Up in smoke: the myth about frying with olive oil.

Pan frying salmon in Olivo Fresco lemon fused olive oil.

By Lisa Theodore

It’s no wonder we are confused food consumers.  We really do try to make mindful choices with regard to food and health but we are bombarded by so much information it is often difficult to get to the bottom of it all. There is no exception with this topic.  In conversations with customers there seems to be one question that surfaces more than any other.

The most common preconception (and yes, misconception) that customers have is that extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is not suited for higher temperature sautéing and frying because of its low smoke point.

What are they talking about? Many of us have likely had the experience of putting a little oil in a pan in preparation of cooking something.  We step away from the stove for a minute only to return to thick, black smoke billowing from the pan.  The smoking point has been reached.

Why do we care? Reaching the smoking point of an oil destroys both the flavour and, in the case of any high-quality oil, their associated health benefits.  In addition to the bad taste there are toxins that are produced when the breakdown of an oil occurs.

Google to the rescue? Not exactly.  A few minutes of some online research on this topic will reveal conflicting information.  To further add to the consumer confusion that I eluded to earlier, there are numerous discussion forums with sometimes misguided chatter and inaccurate facts.

It is common to see charts on the internet comparing the smoking points of various oils.  Depending on the chart, the olive oil category can be sorted into sub-categories, for example: olive oil, light olive oil, extra-virgin olive oil and high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.  The reason for this is that not all olive oil is created equal and the smoking points can vary significantly between these groups.  (Spoiler alert!) The highest-quality, premium EVOOs have the highest smoking point.

To complicate matters further it is difficult to identify what a premium EVOO is when out shopping at the grocery store.   Those who have visited our store know that this is our raison d’etre.  Simply stated, there is much controversy about some imported oil and its quality….but that, dear readers, is a topic for another time.

Back to the question at hand…let’s see what “those in the know” have to say on the subject:

The International Olive Council writes,

“Olive oil is ideal for frying. In proper temperature conditions, without over-heating, it undergoes no substantial structural change and keeps its nutritional value better than other oils, not only because of the antioxidants but also due to its high levels of oleic acid. Its high smoking point (210ºC) is substantially higher than the ideal temperature for frying food (180ºC). Those fats with lower critical points, such as corn and butter, break down at this temperature and form toxic products.” (International Olive Council, 2013)

An article in The Olive Oil Times states,

“The popular misconception that olive oil is not suited to high temperature cooking has however been widely disproved, and new research out of Spain provides further evidence that not only is olive oil suitable for frying, it also has a preferential flavor when compared with other oils.”  (Olive Oil Times, 2013)

The bottom line: keep calm and fry on!

We welcome your comments!




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