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Can I Cook with Olive Oil?

olive oil in a glass container

I get this question all the time. Shouldn’t I cook with an oil other than olive oil? The answer to this is yes and no. If you have a $40 bottle of olive oil, I would save that for a special splash on top of a salad or use it as a dipping oil for bread. If you have a medium or even low priced olive oil, it is just fine for cooking, even at high heat.

But not so fast, what about all those reports about chemicals in our oil if it is heated? Doesn’t the oil oxidize and make free radicals that can damage our cells. For the amount of time you are going to heat the oil, you are not going to get much oxidation. Plus olive oil has vitamin E a natural antioxidant. If the oil is refined, many are, it will have even less of a chance of oxidizing when heated.

But what about the smoke point? The smoke point is a temperature at which the oil will smoke, if it gets hotter still it will reach a flashpoint and catch on fire. The smoke point for olive oil varies depending on the brand, however, most don’t reach the smoke point until around 375 or 400 degrees.  If the oil is refined, the smoke point will be even higher as impurities have been removed. If you do heat olive or any oil to the smoking point, you should throw it out and start again.

What about rancidity, isn’t that a sign of oxidation. Yes, you should never use an oil that has gone rancid. It is easy to tell as it will have a very off smell. If your oil is rancid, throw it out. To keep this from happening, buy small containers so that you use it quickly and store it in an airtight bottle out of the light.

Bottom line: olive oil is just fine for most of your cooking, even frying. If you are looking for an oil without the flavor of olive oil, try canola or grapeseed oil.

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