Should I cook with extra virgin olive oil? This is a question I get frequently asked; particularly since there is a common misconception that one shouldn’t cook with olive oil but only add it after cooking. Many people have been led to believe that olive oil has a lower ‘smoke point’ (i.e., the temperature at which an oil starts to burn and smoke and form unhealthy compounds) than other oils, and that if it reaches that point it can become carcinogenic. But this is not entirely true. In fact, studies show that extra virgin olive oil is the best option for cooking and frying when compared with other oils. Used at higher temperatures, it retains much of its nutritional value1,2,3,4, is extremely stable due to its high antioxidant content 1,5,6,7, and generates lower levels of toxic compounds called aldehydes8, which have been linked to cancer and an increased risk of heart disease.
While extra virgin olive oil does indeed have a lower smoke point than refined oils, most refined oils have been chemically processed and are lacking in nutrition. Further, when compared with its unrefined counterparts, it fares quite well in terms of its smoke point. High quality extra virgin olive oil can be heated to 420°F before it reaches its smoke point, which is much higher than what is needed for most cooking, even frying. Only deep-frying, which requires higher temperatures, should likely be avoided.
So, why should you choose to cook with extra virgin olive oil? The main reason is its nutritional benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is a fresh fruit juice and is proven to be excellent for maintaining good health. It’s recommended that a person consume at least two tablespoons of olive oil a day to enjoy its maximum health benefits, which includes treatment for various cancers, diabetes, heart problems, arthritis, high cholesterol, weight loss, metabolism, digestion, and aging9,10. An additional reason is for its amazing flavor. High quality, fresh extra virgin olive oil is delicious and its flavors work well with most dishes. Happy Cooking!