We often get asked about whether you can cook with extra virgin olive oil. In fact, when we are out sampling our oil and talking to the public about the virtues of extra virgin olive oil, we’ve noticed that people often presume you shouldn’t cook with extra virgin olive oil.
The truth is that “of course you can cook with extra virgin olive oil.” One needs to only look at the Mediterranean kitchen and its traditions in cooking to see part of the explanation. Greeks, Italians and Spanish have been cooking with extra virgin olive oil for centuries long and we don’t see any adverse effects arising from these Mediterranean kitchens – which Northern European countries are so fond of!
What this really comes down to if you’re after a scientific explanation is the varying smoke point between different oils. The smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which, under specific and defined conditions, an oil begins to produce a continuous bluish smoke that becomes clearly visible. The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is 190° – 215° which is lower than other oils such as sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, but a level that is perfectly suited to most everday cooking styles. Making a base for a casserole or pasta sauce where you’ll be slow cooking your onions and garlic, the temperature point suits extra virgin olive oil perfectly and using a good oil, you’ll benefit from a more flavoursome dish.
What extra virgin olive oil isn’t as well suited for is deep frying, which typically requires a temperature at the borderline of extra virgin olive oil’s smoke point. This is why sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and even vegetable oil are better suited for deep frying since they have higher smoke points, meaning that you won’t be carrying the food through the smoke point as it cooks during the frying process.
So in conclusion, extra virgin olive oil is perfectly acceptable to cook with – unless you wish to deep fry; but then why would you deep fry when the virtues of the Mediterranean diet have been researched and proven so extensively?!