We’ve run across more misinformation about olive oil. The latest involves olive oil’s “smoke point.”
A cooking oil’s smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and smoke. A high-quality extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point than other oils, making it very suitable for many forms of cooking, such as frying.
So it’s plain wrong to say olive oil isn’t suitable for stir-frying or frying. This belief mistakenly assumes olive oil, including extra virgin olive oil, has a low smoke point.
First, let’s clear up the misinformation about whether it's OK to sauté, fry, roast and even deep fry with extra virgin olive oil. As I’ve noted before, cooking doesn’t destroy an EVOO’s healthful polyphenols. Even if your deep frying, the typical home stove doesn't heat up enough to cause an issue.
“I tell my classes that in a home kitchen it’s very hard to burn olive oil,” says Nancy Ash, a trained olive oil taster and owner of the consulting firm Strictly Olive Oil.
Adds Karen Collins, a nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research, a nonprofit which funds cancer-prevention research: "Extra virgin olive oil’s smoke point is generally given as 410 degrees Fahrenheit, which gives plenty of room for the 250-350 degrees Fahrenheit that covers most cooking."
Chemistry plays a role here. A cooking oil’s smoke point depends on the amount of "free fatty acids" in the oil. High-quality EVOO, by the way, has low levels of the acids.
“The lower the free fatty acid content, the more stable the fat, and the higher the smoke point,” renowned food chemist Harold McGee writes in his book, On Food and Cooking (Scribner, 2004).
To be certified as genuine EVOO, the International Olive Council’s guidelines require that an olive oil must have a free fatty acid content of less than 0.8%. The California Olive Oil Council’s standards are stricter, saying a true EVOO must have an acidity level of less than 0.5%.
Our EVOO’s acidity comes in at less than 0.3%, according to lab tests.
“So pay more for a well made extra virgin olive oil with a lower acidity and it’ll reward you with significantly more degrees of heating potential,” notes Australian olive oil expert Richard Gawel. "In fact, the natural preservatives called polyphenols you find in EVOO protect it from heat degradation.”
Lasty, Gawel offers this advice when cooking with any type of oil:
“Breathing in the smoke from burnt oil (no matter what type) is a health hazard,” he says. “So watch that temperature and keep those exhaust fans on.”
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing