor and nutrition. For example, drizzle a little olive oil over steamed vegetables just before you serve them – that’s how the food, and the olive oil, will taste the best.
And finally, be sure you’ve stored your olive oil correctly. It should be kept in a cool, dark place, like a pantry shelf, to preserve its quality. This helps prevent the olive oil from turning rancid or losing its flavor. Keep your olive oil away from heat and light, and it will last almost indefinitely.
The don’ts of cooking with olive oil
Olive oil is fabulous in taste and nutrition content, there’s no doubt about it. But even olive oil has its limitations, so pay attention to these “don’ts” when cooking with it.
One error folks make when cooking with olive oil is using it alone for deep frying. While there is no reliable proof that cooking olive oil with high heat is unhealthy, it does affect the flavor when deep frying with olive oil.
Another aspect of cooking with olive oil to keep in mind is that, while it is incredibly healthy, it’s also high in calories. Like any food, even glorious olive oil, you should consume it in moderation. The healthy rule of avoiding “too much of a good thing” applies to olive oil too! And if you put too much in a recipe, or too much in a pan when sauteing something, the food might taste soggy or greasy. Cook with olive oil often, but use restraint when measuring out how much you need.
Storing olive oil improperly is another frequent error. Olive oil may become rancid and lose its flavor and nutrients when exposed to light and heat. The most favorable storage location for olive oil is a cool, dark area that is kept away from both heat and light. Putting a little into a stainless steel container for daily use is also a great way.
Remember that different types of olive oil are right for different dishes. You shouldn’t use just one type. Consider which one your recipe calls for, and follow that advice. Be sure to note the smoke point each time you’re cooking with olive oil, and use the one that’s best suited to the heat the dish required. A good rule of thumb is this: use EVOO for salad dressings, and dips and to drizzle over foods. But when using high heat, use regular olive oil with a higher smoke point.
Recommended healthy olive oil recipes
We wanted to offer you a few ideas for cooking with olive oil in a few easy dishes. Follow these tips and you’re sure to make a meal your family will love!
- Roasted Vegetables. Toss raw vegetables with salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil. Roast them in the oven for a bit, until the veggies are tender. Roast with olive oil that can handle a 375°F oven, so the veggies char a little but don’t burn.
- Garlic Shrimp. Heat garlic and a little olive oil in a pan on top of the stove. Once hot, toss in shrimp and cook quickly, just until the shrimp turns pink. For this recipe, medium olive oil is your best bet.
- Oil and Vinegar Salad Dressing. Olive oil and vinegar salad dressing is easy and delicious. Simply whisk a small amount of EVOO with a teaspoon each of white wine vinegar and Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper. If you want the dressing to be creamy, add a teaspoon of mayonnaise.
Cooking with olive oil is a wonderful way to make your meals healthy and delicious. Be sure to choose the right type for whatever recipe you’re preparing – it makes a big difference! Using the right olive oil when cooking ensures to get the best flavors and the biggest boost to your health.
If you love cooking with olive oil, let us know if you have a favorite recipe in which it’s a key ingredient.
We hope you have fun cooking and dining with olive oil. We love hearing from our readers in the comments section below. Enjoy!