Is your Olive Oil too Hot to Handle?

Is your Olive Oil too Hot to Handle?  If you are using Olive Oil to cook you may be doing more harm than good.  

Olive Oil, is a shelf stable monounsaturated fat which contains 75% Oleic Acid (an Omega 9 Fatty Acid), 13% Saturated Fat, 10% Omega 6 and 2% Omega 3’s. While Olive Oil is one of the more healthy fats in our diet, it looses many of those benefits when heated.   I am frequently asked how hot is too hot when cooking with Olive Oil.  To answer the question we need to realize that all fats and oils have what is referred to as a smoke point; this is the point where the oil begins to break down or decompose.  When this occurs the oil begins to smoke, discolor, and can impart an unpleasant taste to the foods being cooked. 

The smoke point of olive oil varies with its quality, but as with most monounsaturated fats, olive oil is best used for salad dressings, or cooking at low to moderate temperatures.  Many manufacturers list smoke points for their olive oils, and while these temperatures might be correct, the temperatures are frequently too high to preserve the nutrients (especially the polyphenols) found in olive oil.  Oxidation of the polyphenols found in olive oil, as well as acrylamide formation, can occur at cooking temperatures as low as 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  For these reasons, I recommend a much stricter heating standard involving very little or no heat to enjoy the benefits of olive oil.

Olive oil is light sensitive so when purchasing look for oil in a dark bottle and keep it in a cool, dark, and dry place.  Higher quality oils may also look murky or cloudy which means that they have not been filtered….this is a good thing!  Now we have what I refer to as label confusion…which olive oil should I buy? 

Extra Virgin or Virgin Olive Oil means that the oil was produced by use of physical means, chemicals have not been used to extract the oil.  This type of oil is also frequently labeled as “cold pressed”, meaning that no heat or minimal heat has been applied during the extraction process.  When cooking with a high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil the smoke point, is usually between 320-350 degrees Fahrenheit.   

Pure Olive Oil or those labeled Olive Oil are typically refined oils.  This means that the oil has been chemically treated to neutralize strong flavors, and the acid content.  The smoke point is a bit higher for these oils, typically around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Olive Pomace Oil is frequently sold in the United States as Light Olive Oil, and the label may even mention high heat cooking.  This oil is chemically extracted from the olive pomace (the solids that remain after the olives are pressed).  This process requires the use of heat and solvents, typically hexane, and has the highest smoke point, approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Olive pomace is frequently used by the food industry because of its higher smoke point.

My suggestion, and a good rule of thumb  -  enjoy that olive oil in home made salad dressings, tossed into your gluten free pasta (after it has been cooked), or for sautéing or light stir frying.  Eat well and be well.

Real Food Musings

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