Myth – Olive oil isn’t safe to cook with?

This myth came highly requested! I have seen a lot of conversations, blog posts and videos floating around online about this topic, but the answer still seems unclear. What is the best oil to cook with?

A little while ago a great marketing agency put out a campaign for Coconut Oil to make it the next big thing. In the process they used false evidence and stretched the truth around olive oil because for a long time it was the preferred cooking oil.

So first off what is the fact:

Whilst all oils have their different uses and benefits, evidence suggests Extra Virgin Olive Oil is actually better than coconut oil to cook with at high temperatures.

This goes against what a lot of articles you will read online say. With them often stating that the smoking point of olive oil is too low, thus shouldn’t be used for roasts and high heat cooking such as frying.

So let’s start at the beginning, what is the smoking point of an oil?

The Smoking point of extra virgin olive oil is around 190C and the smoking point of coconut oil is only 177C, so already there are issues with the argument of smoking point.

The smoking point of an oil is when it starts to bubble and smoke when heated. But this point doesn’t actually say too much about how the oil performs at high temperatures. When an oil reaches its smoking point the free fatty acids start to break down to form free radicals which can cause stress in the body. With a general rule of thumb being the high the level of free fatty acids the lower the smoking point. That being said, canola oil has a high smoking point, but that doesn’t make it a ‘healthier’ oil than olive oil. That is because free fatty acids only make up about 1% of the oil.

Stability of oils and the formation of Polar Compounds
So, whilst the smoking point can be a gauge on oil use, it is better to look at the overall stability of oils. During the cooking two main degradation processes occur in oil – hydrolysis and oxidation. The oxidative stability of an oil covers how resistant an oil is to reacting with oxygen and breaking down into ‘harmful compounds’ which are often called Polar Compounds.

Oxidative stability of an oil is determined through the amount of polar compounds formed over continuous heating and is considered the best determinant of how an oil reacts to cooking. A study found canola oil breaks down within 7.5 hrs, but EVOO and Virgin Coconut oil lasts well over a day when heated at a continuous heat of over 110C. This stability is correlated to the lower levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in EVOO and Virgin Coconut Oil.
When comparing the stability of EVOO to Virgin Coconut oil it is also important to note that the high level of phenolic antioxidants found in EVOO further increase its stability at high temperatures.

In the end, Extra Virgin Olive Oil still stands as one of the best options to cook with for a range of different methods including roasting at high temperatures and frying over long periods. But other factors can come into it and that is where you have to make a choice.

For example, I don’t usually cook savoury dishes with coconut oil simply because I think it tastes quite sweet and vice versa I rarely use olive oil in sweet dishes because of the strong flavour.

When it comes to cooking Asian dishes, I opt for peanut oil for the added flavour, but for everything from roasts, to Sautee to shallow frying I use olive oil.

I commonly use rice bran oil in baking because it has a very mild flavour and vegetable oil on the rare occasion I deep fry something. Whilst olive oil has been proven to be stable for frying, I opt for vegetable oil simply because of the cost.  For me fried food is a sometimes food and I am not going to waste my whole bottle of expensive olive oil to deep-fry something!

This is a very brief overview of the science behind cooking oils, and about as much as I can fit in this email. But reply with any questions you may have and I am happy to expand!

I hope this has helped you understand the best oils to cook with. Don’t believe everything you read online. I urge you to question everything and look at where and from who the information is coming from. If you are ever unsure about the truth behind something you read online send it through to me and I would be happy to have a look over it for you!

Stay curious, keep questioning.