Updated: Feb 1
The health benefits of olive oil make it an extremely attractive ingredient to use for cooking. Packed with polyphenols, amino acids and healthy, monounsaturated fats, olive oil can be a key factor to not only establishing a balanced diet, but to add depth and flavor to food.
Most importantly, the main difference between using olive oil as opposed to refined vegetable oils is its aroma and taste. Olive oil is not just a cooking oil; it is an ingredient that can add depth and flavor and enhance the more traditional tastes of the dishes you love. No other oil can match the organoleptic complexity of olive oil and the thousands of varieties that carry their own unique flavor characteristics.
Whenever we refer to olive oil, we always mean extra virgin. Every producer we carry has worked for years - many for decades - to micromanage their crop and produce the highest quality olive oils on the planet. To them and us, it’s not worth it if it’s not extra virgin.
Frying With Olive Oil
Since heat is such an integral part of cooking, yet is also one of the factors that can lower the quality of an olive oil, many people assume that applying heat to olive oil in cooking applications such as shallow and deep frying, stir-frying or sautéing, is a combination that should be avoided.
Heating an extra virgin olive oil to frying temperature does not hurt or substantially alter the chemical composition of the oil if kept below the smoke point, and is still very good for you due to their polyphenol content and high levels of oleic acid which is very stable and does not easily oxidize.
The alternatives - i.e. canola, soybean and corn oils - are significantly less stable, contain little to zero polyphenols and can break down into dangerous, toxic byproducts at high temperatures due to accelerated oxidation. Olive oil, coconut oil and palm oil are the most stable of all fats when heated.
The smoke point of a true extra virgin olive oil is 410°F, well above the 350-375°F that is required for most frying. If the olive oil is higher in acidity and/or contains impurities (often representative of lower grade, mass produced oils), the smoke point can lower some 50°F. That said, you should always fry foods with a high-quality olive oil and should avoid mixing it with other types of oils.
Baking With Olive Oil
When a recipe calls for butter or margarine for frying or sauteing, olive oil is an oft-practiced substitute and is widely recognized as a much healthier alternative.
Substituting extra virgin olive oil for butter in baking is also a healthy option and can be surprisingly delicious. Since ingredient measurements are critical when baking, the index below will help you adjust your recipe appropriately:
An Index For Substituting Butter / Margarine With Olive Oil
Butter / Margarine Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon 3/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon 2 1/4 teaspoon
2 tablespoons 1 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 cup 3 tablespoons
1/3 cup 1/4 cup
1/2 cup 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup 1/2 cup
3/4 cup 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon
1 cup 3/4 cup
All extra virgin olive oils range in strengths of intensity and pungency, so while some varieties work wonderfully with almost anything, others may prove too overpowering. For cakes, cookies and other baked desserts, sweeter, more mild olive oil varieties - such as Arbequina, Peranzana, Mission, Nocellara and the fruity Koroneiki - are less likely to overpower the flavors of a dessert when compared with more bitter, pungent varieties like Picual, Coratina and Moraiolo.
Grilling With Olive Oil
When summer hits and the grills come out, so do all the wonderful marinades and sauces that make grilled foods so exceptional. Extra virgin olive oil has endless potential to boost the flavor of grilled foods and can neutralize harmful carcinogenic substances thanks to its high antioxidant levels. Robust oils, such as those produced in Tuscany, Lazio and Trentino Alto-Adige, pair wonderfully with grilled meats, while the milder olive oils from Greece and Southern Italy are ideal for lighter grilled foods like fish.
A flavorful EVOO can also replace butter for grilled favorites like corn on the cob, portabella mushrooms, potatoes, onions and shrimp. As previously noted, Peranzana and Arbequina are the most similar olive oil varieties to butter with their sweeter, more delicate flavor profiles.