This question is very common and there is a misconception that one should not cook with olive oil but only add it after cooking. Some people believe that olive oil has a lower ‘smoking point’ than other oils and that if it reaches that point it becomes carcinogenic. This is not entirely true. In fact a recent study found that olive oil is the best option for cooking.
One should compare apples with apples. Olive oil does have a lower smoking point than refined oils. But refined oils have been chemically processed and have no nutrition in them. If you compare olive oil to other unrefined oils it actually fares well in terms of its smoking point. Olive oil has a smoke point of 207°C which is much higher than is needed for most cooking, even frying. Only deep frying might require higher temperatures.
There are two reasons why you might not want to cook with olive oil. One is flavour: If you don’t have a lighter flavoured olive oil in your cupboard you might find that the olive oil you use could impact the flavour of the food. For most dishes this shouldn’t be a problem but for lighter, more subtle dishes it might not be ideal. We recommend keeping a selection of olive oils for various purposes – delicate, medium and robust.
The other reason not to cook with olive oil is the cost. You can get through quite a lot of olive oil if you cook with it all the time and depending on your budget it could be too expensive. Whatever you do, don’t buy the olive oil that is mixed with other oils, this is a waste of money. Rather just buy the cheaper sunflower oil as you’re not getting any benefits from the olive oil blend. Buying in bulk meanwhile is one way to make olive oil more affordable with many producers offer a 2L or 5L option.
Why would you want to cook with olive oil? The main reason is the health benefits. Olive oil is a fresh fruit juice and it is proven to be excellent for maintaining good health. It is recommended that a person has two tablespoons of olive oil a day, to enjoy the maximum health benefits. It’s possible to just swallow two tablespoons each day but cooking with olive oil and adding it as a dressing is a much more palatable option.
The other reason to cook with olive oil is for the flavour. Good quality, fresh olive oil is delicious and the flavours work well with most dishes, as long as you’re careful not to use a very heavy olive oil on a light dish.
- Dax Villanueva is founder of lifestyle blog Relax with Dax and is also involved in Olive Central, a promotional initiative for the SA olive and olive oil industry.