07 June 2011

Is Olive Oil bad for cooking?

I've had some interesting conversations recently with people about the health benefits (or lack thereof) of using Olive Oil with food. Some people argue that cooking with Olive Oil is healthier than other oils and others argue that it's a lot unhealthier. 

Never being one to accept face-value information from people that aren't experts, I decided to do a little digging around the unquestionable global knowledge repository, the Internet.

In a nutshell, heating Olive Oil is no worse than normal oils and in fact in some instances has a higher Smoking Point temperature than other oils which makes it better for frying. Of course, the main reason to get expensive Olive Oil is for its myriad household uses and its flavour but the purpose of this post is to briefly illustrate the cooking qualities.

This is by no means a complete thesis on the health benefits (or lack thereof) of Olive Oil but just a brief so you can rest assured about what parts of the Olive Oil myths are in fact myths and which are true.

  • Myth: Heating Olive Oil Will Make it Saturated or Trans-fatty.
    • ... "Studies have shown oxidation and hydrogenation occurs to a lesser degree in olive oil than in other oils. But in any case, the amount of hydrogenation is miniscule and no home cook would ever experience this problem."
  • Myth: Cooking in Olive oil Diminishes The Nutritional Value of the Food.
    • ... "We are not aware of any edible cooking oil which by itself diminishes the nutritional value of the food cooked in it"
  • Smoke Point of Olive Oil by John Deane (updated 09/20/2007)
  • Olive oil is ideal for frying. In proper temperature conditions, without over-heating, it undergoes no substantial structural change and keeps its nutritional value better than other oils, not only because of the antioxidants but also due to its high levels of oleic acid. Its high smoking point (210ºC) is substantially higher than the ideal temperature for frying food (180ºC). Those fats with lower critical points, such as corn and butter, break down at this temperature and form toxic products.
  • Another advantage of using olive oil for frying is that it forms a crust on the surface of the food that impedes the penetration of oil and improves its flavour. Food fried in olive oil has a lower fat content than food fried in other oils, making olive oil more suitable for weight control. Olive oil, therefore, is the most suitable, the lightest and the tastiest medium for frying.
  • It goes further than other oils, and not only can it be re-used more often than others, it also increases in volume when reheated, so less is required for cooking and frying.
  • Frying temperatures
    When heated, olive oil is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying temperatures. Its high smoking point (210º C) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (180º C). The digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is re-used several times for frying.
    Medium (130–145º C)High water content: vegetables, potatoes, fruit…
    Hot (155– 170º C)Coated in batter,flour or breadcrumbs, forming a crust
    Very hot (175–190º C)Small, quickly fried: small fish, croquettes

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