When Is Olive Oil In Cooking Safe?
Some of these worries are about health and the negative impact of overheating olive oil. Other concerns are about what’s known as the smoking point, which quite literally translates into at what temperature olive oil in particular will catch alight.
Let’s take a look at the health aspect first, because actually they are mutually entwined anyway.
When olive oil gets to its smoking point somewhere around 365° to 420°F (200°C plus), it degrades and the compounds regarded as healthy, change. But what you have to remember is that these changes apply to all oils when they reach their smoking point.
All vegetable oils will oxidize as they get older if they are exposed to air and light and it’s this oxidation which can produce toxic compound – but read on, it really isn’t that bad at all.
Pan Fires Are A Bigger Risk By Far Than Olive Oil In Cooking
Human beings are well adapted to defend themselves against these compounds and there is no evidence to suggest humans have ever been harmed by them either – and yes, as with other oils the smoke given off by overheated oils contains oxidation products which are toxic – again not in big enough quantities to hurt us, unless of course the whole kitchen catches fire, in which case I’d suggest you need to lower the heat anyway…
If you still don’t believe me read the results of tests done to see which oil gives off the most toxins - it’s dry scientific reading but very reassuring indeed.
Harmful trans fats are a different matter when they are heated – and its these you’re probably thinking of. These heart-damaging trans fats also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils when heated to smoking point are known to form potentially harmful substances which have been shown in tests to be carcinogenic – the tasty burned bits we all love are the dangerous bits.
Globally governments are forcing manufacturers to remove trans fats from processed food and most are replacing hydrogenated oils with palm oil – palm oil of course has issues all of its own! While palm oil is trans-fat-free, roughly half of palm oil fat is saturated fat, which adds 0.005 ounces of saturated fat to each 2 tablespoons in your food.
Personally I’m all for avoiding a diet high in saturated fat so I leave palm oil and processed foods well alone – there are other delicate mild oils, much better to use and far better for your health.
Correct Olive Oil Uses In Cooking
Only use it when you know you won’t be heating it higher than the smoking point given above and always use extra virgin olive oil which has been cold pressed. It contains more antioxidants which are good for us and they help it resist breaking down when heated, so basically there are less toxins formed.
Frankly apart from deep fat fryers, I’m happy using it for most things. I used to use grapeseed or canola oil for frying eggs but since regularly using two oil spritzers, I rarely bother which one I pick up and keep canola or grapeseed in one, always olive oil in the other.
There are two occasions I avoid olive oil.
Firstly if I know the heat is going up then either canola or grapeseed is a healthy choice and both have such a neutral flavor they won’t change your food in any way.
Actually flavor is the second reason – olive oil has such a lovely distinctive flavor, any desserts and pastries or bread that calls for oil and you don’t want that aroma, use canola or grapeseed.
The Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Myth
Of all the uses for olive oil in cooking, roasted Mediterranean vegetables are a family favorite, but they simply have to be made with the best oil to complement them, and nothing beats extra virgin olive oil for the job.
The myth is that you need to have your oven heat up to super hot to roast Mediterranean veggies like peppers and zucchini without them going soggy, meaning you can’t use olive oil (and you can’t think why European cooks still do!).
The real secret to successfully caramelized vegetables is a shallow roasting tray with low sides and the oven set to a medium heat. This allows the liquid in the vegetables to evaporate and escape rather than oozing into the bottom of the pan taking everything else with it.
What you end up with is perfectly cooked sweet tasting vegetables and a few spoonful’s of delicious tasting olive infused vegetable liquid at the bottom, to spoon over and mop up with crusty bread. (now I’m hungry!).
I do hope this has reassured you about overall safety when cooking with olive oil and helped you know when to use olive oil in cooking and when to choose something with a higher heat tolerance or smoking point. If you’ve still got any worries, just hit the contact button and get in touch or leave a comment below.
Have a lovely foodie weekend