Olive oil has been the cooking oil of choice across centuries of cooking. It is derived from pressing whole olives and extracting their oil and is widespread across the Mediterranean and, indeed, around the world. However, you may wonder if cooking with olive oil is healthy and if you should always be using it.
Cooking with olive oil is not healthy in high-temperature cooking because its components deteriorate when exposed to high temperatures. However, it is suitable for use in medium-temperature cooking or for drizzling onto cooked food.
Let’s take a closer look at this popular cooking oil and see if it presents the health benefits that advertisers sometimes claim that it has.
Are There Different Types of Olive Oil for Cooking? When Do I Use Them?
Olive oil is an oil derived from pressing whole olives and includes virgin olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, pure olive oil, and refined olive oil. Let’s look at them in detail.
Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil, which means that no chemical or heat is used when extracting the oil from olives. The only difference between virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil (which we will look at in the next section) is that virgin olive oil contains a slightly higher oleic acidity level. Virgin olive oil is ideal for sautéing vegetables and for baking.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is typically considered to be the best quality of olive oil available on the market. It has the lowest acidity levels among all the olive oils and is very rich in antioxidants. However, it has a relatively low smoking point (we will look at what ‘smoking point’ is later). Extra virgin olive oils are ideal for salad dressing or drizzling on top of cold dishes.
Pure Olive Oil
Pure olive oil is created by blending extra virgin oil and refined olive oil. It has a lower nutritional value than extra virgin or virgin olive oil and is typically used in hair and skin oils for its nourishing qualities.
Refined Olive Oil
Refined olive oil is the cheaper alternative to extra virgin and virgin olive oil, and is popular among lower-income households. However, they lack many of the nutrients found in extra virgin or virgin olive oil and are also known to be inferior in terms of taste.
Is It Healthy to Fry With Olive Oil? Why Is It Bad to Heat Olive Oil?
According to one study, olive oil has a much lower rate of alteration during uses that require high temperatures, such as frying. This is in contrast with other vegetable oils that are more stable when exposed to heat.
One of the reasons that some consider olive oil to be healthy is its antioxidant properties. The fatty acid profile in olive oil and its phenolic content gives it its antioxidant properties.
However, this benefit of olive oil is at risk when it is submitted to extreme temperatures. Studies show that when olive oil is heated repeatedly for frying, the phenolic content in the oil is reduced substantially. This suggests that the components of olive oil deteriorate during extreme heat and that the loss of its fatty acid profile means that it is less protective of oxidative stress.
The same studies were also repeated subjecting olive oils to high temperatures, such as frying, heating in a pressure cooker, and heating in an oven. It was discovered that in all these mediums, some reduction in the oxidative stress protection abilities of the olive oils did occur.
Some study concludes that virgin olive oil has a remarkable thermal ability but, on the other hand, it should not be considered a good frying medium.
What Are the Healthiest Oils to Cook With? For Deep Frying?
As we have seen in the previous section, at high temperatures, the olive oil components have been known to degrade, causing a change in chemical composition and, hence, taste. This is known as the ‘smoking point’ of a particular oil. Every oil has its own smoking point, making some safer for high-temperature cooking than others.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is an example of a type of olive oil with a high smoking point of 383°F (195°C), thus making it ideal for cooking in high temperatures. This means that the components of extra virgin olive oil remain stable, and its oxidative properties remain unscathed until the temperature reaches 383°F (195°C).
This means that if you cook using extra virgin olive oil and see it becoming hot enough for smoke to start to form, it is likely that it has hit its smoking point. Oils that have hit their smoking point can become flammable and become a fire hazard.
Other oils with extremely high smoking points and are ideal for high-temperature cooking include common cooking oils such as soybean oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, and canola oil. However, even though these oils are stable during higher temperatures, there is a caveat – because these oils are highly refined, it usually means that they have been chemically extracted.
The highly chemically extracted nature of these oils means that they can give off inflammatory properties. They may remain stable under their smoking point but are known to give off a higher level of carcinogenic – even when heated below their smoking point.
When cooking at a higher temperature (such as deep frying), it may be healthier to choose oils such as avocado oil and algae oil that have among the highest smoking points among all cooking oils. They are also rich in healthy fats.
For example, Algae oil has been called one of DHA’s most important sources (omega-3 fatty acid), which has benefits to instant development and cardiovascular and cognitive health in adults.
Is Cooking With Olive Oil Carcinogenic?
There have been many claims and counterclaims about what food item constitutes being carcinogenic and what does not. Typically, any oil is not carcinogenic when heated below its smoking point. This is because the components of oil remain relatively stable under their smoking points.
What Are the Worst Oils?
It is difficult to label a cooking oil as ‘bad’ because different cooking oils have different ingredients used in various cooking settings. There are also many mixed messages about different cooking oils that are not backed up by science.
However, there are a couple cooking oils that have been viewed as less than ideal for usage:
Coconut oil has been heavily promoted in the wellness industry and has been pushed as a gold standard oil for human usage. Coconut oil is rich in antioxidants and has a very high smoke point. However, it is also known to be very rich in unsaturated fats.
There is some argument about the exact nature of unsaturated fats and how they impact our health; however, the best bet is to consume them in moderation.
Palm oil isn’t necessarily harmful to your health; however, it has been linked to external environmental factors that make it less than ideal for usage.
Palm oil can be found in common snack foods and peanut butter. However, palm oil is also allegedly involved in deforestation in Southeast Asia, reducing the natural habitat by engendered species. According to an article by the New York Times, palm oil harvesting has led to industrial-scale deforestation and a massive spike in carbon emissions.
When it comes to using the right cooking oil for you and your family, do read the label carefully. A little research also wouldn’t hurt. While olive oil can be potentially harmful when heated above its smoking point, it is still an excellent choice for drizzling on food. It is very nutritious with great antioxidant properties. While there still needs to be more research on each cooking oil’s exact health impact, it is safe to say that each item can be enjoyed safely in moderation.