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Does cooking olive oil "ruin" it in any way? I'd be more specific but I'm quoting my girlfriend so I want to be very careful here.
November 6, 2010 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Does cooking olive oil ruin it?

I grew up using butter in the pan for everything. Then, at some point, I started using olive oil instead. So now I have a girlfriend and she's adamant. VEGETABLE oil is fine for cooking but frying with olive oil ruins it and may possibly make it toxic.

This is hooey right?
posted by rileyray3000 to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you mean extra virgin olive oil? If so it has a lower burning point that vegetable oil and shouldn't be used for sauteing or frying but more for dressings or marinades.

Reg'lar old olive oil, however is fine for sauteing and can easily substitute for vegetable oil, or corn oil, canola whatever.
posted by Max Power at 8:37 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


err -than vegetable oil...
posted by Max Power at 8:38 AM on November 6, 2010


No, the oil does not oxidize and become rancid in the 30 minutes you cook with it. (Well it could if you burnt it, but you would know) The oil also does not become saturated, with hydrogen. (Well, a small amount does, but not enough to count)

The reason you shouldn't cook with olive oil is because of its low smoke point, the point at which it starts to smoke. The low smoke point forces you to use a lower heat, making it harder to achieve a nice brown on your meat.
posted by 517 at 8:42 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


A "trained olive oil taster and owner of the consulting firm Strictly Olive Oil" says you're right.
posted by John Cohen at 8:45 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cooking oil, previously
posted by mkultra at 8:48 AM on November 6, 2010


I have never heard of this. I know that cooking with really fine olive oils (extra extra virgin) is probably a waste, because all the fine aromas and flavors are cooked off. That good olive oil you save for salads, or for dipping bread, or other applications where you don't heat it up too much (hummus?). Really fine olive oil even has a really high smoke point, so it is actually a good choice for frying, if you can afford to blow a ton of money on one fry. The point is, the nice stuff is really expensive and tastes fantastic as is, so using it to cook is kind of a waste of money.
However, most of the stuff that you can get at the grocery is not that fine, no matter what it says on the label. Because it is not as pure as good olive oil, the gunk in it will cause it to smoke at a lower temperature than EEV olive oil. However, if you like the flavor it produces, then you should use it.
posted by pickypicky at 8:48 AM on November 6, 2010


Heating any oil above its smoke point causes it to degrade and leave nasty flavors in your food and nasty smells in your kitchen. I don't know about toxic, but gross, yes. The smoking point of olive oil varies with the quality of the oil.

Refined canola, soy, safflower, peanut oil all have high smoke points and are generally used for frying (315 degrees and above). Anything with a lower smoke point (olive oil hangs around in the 200's depending on its quality)--is fine for sauteeing veggies and stuff (around 250 degrees at most). You don't really want to bake something with olive oil in it, except for olive oil cake, which is amazing.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:49 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


A "trained olive oil taster and owner of the consulting firm Strictly Olive Oil" says you're right.

As a rule, you should outright ignore any "facts" put forth by industry shills.
posted by randomstriker at 8:49 AM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a rule, you should outright ignore any "facts" put forth by industry shills.

OK, how about Mark Bittman? Is he a good enough source for you? He says in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:
I have never had a problem cooking with any oil—even dark sesame oil, which has a relatively low smoke point—because I always watch the pan carefully and adjust the heat as needed. And a little smoke—as long as it goes no further than that—is not a bad thing. ...

Let your senses be your guide. Oil becomes more fragrant as it gets hot, and when it's ready for cooking the surface begins to ripple and shimmer. Tilt the pan a bit (carefully of course) and you'll notice that the oil seems thinner than straight from the bottle. Those are the signals that it's about to smoke (and, usually, that it's ready for cooking). Adding food automatically lowers the temperature of the oil, especially if your ingredients come straight from the fridge.
posted by John Cohen at 8:52 AM on November 6, 2010


You say you used to use butter "in the pan" for everything and then you refer to "frying." Are you talking about frying, as in submerging the food in fat and keeping it there until it is cooked? Or are you talking about pan-frying, sauteeing, etc., where you put a small amount of fat in the pan and cook the food by turning it over so that different parts are in contact with the food at different times? If you are talking about frying, then olive oil is a bad choice, but not a toxic one. You are much better off using an oil with a higher smoke point, such as corn or vegetable. If you are talking about pan frying, you are still better off using an oil with a higher smoke point, but this can be olive oil (non-extra virgin) or another kind of oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point and is best used for dressings, sauces, marinades, etc., where the olive flavor will be noticeable and will not burn off immediately, leaving you with less desirable carbon solids. In any of these scenarios, olive oil does is not "toxic" -- does your girlfriend really think that an oil used by billions of people for cooking is toxic if is it used for cooking?
posted by proj at 9:08 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that your girlfriend heard "you shouldn't cook with olive oil" and invented her own reason why not -- not consciously, of course, but these "guidelines" tend to become over-generalized. It certainly doesn't become toxic.

First of all, there's more than one kind of olive oil, and some are better for cooking than others. Assuming that we're talking about decent olive oil:

Extra-virgin and virgin olive oils come from the first pressing of the olive and aren't further refined. This gives them more flavor, but also a lower smoke point. They burn easily, and if cooked too long lose a lot of their aroma and flavor. You won't kill anyone by cooking with them (and you certainly can cook with them if you want, provided you're careful), but if it's a good oil, it's kind of a waste. Low heat is more kind to these oils than high heat.

"Light" olive oil is filtered. This removes a lot of the flavor, but also gives it a higher smoke point. This is better for cooking with if you're going to be using higher heat and are set on using olive oil. If you want the flavor of olive oil, you should add some extra-virgin/virgin near the end of the cooking process (usually, a good recipe will take this into account).

You can also buy stuff that's just called "olive oil". The reason that they're not called "extra-virgin" or "virgin" is that they're not from the first pressing of the olive. They're cheaper and less flavorful. You can also cook with these, without feeling like you're throwing your money into the toilet.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:21 AM on November 6, 2010


It is hooey. Mario Batali even deep fries in olive oil. If you are concerned about the smoke point you can mix half olive oil and half canola oil and just use the straight up olive oil when you want more flavor.
posted by Kimberly at 9:22 AM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rule of thumb: if the oil isn't supposed to add anything significant to the taste, you can use a more neutral kind. Preferences in this respect vary enormously. I'm doing almost all my pan cooking and up to mid-temp sauteing in virgin olive oil or butter or a mix. For high-temp deep-frying: sunflower seed oil, for stir-fries the same or coconut oil.

Seconding the don't let it smoke advice; this applies to butter as well. No food is good when burned.
posted by Namlit at 9:22 AM on November 6, 2010


There is some evidence that cooking oils heated beyond their smoke point are carcinogenic. That said, balanced viewpoints suggest not worrying about it too much.

(Also smoke point table, probably unreliable, on Wikipedia).
posted by Ahab at 9:42 AM on November 6, 2010


We live in Greece and use good olive oil for pretty much everything except *deep* frying (like fried chicken) and desserts; if personal experience is a data point, it's definitely not toxic. :)

If taste is the issue... well, again, we might have a neutral oil on hand, but wouldn't consider using it for 90 percent of what we cook unless we were really, really pressed [PUN!] ... as in no olive oil and no stores open and no one to borrow from — so in our estimation, I can say that cooking with olive oil certainly doesn't ruin it. Lower quality olive oil definitely has a sharp, unpleasant taste to me though, and sometimes also gives me a bit of an ooky feeling... like... yarr... ew... pesticides?.
posted by taz at 9:43 AM on November 6, 2010


Everyone should have an egg fried (poached, almost) in olive oil.
posted by notyou at 10:13 AM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are you talking about frying, as in submerging the food in fat and keeping it there until it is cooked? Or are you talking about pan-frying, sauteeing, etc.,

In my experience your first is most often referred to specifically as deep-fat frying, and I've never heard of anybody using olive oil for that.
posted by Rash at 11:09 AM on November 6, 2010


Everyone should have an egg fried (poached, almost) in olive oil.

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

I think the confusion over this advice comes from the term 'frying'.

Most of the time, people cooking at home refer to pan-frying or sauteing as 'frying' and french-fry-frying as 'deep frying'

People who cook more seriously or for a living often call deep frying just 'frying' and are more specific when referring to pan-frying or sauteing.

As others have said above, one can saute and pan fry with olive oil just fine, as long as you watch the temperature.

It is possible to deep fry with olive oil, and plenty of cultures do - but you'd be frying at a somewhat lower temperature than you might with, say, peanut oil.

If you are trying to cook a metric boatload of french fries, olive oil is probably not your best choice.
posted by device55 at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2010


Yes, this is hooey. Just ask the entire nation of Spain, which (from my short months there) seems to subsist entirely on food fried – deep-fried, pan-fried, huge-ridiculous-metal-pot-thing-fried, you name it – cooked in olive oil. For serious, watch that video. That stuff is cooking for hours – if it's toxic, that's a boatload of dead Spaniards at the end. (And believe me, it's very, very tasty.)

The most outrageous thing about this claim is that olive oil is a hell of a lot better for frying things than butter. Butter is fine, but it burns, like, immediately. You have to be really careful with it. People have said things about the lower smoke-point of olive oil, but honestly if you're cooking with butter you'll find olive oil ridiculously easy to cook with. In many ways, it's what you should cook with, for anything that's going to take more than a few minutes; the butter goes from brown to burn fairly quickly, but olive oil is stable.

Also, eggs cooked in olive oil are delicious. Just sayin'.
posted by koeselitz at 11:49 AM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rash: “In my experience your first is most often referred to specifically as deep-fat frying, and I've never heard of anybody using olive oil for that.”

Many home kitchens in Spain are outfitted with such fryers, and they are invariably filled with olive oil. It works splendidly, and is a hell of a lot more healthy than doing it with partially-hydrogenated soybean oil.
posted by koeselitz at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2010


If you want to cook with olive oil, find yourself some pomace. It's pretty commonly used in restaurants, has the same benefits as olive oil *and* it has a higher smoke point. It's pretty much the best thing ever. It's what people in Spain (for example) would use to fry something. You may need to visit your local kitchen supply store to find it.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:34 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


What you are looking for is Rapeseed oil.
posted by Lanark at 1:06 PM on November 6, 2010


And just one letter away, there's grapeseed oil. Very high smoke point, neutral flavor, cheaply obtainable at Trader Joe's, less cheaply elsewhere.
posted by Nomyte at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2010


What you are looking for is Rapeseed oil.

a.k.a. Canola.
posted by randomstriker at 2:05 PM on November 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


So am I wasting my money by always sauteing with Extra-Virgin? I mean, I'm not talking super-high-end stuff, I buy the standard supermarket products that tend to be $6-10 for almost a liter.
posted by threeants at 2:17 PM on November 6, 2010


Max Power wrote: "Do you mean extra virgin olive oil? If so it has a lower burning point that vegetable oil and shouldn't be used for sauteing or frying but more for dressings or marinades.

Reg'lar old olive oil, however is fine for sauteing and can easily substitute for vegetable oil, or corn oil, canola whatever.
"

I use EVOO for sauteeing all the time. It's not an issue unless you really crank up the heat higher than is actually necessary. My SO makes some delicious pan fried pork chops, with..you guessed it..extra virgin olive oil.

I think it loses some of its flavor when it gets heated, so it may be more financially sound to use the regular olive oil for that sort of thing.
posted by wierdo at 2:23 PM on November 6, 2010


I use coconut for high-heat cooking because it doesn't oxidize, butter for medium-heat cooking, and extra virgin olive oil for low/no heat dishes. Always, always avoid vegetable oils for better health.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 3:39 PM on November 6, 2010


I used to cook with EVOO, as a substitute for other oils.

Everything always burned too quickly.

Then I realized different olive oils have different smoke points.

Extra light olive oil has been a godsend. I can fry in that shit if I want to.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:19 PM on November 6, 2010


Yeah, the issue with extra virgin is the cost compared to other oils. You can get a gallon of peanut oil for the price of a quart of quality extra virgin.

As well, olive oil is not neutral in flavor. Sometimes, it can overpower the food you're frying. This is why some cooks prefer canola or peanut oil -- high smoke point combined with little if any flavor.

I cook with olive oil all the time, but I'll add a little vegetable oil to help raise the smoke point when I'm pan frying (I think I read that in McGee).
posted by dw at 12:15 AM on November 9, 2010


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