A key ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, rich in health-promoting Omega-9 monunsaturated fatty acids, oleic acid, heart-healthy flavonoid antioxidants and Vitamin E. But are we using olive oil to its full dietary potential? Should we be cooking with this “liquid gold”? Ask the professionals, do your research and you will be left with two answers: yes and no.
It all boils down to olive oil’s smoke point.
The Smoke Point is literally the point at which oil starts to smoke. When an oil starts to “smoke”, it’s not a good sign, in fact, it is used as a marker for when decomposition of oil begins to take place. At this point, the oil starts to degrade, nourishing substances oxidise and it can become toxic.
Trying to establish the official smoking point of olive oil is like playing bingo.
Not all olive oil has the same smoking point, depending on the impurities and acid content of the olive oil. The better the quality, the higher the smoking point. Approximate Smoke Point: High Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 208°C/406°F, Virgin Olive Oil = 215°C/420°F, Unrefined Olive Oil = 160°C/320°F, Extra Light Olive Oil = 242°C/468°F.
Bottom Line: Olive oil can be used for cooking at low and medium temperatures. However, one must be careful not to go over its smoking point depending on the quality of the olive oil. Oil connoisseurs recommend that you store olive oil at room-temperature as light, heat or even air will reduce its temperature sensitive polyphenol (antioxidant) content. So, personally I think it’s a great pity to cook with a good quality olive oil. There are other oils that are healthy and safe to cook with such as extra virgin coconut oil which has a high smoke point (also ideal for baking), good quality grape-seed oil, avocado oil (expensive but high in Vitamin E) or ghee (clarified butter which can be found locally).
Unlike wine, oil does not improve with age. Eventually, the acidity level rises and flavours weaken, so if you’ve just pressed some olive oil… enjoy it!