Yes you can and you should! This post will explain why this is just a myth, created by the western food industry. Extra virgin olive oil is probably the healthiest oil to cook with and it is in fact quite resistant to high temperatures.
When I started educating myself about what healthy eating really is a few years ago, the most confusing thing for me was whether I can cook with olive oil or not. I was convinced that olive oil was a healthy oil but then I was reading all these recommendations that olive oil should not be used for cooking and only for salads and dressings. Well it took some reading but I realised that this is a load of rubbish! So for the last 3 years, the only cooking oil that I use for ANY type of cooking is extra virgin olive oil. Occasionally I use butter and coconut oil but rarely. You might have already read the COOKING OILS guide, part of The Real Food Guide on this site. It’s a good starting point to understand why vegetable oils should be eliminated from your diet and what is the list of all the healthy oils you can cook with. Of course the most versatile and healthy oil is olive oil.
Why you should cook with olive oil (including frying)
Olive oil has a slightly lower smoke point due to the fact that it contains mostly healthy polyunsaturated fats, which unlike saturated fats are more sensitive and get damaged at a really high temperature. However what most people don’t realise is that this temperature is not normally reached when cooking. When frying at a medium heat in a frying pan, the oil would rarely reach a temperature above 150°C / 300°F and most extra virgin olive oils have a smoke point of 180°C to 200°C (355°C to 390°F). I bought a food thermometer and was able to confirm this for myself. In fact, even if the olive oil reaches the smoke point it withstands higher temperatures much better than vegetable oils. Vegetable oils also break down at higher temperatures but unlike olive oil, they form toxic products. In general you shouldn’t over-heat your food but even if you do feel like frying, it is best to choose extra virgin olive oil. In addition the olive oil is so much more flavourful than other oils and the food cooked with it has a better taste at the end. In the Mediterranean countries they bake, fry, grill and prepare everything with olive oil and in general they are far healthier than America, UK and some other western countries.
Who created the “no cooking with olive oil” myth and why?
Well I don’t know the answer myself but I have a pretty good guess. The recommendation that you shouldn’t cook with olive oil is continuously spread by supermarket brands, food giants and in general the food industry. Even on my extra virgin olive oil bottle at home (imported from Greece but has a UK supermarket label) it says that I should use it for “salads and dressings”. The main three producers of olive oil are Spain, Italy and Greece and they make 90 % of the olive oil in the world. So for most other countries, the only oils that the climate allows them to produce are vegetable oils. Therefore I believe this is a myth that is created by the western food industry to motivate you to buy the cheap, harmful vegetable oil because “you shouldn’t cook with olive oil” and this way they make money. Not to mention the deceitful marketing messages about the “healthy” light cooking sprays that confuse so many people. These cooking sprays are just refined vegetable oils that are just as toxic. If you like the convenience of the spray, just buy an oil pump spray and fill it in with your favourite extra virgin olive oil. I love mine and I use it all the time!
It is true that cooking with olive oil is likely to cost a bit more. If you try to buy larger bottles of olive oil, the cost is reduced. In addition, most people use a lot of oil when frying. If you want to save money and be healthier, here is how I prepare all of my favourite veggie chips and fries in the oven with just 1-2 tbsp of olive oil without any messy frying – recipe here!
For the love of olives!
Just last week I was on a holiday in Zakynthos, a small beautiful island in Greece. Very green with lots of olive trees. I have been meaning to write a post about olive oil ever since I started this blog but the trip there really inspired me to debunk the olive oil myth on my blog. I went to an olive oil factory that is also a free museum in the Lithakia village. We got a free tour of the factory with an explanation of the whole production process and finally had the chance to try some different delicious local olive oils. Apparently Zakynthos produce only extra virgin olive oil and there are more olive trees than any other plant on the island! They were everywhere! Here are some interesting points about olive oil that I heard over there:
- It takes 5-6 kg of olives to produce 1L of extra virgin olive oil!
- When the olives are crushed and turned into paste, they are mixed with water. “Cold-pressed” means that this water is at a temperature no higher than 25°C/ 77°F. If they add water with higher temperature, they will be able to produce more oil but with lower quality. This is how the cheaper refined olive oil is made.
- From the olive oil paste, they separate the crushed stones during the production process and use it as a type of fuel to heat their households. This makes the olive oil truly an eco-friendly product!
In Zakynthos and probably in other parts of Greece, if you have olive trees, you can take the olives you have grown to any of those olive oil factories and they will turn your olives into extra virgin olive oil. The interesting bit is that if the farmer has no money, he doesn’t need to pay them for this service with money, he just “pays” with 10% of the olive oil his olives produce. Clever system that works well both for the farmer and the factory.
Here is a picture of one of the many olive trees we were seeing everywhere. Follow me on instagram for more pictures like this and remember olive oil is the healthiest oil you can choose and there is nothing wrong in cooking with it!