Another olive oil myth gets busted: Yes, you can fry with olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoking point than you realize.
When you find yourself traveling around with your olive oil cookbook in tow to book signings and food conferences, you meet A LOT of people. And while meeting with all these people, I have encountered oodles of questions and myths about cooking with olive oil. I have already written about the importance of cooking with EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil and I have shared with you why it is so easy to bake with EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil. Today I am going to address one of the biggest olive oil myths out there – that you can not fry with (you guessed it) extra virgin olive oil.
Yes, this is a myth. It is incorrect, wrong, false, inaccurate and erroneous.
So let’s dissect this myth.
The general public have been fed the lie that olive oil breaks down when you cook with it. First of all, it is true that you should not store your extra virgin olive oil near heat. It is also true that extra virgin olive oil breaks down when exposed to heat. But in both cases, these are the long term effects of heat exposure and the quality of the olive oil in question. This has nothing to do with cooking with olive oil.
Second of all, the general public has been told that you lose the health benefits derived from extra virgin olive when you cook with it. Assistant Professor of Medical Science Dr. Mary Flynn, a nutrition researcher at Providence’s Miriam Hospital and the Warren Alpert Medical School, has been passionate about extra virgin olive oil for many years. She also published The Pink Ribbon Diet: A Revolutionary New Weight Loss Plan to Lower Your Breast Cancer Risk, which she coauthored with Nancy Verde Barr, a James Beard Award–winning cooking teacher and author. Flynn’s Plant-Based Olive Oil (PBOO) diet is the result from her research on the effects of a plant-based olive oil diet and breast cancer survivors.
As Dr. Flynn explains here:
Nearly every time I lecture on olive oil, people ask whether heat destroys the oil, and whether they can cook with it. I don’t know who invented this misconception (seed-oil companies?), but I’d love to dispel it once and for all. High quality extra virgin olive oil can be heated to 420°F before it reaches smoke-point (ie begins to smoke and starts to form unhealthy compounds), which is higher than nearly every other vegetable oil. Olive oil is much more stable when heated compared to most vegetable oil (16, 17). Cooking with olive oil below the smoke-point does not destroy most of its health benefits, or make it less healthy – under normal cooking conditions, most of the therapeutic minor components are retained (18-20). Some studies have subjected olive oil to high temperatures (180°C/356°F) for long periods of time (from 90 minutes to over 20 hours). These conditions do tend to decrease the content of some phytonutrients, yet even under such extreme conditions, some phytonutrients remain (21).
Dr. Selina Wang, the Research Director at UC Davis Olive Center explained the same science while I attended the Olive Oil Sensory Class there in June.
Extra virgin olive oil does degrade OVER LONG PERIODS OF TIME when CONTINUOUSLY exposed to high heat. It is crucial for you to store your EVOO in a dark, cool place. Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is totally fine and will not destroy the oil. It will take over an hour of cooking at high temperature, say 420ºF, before the extra virgin olive oil begins to degrade and lose its health benefits.
Now, let’s talk about frying. Most of the time, you fry at temperatures of 350-375ºF. This is clearly LESS than extra virgin olive oil’s smoking point of 420ºF. And you are not frying your foods for over an hour, but for a few minutes at a time.
Feel free to replace your processed seed oils with heart healthy extra virgin olive oil. Of course, frying foods is not the best way to enjoy your food, but when you do, go ahead and fry with olive oil – extra virgin olive oil, that is.
But you knew that, of course.