Food & Cooking

Dispelling the Myths of Frying with Olive Oil

Nov. 7, 2012
By Angela Bell

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Most people know that olive oil has cer­tain health ben­e­fits and that using it in low-heat cook­ing and for fin­ish­ing enhances the fla­vors in foods, but what about high-heat cook­ing like frying?

A recent study revealed that frying veg­eta­bles in extra virgin olive oil was actu­ally health­ier than boil­ing them. It makes sense: Not only do you get to keep the nutri­ents in the veg­gies instead of pour­ing them down the drain, but the olive oil helps your body absorb them (not to men­tion pack­ing quite a few help­ful com­po­nents of its own, like cancer-fight­ing polyphe­nols).
See more: Find the Best Olive Oils for Fried Foods
So let’s dispel some of the long-held mis­con­cep­tions about using olive oil in high-tem­per­a­ture meth­ods such as frying and sautéing.

Although pan frying, deep frying, stir-frying and sautéing are dif­fer­ent stove top meth­ods, they all have one thing in common: the tem­per­a­ture of the cook­ing oil. The object of these cook­ing meth­ods is to cook the out­side of the food quickly, cre­at­ing a crispy exte­rior, while allow­ing the heat from the oil to pen­e­trate all the way through. In order to accom­plish this, the oil must reach a tem­per­a­ture of 350 to 370 degrees before intro­duc­ing the food.

Myth number one: The smok­ing point of olive oil is too low for frying.

Some cook­ing oils and fats will reach what is referred to as the smok­ing point before reach­ing tem­per­a­tures required for a good fry. The smok­ing point is the tem­per­a­ture at which a chem­i­cal change takes place result­ing in unde­sir­able smoke and flavor. Olive oil is not one of them. The smok­ing point of extra virgin olive oil is some­where between 380 and 410 degrees Fahrenheit, depend­ing on the impu­ri­ties and acid con­tent of the olive oil: the better the qual­ity, the higher the smok­ing point. The smok­ing point of olive oil is well above the tem­per­a­ture required for all but the high­est-heat cook­ing.

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Myth number two: Frying tem­per­a­tures will change olive oil from a ‘good oil’ to a ‘bad oil.’

Cooking fats and oils are con­sid­ered dietary fats of which there are three types, sat­u­rated, trans and unsat­u­rated. The first two are bad, but the third, unsat­u­rated fat, includes olive oil, a healthy plant-derived dietary fat. The heat required to raise the tem­per­a­ture of olive oil high enough to fry food cannot change the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of olive oil from a good one to a bad one.

Myth number three: Fried foods absorb cook­ing oil, making you fat.

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Properly fried food will absorb much less cook­ing oil if the tem­per­a­ture of the oil is hot enough before food is intro­duced. Otherwise, the food will indeed soak up the oil, pro­duc­ing a soggy, flac­cid prod­uct. You know, like those oil soaked fries you had last week from your favorite fast food chain.

Not only can you fry with extra virgin olive oil, but you should. Frying with EVOO not only sat­is­fies our desire for Southern-fried com­fort foods, Asian stir fry, Mexican faji­tas and Italian veal pic­cata, but it does all of that in addi­tion to ful­fill­ing our nutri­tional require­ments for a healthy dietary fat as well.

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