The Real Facts About Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The Real Facts About Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

There is a lot of myth and misinformation about cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil but if you want the unvarnished truth – here it is…

I was listening to the Kitchen Cabinet hosted by Jay Raynor (a restaurant critic I much admire) on Saturday 3 April as I was out and about with deliveries of one sort or another and I listened with increasing frustration as the nation was told under no uncertain terms that one should not cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil which is patently not correct.  And here’s why.

Once upon a time, a famous celebrity chef, Anthony Worrall Thompson, casually said during one of his TV shows, “Don’t cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil – it will give you cancer.” And that was it.  Ever since then I cannot count the number of times I have been asked whether this is true.  The truthful answer is No and Yes.

You see, the moment any, and I do mean any, fat reaches it’s smoking point it has begun to change and many of the beneficial nutrients are destroyed and can create harmful free radicals which are a contributory factor in cancer.

All fats have a “Smoking Point” the point at which, when heated, they begin to smoke.  It follows, therefore, that one should choose an oil with a high smoke point to cook with.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a range of smoke points depending on its quality – one of the most significant factors is acidity.  The lower its acidity, the higher the smoke point. The better quality the oil is, the lower it tends to be in acidity. Ergo, use good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil and you will have an oil that has a smoke point of around 210 degrees centigrade – well in excess of the normal temperature for frying or even deep frying which is around 180-190 C.

Main brand Extra Virgin Oils are normally blended from the produce of a number of regions, producers and even countries – very often these are oils that have been harvested industrially, pressed well after harvesting and will generally be high in acidity and are therefore not ideal for cooking with as they may well have a lower smoking point.

Artisan Extra Virgin Olive Oils, whilst being a little more costly litre for litre, will have been produced very differently: the olives will have been harvested on the same day that pressing occurs and ideally within 4 – 6 hours – this ensures that the polyphenols and beneficial nutrients are captured in the oil and you will have an oil that is lower in acidity and higher in polyphenols – all of which help reduce the acidity, impart a better overall flavour and help keep the smoke point high enough to enable them to be safely and beneficially used to cook, fry and bake with.

Also, it is said, although I have no factual evidence, that Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a great conductor of heat and therefore reaches its smoke point more quickly than other oils which can give the impression it has a lower smoke point.  This leads me to believe that cooking, frying, roasting and baking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil could be said to be more energy efficient. Another advantage.

In the spirit of full disclosure, yesterday, being Easter Sunday, we had a Roast Leg of Lamb with a Garlic, Rosemary & Anchovy slush over it made with Extra Virgin Olive and Roast Potatoes done at 180C in a fan oven roasted in Extra Virgin Olive Oil for 45mins having been par boiled and roughed up a bit along with a Wild Garlic Pesto made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  All in all a fitting Easter feast and the roasties were fab as the family will attest.

Now, I could go on ad nauseum about the benefits of absence of danger of cooking with decent quality extra virgin olive oils but suffice it to say that the Mediterraneans have successfully been using it for around 6,000 years and don’t look too shabby on it as a result.  The Med diet is generally considered to be one of the healthiest in the world but I bet you won’t find a single one of them choosing to cook with Rapeseed Oil, Sunflower Oil or anything but Extra Virgin Olive Oil so I’m with them and I’m keen to dispel the myth around not cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Do it and enjoy the results – just make sure you use a decent oil that you buy in either a tin or a dark glass bottle from a smaller producer – if you buy own or major brands, best keep it for dressings.

As for Rapeseed Oil – generally, I’m not a fan as it very often has strong taints of the brassica/cabbage it descends from and no amount of saying that the nutty notes it has are pleasant will convince me otherwise.  In olive oil, very often a nutty note is code for burnt or an off taste.

Having said that, we do use a blend of 60% Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 40% de-odourised Rapeseed Oil in our bulk olives as this changes the solidification point and allows our loose olives to be chilled in deli counters.  It’s a great oil for roasting and we’ve recently begun selling it in 5lt Jerrycans for those that fancy it. You can find it here: Roasting Oils

For me – the oil of choice will always be our own Extra Virgin Olive Oil from a single estate, harvested and pressed early in the season and within 4 hours of leaving the tree. Nothing better.

Any questions? Feel free to ask – you know the drill:


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