For many decades, olive oil has been the main cooking oil in the Mediterranean regions.
Moreover, several scientific studies have been carried out over the years, highlighting dozens of health benefits arising from cooking with olive oil.
However, outside of the Mediterranean regions, there have been arguments on the suitability of olive oil in cooking.
Therefore, in this article, we shall be bursting several olive oil cooking myths and see the health benefits associated with olive oil cooking. Also, I will be giving you several tips on olive oil cooking. But before that, let's start with the basics!
Table of Contents
What is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is made from pressed olives; olives are those fruits you find on an olive tree. 30% of olive fruit composition comprises oil.
Here are the different types of olive oils in the market today:
1. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
EVOO is obtained manually from the olive fruits without using high heat or chemicals in its extraction.
When high temperatures or chemicals extract oil from the olives, oil nutrients such as antioxidants (polyphenol) can be reduced.
2. Virgin olive oil
Virgin olive oil is a bit similar to EVOO but lower in quality. Also, this oil is not widely available.
3. Pure olive oil
Pure olive oil, commonly referred to as "olive oil," comprises a higher percentage of refined oil and a lesser portion of virgin olive oil. While using pure olive oil, you can quickly tell it doesn't have the same rich flavor as EVOO.
4. Light olive oil
The term "light" doesn't mean that light olive oil has lower calories; rather, it means that this oil has a neutral flavor.
It will be good to note that every olive oil type has about fourteen grams of fat per tablespoon.
Can you Cook with Olive Oil?
This has been a common question among many people lately. Also, there have been several controversies around this topic, as we shall see later. But, the perfect answer to this common question is a solid "yes"!
You can use olive oil in dozens of recipes. For example, you can rub some olive oil on your butterball oil free turkey fryer recipes.
Moreover, you can use several cooking techniques with olive oil, such as roasting, baking, frying, and grilling.
Let's now see several aspects of olive oil towards determining its suitability for cooking.
The smoke point of a cooking oil refers to the temperature at which the oil starts to burn or produce bluish smoke. That said, olive oil has a smoking point of between 374°F and 405°F (190°C and 207°C).
Here is how the smoke point of olive oil compares to the smoking points of other oils:
Extra virgin olive oil
374°F - 405°F
400°F - 450°F
Unrefined coconut oil
Refined coconut oil
Now, a few people question the suitability of olive oil in cooking due to its low smoking point, as seen in the table above.
However, it will be good to note that the smoking point of cooking oil doesn't determine whether the oil is fit for cooking or not. Instead, your main focus should be on the oxidative stability of the oil.
Extra virgin olive oil has higher oxidative stability than many other oils, making it safe for cooking.
But, what is oxidative stability? Well, oxidative stability refers to the ability of oil fats to resist reacting whenever exposed to a high temperature, oxygen, or light.
The only thing that happens when you heat olive oil beyond its smoking point is that some of its strong flavor evaporates. However, in this case, most of its nutrients remain intact, and the oil remains stable.
Should we dive deeper into olive oil oxidation stability? Let's do so; it's essential—just a bit more food chem but not much.
To start us off, the table below shows that extra virgin oil is rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs).
MUFAs are stable and unlikely to oxidize unless probably in very extreme conditions. In addition, MUFAs are healthy fats, anti-inflammatory, heart-friendly, and can help in weight loss.
In addition, the only type of fat you should be concerned about is polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs) since this type of fat is unstable under high heat.
Corn oil, for example, as seen in the above table, has more PUFAS than olive oil, yet corn oil has a higher smoking point than olive oil.
Studies have revealed that oils with high PUFAs, like corn oil, produce a harmful compound regardless of their smoke point.
Olive Oil Myths Busted
Now that we have already busted one myth claiming that one couldn't cook with olive oil due to its low smoking point, let's now burst some more myths!
Myth: Cooking with EVOO can ruin cookware coating
There is no published research supporting this belief. However, some cookware manufacturers recommend that oils with a higher smoke point are best cooked using Teflon-coated cookware.
That said, extra virgin olive oil, like many other cooking oils, lubricates the cooking process, thus preventing food from sticking to the cooking pot. So, EVOO doesn't ruin cookware.
Myth: Heating olive oil will produce saturated fat (Trans fats)
As we had seen earlier, olive oil hardly oxidizes due to its rich monounsaturated fat content. Therefore, unlike other vegetable oils, you will not find any significant traces of trans fatty acid in extra virgin olive oil.
Myth: Vegetables will lose antioxidants when you cook them with EVOO
This is false. Recent studies have shown that cooking with EVOO increases antioxidants regardless of what you are cooking or the cooking technique.
Moreover, you increase the nutritional value of your vegetables when you cook with olive oil.
Benefits of Olive Oil
Let's see several research-based health benefits of olive oil.
1. Packed with polyphenols
Polyphenols prevent oxidative stress, a type of stress that damages proteins, lipids, and DNA in a way that can lead to cancer, heart disease, dementia, and diabetes.
2. Promotes cardiovascular health
A frequently cited study has revealed that people who use 4+ tablespoons of EVOO have a 30% lower risk of heart disease than people on a low-fat diet.
I know that the 4+ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day may not be possible for some people.
Consequently, more research has indicated that you can enjoy good heart health by taking 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil daily. However, this method will require you to avoid saturated fats and high-calorie intake.
3. Reduces the risk of certain cancers
No food has had a massive impact on cancer prevention. However, it is worth noting that cancer is scarce in the Mediterranean regions, where olive oil is their leading cooking oil.
On the same note, recent research has revealed that EVOO enhances the gut bacteria responsible for colorectal cancer prevention. Other research works have shown that olive oil reduces breast and colon cancer risks.
4. Promotes brain health and improves moods
Extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols which enhance the function of the brain and reduce neuroinflammation; this can slow the progression of Alzheimer's. Also, olive oil supports the central nervous system and helps nerves function correctly.
In addition, olive oil nutrients can help improve your mood. Moreover, several studies reveal that olive oil can help heal depression.
5. Reduces pain and inflammation
Have you been battling inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and chronic kidney disease? If so, you can consider including olive oil frequently in your diet.
Extra virgin olive oil comprises anti-inflammatory properties that work in the same manner as ibuprofen.
In addition, regular intake of extra virgin olive oil can reduce the risk of getting inflammatory diseases.
6. Boosts bone health
Inflammation in the body can cause bones to break down. However, the anti-inflammatory features of olive oil protect your bones from wearing out.
In addition, regular consumption of olive oil improves bone density and promotes bone formation.
7. Improves immunity system
A healthy immune system will keep you off from such illnesses as colds, reduce cancer risk and control autoimmune conditions. And as it turns out, the immune system loves healthy fats like the monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) in EVOO.
As a result, MUFAs help in the growth and activation of T-cells in the body. These cells are responsible for attacking intruders such as infections in the body.
8. Supports gut health
Your gut microbiome is multi-functional; it controls your digestion, moods, and even the appearance of your skin.
That said, the polyphenols in olive oil reduce inflammation in your GI tube, thus promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the GI tube.
Moreover, studies have revealed that consuming 1.5 tablespoons daily of extra virgin olive oil can increase your gut's population of healthy bacteria.
9. It helps balance blood sugar and may prevent diabetes
Healthy fats are essential for anyone trying to prevent or manage diabetes. Studies show that people who take olive oil regularly reduce their risk of diabetes by 16%.
MUFAs, in particular, help slow glucose absorption into the bloodstream. On the other hand, saturated fats can promote inflammation and damage insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
10. Olive oil can help you lose weight
Olive oil helps keep blood sugars stable. As a result, your food cravings will be minimal, which will help in your weight loss journey.
However, you have to remember that olive oil is calorie-dense. Therefore, you should use it as a replacement for unhealthy saturated fats in your diet.
11. Healthiest cooking oil
As we had seen earlier, olive oil doesn't produce harmful compounds when cooking as compared to other cooking oils.
Therefore, you can freely use it in several cooking techniques such as deep frying, stir-frying, sautéing, grilling, or baking. Moreover, one can consume raw olive oil, which makes this oil perfect as a finishing oil in most meals or salad dressing.
In addition, olive oil is rich in Vitamin E and Vitamin K.
Last and not least, studies revealed that cooking vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkin, and eggplant using EVOO boosts the antioxidant content of these vegetables.
Olive Oil Cooking Tips
As we have seen above, olive oil is flavorful and has many health benefits. Also, you can use olive oil with several cooking techniques.
However, there are a few tips you will need to keep in mind as you use olive oil for healthy cooking. Let's see these tips briefly:
Keep olive oil smoking point in mind
It's recommended that you heat extra virgin olive oil below 350°F; this will ensure that the flavor of the oil remains intact.
You can use a deep frying thermometer when deep frying food using olive oil or a pit probe when smoking the food in a smoker grill. This way, you can monitor and regulate the cooking temperatures.
Store olive oil properly
Olive oil is perishable. Therefore, you will need to store it properly to retain the quality of its content.
So, ensure you store your olive oil away from light, high temperatures, and air. You should store the olive oil in a dark closet and away from hot surfaces.
In addition, experts recommend that you store olive oil in airtight, opaque bottles instead of clear glass bottles. Also, avoid buying olive oil packaged in clear glass bottles.
Use some EVOO on meals that don't need cooking
Using olive oil under low heat is fine.
However, taking raw extra virgin olive oil ensures you take all its nutrients and enjoy some rich flavor in your food. Therefore, you can drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on your meals or salads for healthy eating.
Flavor of cooking ingredients
Not all ingredients will be suitable to cook with flavored cooking oil. Extra virgin oil can overpower delicate food flavors and crush the strong flavor in other foods.
Therefore, it will be good to keep in mind the flavor of your ingredients when you are planning to cook with olive oil.
Don't use olive oil that has been stored for so long
Even after storing olive oil in a perfect place, you should use it within six months after its manufacturing date or within four weeks to optimally enjoy its rich quality.
The Bottom Line
Forget the myths you have heard about cooking with olive oil; we have already busted them! It's very safe to cook with olive oil!
That said, It's time to embrace the Mediterranean diet and enjoy the health benefits and the mouthwatering flavor you have been missing all this time.
However, regardless of your cooking techniques, remember that burning olive oil beyond its smoking point will tamper with its rich flavor.