Frying Food With Olive Oil

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Frying food with olive oil doesn’t have to be difficult! These tips will help you get started.

Olive oil is a great option for frying food, but there are some tips and tricks you should know before you start.

First, olive oil has a low smoke point—that means that it’s easy to overheat the oil and create a mess in your kitchen. Keep an eye on the temperature of your oil, and make sure it stays below 370 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer on hand, drop in a small piece of bread—if it sizzles right away, the oil is too hot.

Second, if you’re looking to retain flavor while frying with olive oil, consider using a flavored variety like garlic-infused or chili-infused. It’ll give your food an extra kick of flavor as well as texture.

Frying Food With Olive Oil

When we think about frying, olive oil is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. Peanut, vegetable, canola and soybean oils are standard fare for frying endeavors. Why? First, these are relatively healthy oils that are easy to obtain. In that regard, they are just like olive oil. So why does olive oil get blacklisted when it comes to frying? The truth is that many people are under the impression that olive oil has a low smoke point and that its flavor could be altered at higher temperatures. In reality, those are common misconceptions and olive oil is a versatile, flavorful option for frying. Olive oil actually has a relatively high smoke point and is a safe, reliable option for frying. On top of that, it is one of the healthiest cooking staples around. Olive oil has been named “the healthiest fat on Earth,” in part because of its unique ability to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Contrary to popular belief, you absolutely can — and, we would argue, should — fry with olive oil. There are many myths surrounding olive oil and frying, many of which have to do with its reaction to high temperatures. But the truth is that extra virgin olive oil is actually the most stable oil when heated, meaning it will not change drastically when exposed to high temperatures. Additionally, extra virgin olive oil does not change chemically as much as other oils do when exposed to high heat.

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The smoke point of our olive oil is over 400 degrees Fahrenheit. A normal temperature for pan-frying (sautéing) is around 250 degrees Fahrenheit, while a normal range for deep-frying is between 320 and 356 degrees Fahrenheit. So do not worry too much about olive oil’s ability to handle the heat because it will stay in good shape even when exposed to high temperatures. So yes, in general, it is safe to both sauté and deep fry with olive oil.

Tips for Frying with Olive Oil

Now that you know frying with olive oil is safe, healthy and beneficial, here are some of our favorite tips for using it in your next set of culinary adventures.

  • Go with fresh olive oil because it has a higher smoke point. Did you know that fresh olive oil has a higher smoke point? That means it will better withstand high heat from regular sautéing or deep-frying. Make sure to choose fresh olive oil by quality manufacturers like Brightland for the best results. Try our AWAKE Olive Oil to see what cooking with a premium olive oil is all about.
  • Try flavored olive oils to add depth to your dishes. Using olive oil instead of another oil is on its own a great way to infuse a warm, nutty, earthy flavor into whatever you are cooking. But you might consider punching things up with an oil infused with a pop of flavor, such as basil or red chili peppers.
  • Do not reuse olive oil when frying. In addition to smoking up your house and causing a bitter flavor, some people worry that heating up oil beyond its smoke point triggers a chemical reaction that could be carcinogenic. The reality is that even if your oil does smoke, you probably are not at any serious risk. The real risk comes from reusing cooking oil. To be safe, only use the same batch of olive oil once when frying.

Olive oil for cooking

Home cooks have plenty of options when it comes to choosing which type of oil to sauté, bake and drizzle with. Some, like olive oil, are well known, and others, like avocado or coconut oil, are less familiar.

Which oil is right for you? That depends largely on the type of cooking you’re doing. An oil’s smoke point, which is the point when oil starts burning and smoking, is one of the most important things to consider. If you heat oil past its smoke point, it not only harms the flavor, but many of the nutrients in the oil degrade—and the oil will release harmful compounds called free radicals.

If you’re wondering which is the best cooking oil for your health—and which oils are not healthy—there’s some disagreement. TIME spoke to two cooking oil experts—Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and Lisa Howard, author of The Big Book of Healthy Cooking Oils—about how to choose the best option.

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Nutrition and cooking experts agree that one of the most versatile and healthy oils to cook with and eat is olive oil, as long as it’s extra virgin. “You want an oil that is not refined and overly processed,” says Howard. An “extra virgin” label means that the olive oil is not refined, and therefore of high quality. Extra virgin olive oil contains a large amount of monounsaturated fats and some polyunsaturated fatty acids; many studies have linked it to better heart health. Olive oil has a relatively lower smoke point compared to other oils, so it’s best for low and medium-heat cooking.

It’s also one of the healthiest oils to use when baking. “As a dressing it’s great, too,” says Howard. “And I like to put it into my lattes.”

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that in the United States, sometimes olive oil that’s labeled “extra virgin” is not what it claims to be. In 2015, the National Consumers League tested 11 different olive oils and found that six of them failed to meet the standards that classify them as extra virgin. Here’s a list of extra virgin olive oils that did pass the test; they include widely available brands like California Olive Ranch, Colavita and Lucini.

Coconut oil

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Depending on who you ask, coconut oil should either be avoided or embraced in moderation. The main point of conflict is its high saturated fat content; unlike other plant-based oils, coconut oil is primarily a saturated fat. Not everyone agrees that such a concentrated source of saturated fat is a no-go for health, but some experts, including the American Heart Association, argue that replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles. Still, science is starting to suggest that not all saturated fats are bad for you.

Generally speaking, there’s a lot of hype around coconut products that overall aren’t backed by sound science. That’s not to say this oil is going to make you sick, but don’t go overboard. “I am not anti-coconut oil,” says Weinandy. “Our bodies do need some saturated fat. But the industry has done a good job to make it seem like it’s a superfood. The research is definitely not there.”

That doesn’t mean it should be banned from the pantry. Saturated fats can be a healthier oil to use when you’re cooking at a very high temperature or frying food (something that definitely should be done in moderation), because they are more stable at high heat. This means that they are less likely to break down and smoke.

Vegetable oil

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The term “vegetable oil” is used to refer to any oil that comes from plant sources, and the healthfulness of a vegetable oil depends on its source and what it’s used for. Most vegetable oils on the market are a blend of canola, corn, soybean, safflower, palm and sunflower oils. “Generally I tell people to use olive oil whenever you can instead of a corn or a soybean oil,” says Weinandy. They’re not necessarily bad for you, she says, “but you can get so much more benefit from olive oil.”

Still, vegetable oils are refined and processed, which means they not only lack flavor, but also nutrients, Howard says. “Vegetable oil is guaranteed to be highly processed. It’s called ‘vegetable’ so that the manufacturers can substitute whatever commodity oil they want—soy, corn, cottonseed, canola—without having to print a new label,” she says. “Processed oils have been pushed past their heat tolerance and have become rancid in the processing.” Some of these oils, especially palm, are associated with more degradation of land for production, Howard says.

Canola oil

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Canola oil is derived from rapeseed, a flowering plant, and contains a good amount of monounsaturated fats and a decent amount of polyunsaturated fats. Of all vegetable oils, canola oil tends to have the least amount of saturated fats. It has a high smoke point, which means it can be helpful for high-heat cooking. That being said, in the United States, canola oil tends to be highly processed, which means fewer nutrients overall. “Cold-pressed” or unprocessed canola oil is available, but it can be difficult to find.

Avocado oil

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Avocado oil is a great choice. It’s unrefined like extra virgin olive oil, but it has a higher smoking point, which means it can be used to cook at higher heat and is great for stir-frys. It doesn’t have much flavor, which makes it a good option for cooking. “It’s just creamy, like an avocado,” says Howard. Avocado oil contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (it has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils) as well as vitamin E. One downside is that it tends to be more expensive.

Sunflower oil

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This oil is high in vitamin E; one tablespoon contains 28% of a person’s daily recommended intake of the nutrient. It has a high smoke point and doesn’t have a strong flavor, which means it won’t overwhelm a dish. However, sunflower oil contains a lot of omega-6 fatty acids. The body needs them, but omega-6s are thought to be pro-inflammatory, while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Consuming too many omega-6s without balancing with omega 3s, could lead to an excess inflammation in the body, so moderation is key.

Peanut oil

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Nut oils, like peanut, can be fun to experiment with in the kitchen, especially since there are so many different types. Peanut oil has one of the highest monounsaturated fat contents among cooking oils. It’s usually flavorful with a nutty taste and smell, and cooks well at high heat.

Walnut oil

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This oil has a low smoke point, so it’s not good for cooking, but it can be used in plenty of other ways. Howard drizzles the oil over pancakes, freshly cut fruit and ice cream. She also adds it to her frothed milk for coffee drinks. Walnut oil has a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which helps keep inflammation in check.

Flaxseed oil

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Flaxseed oil is high in omega 3s and has a very low smoke point, which means it also shouldn’t be used for cooking. “I use [flaxseed oil] for dressing,” says Weinandy. Make sure it’s stored at a low-temperature location, like in the refrigerator.

 

Culinary techniques with olive oil: frying, myths and legends

More and more chefs are convinced that olive oil is the best choice for frying. In fact, frying with olive oil is healthy, if you know how to do it. You read that right. This is because olive oil is the only oil can that can withstand high temperatures (180°C) without degradation or losing its properties, and because it is an oil that creates a crusty layer which enhances the flavor of foods while preventing it from being soaked with fat. Thus, food remains tender, and keeps its vitamins and properties intact.

In this video, you can see how some delicious French toast is fried, and how it stays tender inside and firm outside after it is bathed in oil.

It is very important to know how to fry well, since the tricky part of this technique is often not done properly and this creates changes in the chemical structure of the oil, causing it to lose many of its properties. Frying foods in a correct way is synonymous with health. In addition, according to studies by researchers at the University of Granada, it has been found that vegetables fried in extra-virgin olive oils improve their antioxidant capacity as the oil phenols are transferred to the vegetables. These compounds help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the blood, which is one of the risk factors in cardiovascular diseases.

Frying

How to fry with olive oil

And now, we get to the point: learning how to fry healthily following these tips to get a uniform, crispy and golden fry. Rediscover frying as an essential technique in your kitchen!

  1. The basics: use enough olive oil so that the food is completely covered in the pan and is fried equally. You will prevent the food burning or become too soft.
  2. The common sense: slowly enter the food that you are going to fry into the oil. You will prevent annoying (and possibly painful) splashes, and also abrupt temperatures changes in the oil.
  3. Important: food should be fried dry. Water drops make the oil jump!
  4. Do not cover the pan. You will prevent vapor condensing and falling on the oil in the form of water and, therefore, splattering.

More and more chefs are convinced that olive oil is the best choice for frying. In fact, frying with olive oil is healthy, if you know how to do it. You read that right. This is because olive oil is the only oil can that can withstand high temperatures (180°C) without degradation or losing its properties, and because it is an oil that creates a crusty layer which enhances the flavor of foods while preventing it from being soaked with fat. Thus, food remains tender, and keeps its vitamins and properties intact.

In this video, you can see how some delicious French toast is fried, and how it stays tender inside and firm outside after it is bathed in oil.

It is very important to know how to fry well, since the tricky part of this technique is often not done properly and this creates changes in the chemical structure of the oil, causing it to lose many of its properties. Frying foods in a correct way is synonymous with health. In addition, according to studies by researchers at the University of Granada, it has been found that vegetables fried in extra-virgin olive oils improve their antioxidant capacity as the oil phenols are transferred to the vegetables. These compounds help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the blood, which is one of the risk factors in cardiovascular diseases.

Frying

How to fry with olive oil

And now, we get to the point: learning how to fry healthily following these tips to get a uniform, crispy and golden fry. Rediscover frying as an essential technique in your kitchen!

  1. The basics: use enough olive oil so that the food is completely covered in the pan and is fried equally. You will prevent the food burning or become too soft.
  2. The common sense: slowly enter the food that you are going to fry into the oil. You will prevent annoying (and possibly painful) splashes, and also abrupt temperatures changes in the oil.
  3. Important: food should be fried dry. Water drops make the oil jump!
  4. Do not cover the pan. You will prevent vapor condensing and falling on the oil in the form of water and, therefore, splattering.

Cooking With Olive Oil: Should You Fry and Sear in It or Not

Pouring a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet to test if it's okay to use olive oil for high heat cooking.
Olive oil: Is it okay to use for high-heat cooking or not? Vicky Wasik

“I have been told it’s not safe to fry and sear with olive oil. Is that true?”

Most of the time when I cook with high heat, such as searing meats or deep frying, I reach for neutral oils like canola or vegetable oil. I mostly do this out of habit, but if I were to give a reason, it’d be both because their neutral taste means they won’t contribute unwanted flavors to the dish, and because they tend to be inexpensive.

But recently I wrote a recipe for pan-seared steaks with a garlicky olive oil-and-butter sauce, and, since I was already calling for two fats—olive oil and butter—I decided to streamline things by searing the steaks in olive oil instead of requiring a third, neutral oil for that step. One recipe with three fats just seemed a little fussy for something that was supposed to be an easy weeknight dinner.

But then a commenter asked if I’d violated a basic oil rule: “Isn’t EVOO not recommended for high temperature frying?”

This idea that it’s not a good idea to cook over high heat with olive oil is fairly common. For a lot of people, the concern is one of health, specifically that olive oil, with its relatively low smoke point of 325 to 375°F (165 to 190°C), degrades more than other oils when exposed to high heat. For others, it’s one of taste: Do you want the flavor of olive oil getting into whatever you cook, and is there a risk that the flavor will be bad if the oil has reached its smoke point?

I decided it was time to investigate.

Olive Oil and Heat: Bad for Health, or Just Bad Science?

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We don’t normally address health questions here at Serious Eats: We know a lot about food, but we don’t pretend to be nutritionists or health experts. And honestly, the way medical advice can change from one year to the next, it’s often just as well for us not to get involved.

Because the health aspects of cooking with olive oil are such an integral part of this question, though, I’m going to wade in just a little bit. Up to my ankles anyway (definitely not up to my olives). After spending hours scouring the internet for studies that could help provide an answer, here’s what I discovered: My head hurts.

My head hurts because there’s a lot of conflicting information out there and it’s very hard to reduce it into a simple, direct answer. Still, based on my reading, things are looking favorable for olive oil. For starters, I couldn’t find a single scientific study clearly supporting the idea that exposing olive oil to high heat has worse health consequences than other oils used for high-heat cooking. I found a lot of websites making that claim, but none of the ones I saw back it up with evidence. Instead, they assume that a lower smoke point by definition means more toxins, and then sling around buzzwords like “free radicals” to scare us off from using EVOO for cooking.

I did find one study that compared emissions of potentially toxic volatile compounds of several oils at several temperatures, and it indicated that those compounds do increase significantly when an oil has reached its smoke point. That doesn’t bode well for olive oil, since its smoke point is relatively low.

But of all the studies I found that specifically compared the heating of olive oil to other oils, the overall message was that olive oil performs decently well under high-heat conditions. There’s this one from 2014 and published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, which found that olive oil is more stable than certain seed oils for frying at temperatures between 320 and 374°F. There was this one from 2004, also in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that showed that olive oil—both extra-virgin and refined—produced fumes with fewer (apparently undesirable) volatile aldehydes than canola oil. Then in 2012, the journal Food Chemistry published this study, which found that olive oil held up much better and was much safer than sunflower oil after prolonged exposure to high heat. A lot of these studies looked at both extra-virgin olive oil and regular olive oil, and both performed well.

On and on, most scientific studies I read gave olive oil high marks for its ability to retain its nutritional properties and resist deterioration despite high heat. Apparently it’s even good for the postprandial insulin response of obese, insulin-resistant women. Who knew?

Granted, none of these studies are massive, comprehensive looks at every conceivable aspect of this topic. There may well be a reason why heating olive oil is worse than other oils, but if there is, I didn’t find clear evidence for it.

If you want to take a deeper dive, start by looking at these three overviews of what is and isn’t known about olive oil and high heat.

As for me, I’m satisfied that at the moment there’s not much to indicate I should be any more worried about heating olive oil than any other oil out there.

Taste Tests

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So that leaves taste. Do we want to cook at high temperatures with olive oil? How does it affect flavor? To explore this, I tested three recipes using both extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil: a deep-frying recipe, a seared meat dish with a rich and creamy pan sauce, and a seared meat dish with a light and delicate pan sauce.

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Deep Frying: Roman-Jewish Artichokes

Given that it’s now spring, I thought I’d whip up a deep-fried dish that celebrates the season: carciofi alla giudia (“Jewish-style” artichokes), a recipe that comes from the ancient Roman-Jewish community.

Traditionally, this dish is made by frying globe artichokes in olive oil; the artichokes are trimmed almost down to the heart, but some tender leaves are left attached to help create a flower-like appearance in the finished dish. Here, I used baby artichokes, and fried them in both canola oil and extra-virgin olive oil.

The frying in this recipe is a two-step process, first at a lower temperature, around 300°F or so, until the hearts are tender, and then at 350°F, right up in olive-oil smoke-point territory, to crisp and brown them.

Tasted side-by-side, the Serious Eats crew all agreed that the olive oil contributed a distinct flavor, whereas the canola oil-fried chokes tasted lighter. Preference mostly fell towards the olive oil ones, which makes some sense given the Mediterranean personality the dish is meant to have, but we all appreciated how clearly we could taste the artichokes in the canola batch.

The bottom line is deep-frying in olive oil adds flavor, which is desirable in some circumstances but also can obscure the pure flavor of the food being fried. Whether you deep fry in olive oil will depend on whether you want that flavor or not.

Seared Meat With a Rich Pan Sauce: Skirt Steaks With Mushroom-Cream Sauce

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So far we’ve seen that deep frying in olive oil changes the flavor of the food—a not entirely surprising finding. But what about searing meats in olive oil? Will that have an impact on the final flavor of the dish?

My first foray into this question was with skirt steaks, which I seared until browned in two pans, one with extra-virgin olive oil, the other with canola oil. Both oils reached their smoke point during the searing process.

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Once the steaks were done, I took them out of the skillets and made identical pan sauces in each one, in this case a rich pan sauce with sautéed mushrooms, shallots, garlic, white wine, chicken stock, and heavy cream.

Tasting them side by side, my colleagues and I were unable to detect any flavor difference between the olive oil and canola oil samples, which indicates that in the case of richly flavored foods, a couple tablespoons of olive oil for searing isn’t enough to significantly alter the taste of the dish.

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Seared Meat With a Light and Delicate Pan Sauce: Pork Chops With Leek and White Wine Sauce

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What about a more delicate pan sauce, though? Would the olive oil make a difference there?

To find out, I cooked up some pork chops, once again in two skillets, one with EVOO, the other with canola oil (both oils once again hit their smoke points).

Once they were good and browned, I set the chops aside and made two identical pan sauces in each skillet, this time with leeks, white wine, a little chicken stock, garlic, and lemon zest.

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This time there was a very subtle difference between the two dishes, with the olive oil one tasting ever so slightly more rounded and less acidic than the canola oil one, but I can’t stress enough how minor the difference was. If I had eaten them even five minutes apart, I would have said they were exactly the same; only a direct side-by-side comparison made it possible to detect the difference.

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In fact, the difference was so subtle, I can’t conclude with certainty that the oil was the reason for it. It could have just as easily been due to slightly different rates of reduction or other variations that are difficult to control with total precision when making something like a pan sauce.

In short, searing in olive oil can possibly have an impact on more delicate dishes, but it’s unlikely to be a major one, and in many cases may have no impact at all. For dishes like this, if olive oil is all you have, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

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Conclusion

Based on my research, cooking with olive oil using high heat isn’t nearly as problematic as most of us imagine. On the health side, I was unable to find credible evidence that cooking olive oil with high heat being bad for health (and, in fact, it might be one of the more stable oils for high heat cooking).

And on the taste side, its impact is minimal to none when used to sear foods that are then served with other ingredients, like a sauce. For deep frying it does make a difference in taste, so you just have to follow your preference.

Both Kenji and I have found that you can taste olive oil when using it to sweat vegetables for simple dishes like vegetable soup, but in that instance there’s no high heat involved (certainly the oil never gets close to its smoke point), so once again, like deep frying, it’s just a question of whether you want to taste the olive oil or not.

Of course olive oil is also more expensive than a lot of other oils, so that’s a reason not to turn to it as often for these kinds of cooking tasks. Interestingly, as Harold McGee found in his own taste tests, the flavor differences between high-quality and lesser oils are erased with heating, so when cooking it makes sense to reach for a cheaper bottle, at least as far as flavor is concerned.

The bottom line, though, is that if all you have on hand is olive oil, or if you want to cook with it for flavor, I see no reason to avoid it.

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