Can you cook with extra virgin olive oil? It’s a question we hear from consumers regularly. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about the product, especially extra virgin, so let’s first get a few things cleared up.
Olive oil is one of the most heavily researched foods on the planet. In fact, universities and researchers have been studying the product extensively for the past 100 years.
In the last 40 years, they've found what feels like an insurmountable amount of evidence proving that you can in fact cook with liquid gold. In addition, they’ve proven that extra virgin has incredible health benefits.
For example, researchers at Temple University have studied ways in which the product can help individuals with dementia. This brings ‘super food’ to a whole new level.
Many in the science community believe they’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how the product affects the overall health of human beings. This is so exciting!
The misinformation about olive oil, especially extra virgin, is often shared on social media platforms, television, and blogs. Some of the worst offenders are celebrity chefs and home cooks with a large following (sorry, but it’s true!).
But then we have Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, and Sohla who've been sharing the joys of our favorite cooking fat with people for decades.
Can You Cook With Olive Oil?
Yes, you can cook with both extra virgin and regular olive oil. Human beings have been using the fat to prepare food for thousands of years.
It’s the core of the Mediterranean diet and many consider extra virgin, to be the best cooking fat option. Thanks to technology we now have the science to back that up.
The Evaluation of Chemical and Physical Changes in Different Commercial Oils during Heating research article states the following:
“…EVOO yielded low levels of polar compounds and oxidative by-products, in contrast to the high levels of by-products generated for oils such as canola oil. EVOO’s fatty acid profile and natural antioxidant content allowed the oil to remain stable when heated (unlike oils with high levels of poly-unsaturated fats (PUFAs) which degraded more readily)….”
There's also research that supports the fact that cooking with EVOO can increase the health benefits of the food itself.
For example, a study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that phenols and antioxidants from EVOO are transferred to vegetables cooked in it, thereby increasing the nutrition content of the vegetables.
Another recent study published in the journal Molecules found that cooking garlic, tomatoes and onion in olive oil actually helped release their bioactive compounds and improve their absorption.
How To Cook With Olive Oil
Heat at least 1 tsp of olive oil in a pan on low or medium heat for approximately 40s or until the oil begins to look very shiny when moved around in the pan.
If the pan is on medium or medium low heat the fat should not smoke. If it does smoke the heat is too high or the pan is too thin.
Once the fat is heated, add food to the pan and cook as you usually would. It’s not recommended to cook on high heat. The key to cooking with the product is understanding it as a whole.
Olive oil is produced by extracting the oil from the olive fruit. It’s a fat that’s liquid at room temperature, contrary to butter which is solid at room temperature. At room temperature, if left in a marinade with seasonings it will absorb the flavors. However, it absorbs flavors best with heat.
When heated oil absorbs and retains the flavors of seasonings and food extremely well, creating the perfect base for soups, stew, herby eggs, and sauces.
It’s not just a product that creates a barrier between your food and the pan, it absorbs those flavors and acts as a vehicle to transport them.
Spices and flavors will be evenly distributed instead of concentrated in patches. This means the product can and should be the superstar base of pretty much any savory dish.
But What About Butter?
Oh don’t worry, butter can stay. As our friend Elizabeth Minchilli says, ‘we are equal fat opportunists’. Currently, there are several packs of butter in our fridge and that’s the way we like things.
Olive oil absolutely can be a one-stop-shop replacement for butter (or other fats/oils) if that’s what you want. In fact, for most savory dishes it’s extremely easy to swap it for butter, especially for roasting and sautéing. It’s a matter of personal preference.
However, it’s extremely challenging to swap for butter in baking because baking is so scientific and measured. Also, it doesn't behave the same way as butter when baked because it's a dense and heavy product. There's a reason the French make croissants with butter.
We recently found that extra virgin can be used as a sub in a roux. The question is would you want to? It’s a personal preference!
Butter For Pancakes
If you’re into big, light, fluffy pancakes that get crispy on the edges and float on top of one another stick to butter. Many a Sunday brunch have been ruined by our hopeful yet failed experiments.
Trying to make pancakes with olive oil is like trying to eat cotton candy in the rain. They end up flat, mushy, and sad. They taste good but half the fun of eating pancakes is the texture and olive oil does not have the same chemical makeup as butter so it just doesn’t work out.
Olive Oil For Waffles
Waffles on the other hand turn out fabulous. The product lends an incredible texture and flavor to waffles that’s hard to beat. Paired with a decadent jam or syrup it’s absolutely delicious.
You can use olive oil within the recipe and to make the waffle maker nonstick. Make sure the batter cooks thoroughly and is slightly golden and developed a crust before removing it or you’ll end up with a mess. After a few tries, you’ll get the hang of it.
The same can be said about brownies. We tested a few recipes for our book and they turned out amazing. It's about finding the right foods, that can hold up to the density of the product. Brownies and waffles can both do that.
How To Choose A Good Olive Oil For Cooking
Choose the highest quality olive oil you can afford. First, make sure you’re shopping within your price range then move on to the flavor profile.
Different foods call for different oils. For example, salads, fish, pesto, and goat cheese pair well with a gentler EVOO with notes of citrus, almond, green apple, grass, or herbs would be lovely. See the Turi.
For stews, soups, and beans a product with a peppery finish, notes of green pepper, herbs, and tomato work well. See the Lina.
For BBQ meats, roasted chicken, lamb, or grilled veggies a full-bodied oil with notes of chili, artichoke, and spice. See the Avus.
Clearing Up The Smoke Point
Stop worrying about smoke point. Headlines and newspapers thrive on headlines that throw readers into a panic. But there’s truly no need to worry or obsess.
Most households only need to cook on low to medium high heat. And olive oil only begins to smoke when left on high heat for extended periods of time. Read more about smoke point here.
What Not To Do When Cooking With Olive Oil (& Other Cooking Fats)
Be mindful of the heat setting when cooking. All cooking fats can smoke if left to heat for too long. Here's what not to do when cooking with olive oil:
- Heat oil on high heat
- Leave oil on heat and walk away
- Let the product smoke profusely and continue cooking (think clouds of smoke, kitchen fire)
Again, these rules apply to all cooking fats. This is about cooking responsibly and well. Heating on high can be a safety hazard.
Recipes to Practice With
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If you found this post valuable, please leave a comment! We love to hear from you. And if you do cook with extra virgin olive oil please don’t forget to tag us on Instagram and Facebook and use #EXAUoliveoil so we can repost!