There are many questions and concerns on whether cooking with extra virgin olive oil is safe and healthy.We turned to science to understand the truth and confirmed that extra virgin olive oil is safe to use for all types of cooking. While extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point than other oils, it has been found to be the most stable oil when heated due to the high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and phenols (antioxidants).
A study published by Modern Olives Laboratory Services in the ACTA Scientific Nutritional Health Journal concluded that EVOO is the most stable cooking oil, even against other popular cooking oils, since it also retains its natural antioxidants. The delicate flavor also makes it ideal for sautéing, grilling, baking, and as a finishing oil.
Most resources will point to smoke point as an indicator of whether an edible oil is suitable for cooking or not. However, the use of smoke point as an indicator of the ability of an oil to withstand heat, and to determine suitability for cooking is technically incorrect and is not supported by scientific evidence.
The conventional understanding was that harmful chemicals begin to evaporate once an oil reaches its unique smoke point. However, it has been found that initial smoke point has very little correlation with an oils' stability under heat and the formation of polar compounds (harmful substances). Instead, oxidative stability is the far more reasonable predictor, which is highly impacted by the levels and type of fat in the oil.
A study found that “EVOO yielded low levels of polar compounds and oxidative by-products, in contrast to the high levels of by-products generated for oils such as canola oil.” This means that EVOO releases less harmful chemicals into food than other cooking oils when heated due to the high levels of monounsaturated fats and phenols. While some oils are fantastic for cooking on a budget, cooking with any quality extra virgin olive oil is going to be far superior in terms of retaining the health benefits and ensuring high oxidative stability.
There is a misconception that if you cook with EVOO you will lose all of the nutrients and antioxidants. This is not entirely true. While there is a slight reduction in antioxidants during cooking, the foods absorption of the EVOO's phenols (antioxidants) enhances the nutritional profile of the food and increases the total phenols. Phenols are important because they promote healthy bodily functions and protect us from toxins. When you cook with EVOO, you ensure that you will enjoy all of the naturally present minerals and vitamins in your food!
In conclusion, science tells us that one of the most versatile and healthy oils to cook with is EVOO. Additionally, studies have correlated cooking with extra virgin olive oil to improved heart and overall health. However, it is important to remember that not all extra virgin olive oils are created equal. The better quality EVOO (and more phenols) you use, the better it cooks and tastes!