Should you cook with olive oil? People are scared by its “low” smoke point and worry that it will break down during high cooking. But what does the research really say?
The main factor that determines stability of a cooking oil is whether the oil is high in polyunsaturated fats, which are unstable when heated. Studies show that when these oils (like soybean and canola) are heated, they degrade and form various harmful compounds like aldehydes which can contribute to cancer.
In contrast, oils that are high in monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, are quite stable when heated. Because olive oil is low in polyunsaturated fats and also high in antioxidants, it can be exposed to high heat without breaking down. In fact, the antioxidants and vitamin E in extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) protect it from oxidative damage during long periods of heating, even up to 36 hours in one study.
But what about the low smoke point? In fact, olive oil has a medium smoke point of between 375 to 420°F, which is higher than other oils like sesame oil and extra virgin coconut oil. Its high antioxidant content and low levels of polyunsaturated fats ensure that it doesn’t degrade or form trans fats during almost all cooking methods, despite not having a very high smoke point. This study found that olive oil was stable even during frying for 24 hours, with EVOO performing the best.
One caveat: some trace compounds that give olive oil its flavor are lost after a couple of hours of high heat. Therefore overheating it may adversely impact the taste. However, this would be under extreme conditions which you typically wouldn’t use during most cooking.
In conclusion, extra virgin olive oil is an excellent choice for most cooking methods at home and does not break down or go rancid during cooking. The belief that olive oil should not be cooked with is a myth that’s not supported by the science, and prevents people from using this healthy fat.