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There is a lot of confusion out there about whether or not you can cook with olive oil. It’s a common misconception that you cannot fry foods with olive oil because it has a low smoke point. I’ve even heard this on cooking shows from well-known celebrity chefs. And if you do a quick Google search you’ll find tons of articles about how cooking with EVOO can even be toxic. The fact is, if you are cooking at temperatures below 400ºF and your EVOO is smoking then it’s probably either a lower grade of olive oil (not extra virgin) or it’s old and rancid.
The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down, and once that happens it leaves a unpleasant taste in your food and the nutritional value of the oil begins to deteriorate. The smoke point of olive oil is determined by the level of free fatty acids. The lower the level, the higher the smoke point. High quality extra virgin olive oil has low levels of fatty acids, and you should be able to cook with it up to a temperature of at least 400ºF.
This is what the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) says about frying food with olive oil:
“When heated, olive oil is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying temperatures. Its high smoke point (410ºF or 210ºC) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (356ºF or 180ºC). The digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is re-used several times for frying.”
So there you have it. You CAN cook with olive oil after all. Just remember it’s got to be good quality oil! Ask about levels of free fatty acids before you buy!