The goodness of fresh olive oil is well known as the right choice of a low-fat oil, but using it in cooking often raises the question: What nutritional value, if any, is lost as a result? The answer is none. Cooking with olive oil will not diminish its nutritional value.
Olive oil, at 120 calories per tablespoon, is packed with monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Olive oil can be a delicious, satisfying dip for artisan bread or as a foundation for pesto sauce, or as a taste-enhancer when drizzled over salads and roasted vegetables. Olive oil can also be used for recipes that call for sautéing, browning or stir-frying.
Hot or Cold, It's Still Low-Fat
One myth is that heating olive oil will render the olive oil as saturated or trans-fatty. Olive oil is a monounsaturated oil and it is resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation. Monounsaturated oils are beneficial in that they do not have the artery-clogging effect of saturated fats. Monounsaturated oils also have an anti-inflammatory effect. They are good for arthritis, and they are healthy for the heart. Even expensive, delicate, extra-virgin olive oils can be cooked with no negative effect on their nutritional value.
There are only two caveats: flavor and smoking point. The fragranced flavor of more expensive olive oils can change when subjected to heat. In the cooking process, the heat may evaporate the alcohols and esters that give some types of olive oil their distinctive flavor. For that reason, use a less expensive type of olive oil for cooking.
As for "smoking point," this refers to the temperature at which a cooking fat or oil begins to break down to glycerol and free fatty acids. In plain language, this is when the temperature reaches a point where the food starts to smoke. You know when frying is going beyond the "smoking point" when it starts to smell more like smoke than cooked food. Compounds in olive oil can stand up to heat as long as the oil is not heated past its smoking point.
How Hot is Too Hot?
Olive oil has a low smoke point, so make sure you do not use olive oil for any recipe that calls for deep frying over a high heat. Plain olive oil will smoke less than virgin olive oils. The 250°F-325°F range is a safe guideline when heating food in olive oil. Smoke resulting from frying over high heat is never good, and olive oil decomposes under extreme heat. This results in dangerous molecules replacing natural antioxidants. The value of olive oil can be compromised, because, when overheated, the oil releases carcionogenic free radicals.
So the next time you think about cooking with olive oil, do not hesitate: Just remember not to turn up the heat too high.
Here are a few ways to enjoy olive oil in your favorite dishes.
- Saute vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and potatoes in olive oil, over a low heat.
- Sprinkle fresh olive oil over cooked brown rice.
- Mix oregano, thyme, or garlic to your fresh olive oil for a topping for cooked pasta.
- Grilling steak, fish, or chicken? Brush on olive oil right before serving.