My childhood was sprinkled with carefree and unforgettable experiences. One of them being spending whole summers in my grandmother’s village, snuggled in-between the mountains and valleys speckled with olive groves, right at the heart on the Greek isle of Lesvos.
My grandmother loved to cook. She looked upon it as something sacred; a test for maintaining social reputation. A more intimate form of our modern-day Facebook as neighbors stopped by for a “visit” comparing notes on that day’s lunch menu: the ingredients used, where the fresh produce was bought, and the method used to cook.
No matter what my grandmother had on her menu, one ingredient always stayed uniform, unwavering. It was her precious extra virgin extra virgin olive oil, which she stored in a large clay jar in the cool and dark pantry. As long as I can remember, I knew no other way to fry, bake, or sauté our food other than with extra virgin olive oil.
However, as I got older, reports were published and notable chefs were becoming more and more vocal about not cooking with extra virgin olive oil, more specifically frying. Even the famous George Mateljan, chef and author of The World’s Healthiest Foods, has a specific section on his website as to why he does not cook with extra virgin olive oil. Were these critics on to something that people from the Mediterranean did not know about all these years? Well, let’s take a look more closely at the arguments as to why it was deemed unfit for cooking.
1) The first argument is that the extra virgin olive oil loses its color and all its nutrients when fried.
2) The second argument is that due to a low smoke point, it would turn the healthy fat into a smoky, stinky, free-radical-releasing mess when heated, and would make it rancid — a state that declassifies extra virgin extra virgin olive oil to a lower-grade (lampante) extra virgin olive oil.
Loss of Nutrients
The first argument has been touted by supporters for not using extra virgin extra virgin olive oil for cooking ever since extra virgin olive oil has been deemed a “good” fat. Although it may be true for other oils like canola and vegetable oil, this argument does not hold true when it comes to extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is less prone to oxidation for a couple of reasons. Firstly, heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats are not unfavorably altered by heat like polyunsaturated fats are. Secondly, extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols which act to protect it from oxidation. Researchers found that the polyphenol content of extra virgin olive oil predicted its susceptibility to oxidation; varieties with more polyphenols were less prone to oxidation while those with less became more oxidized.
Now, research is showing that other plant-based compounds — the elements that likely give extra virgin olive oils their complex flavour profiles as well as other healthful properties — can also stand up to standard cooking procedures. They’re surprisingly stable, as long as the oil is not heated past its smoking point, which for extra-virgin extra virgin olive oil is pretty high — about 405°F or 210C.
The smoking point, which makes the extra virgin olive oil stable, is also the main point concerning the second argument. What is the smoke point? It is the temperature at which oil will start to smoke when heated.
So, can cooking with extra virgin olive oil make it a free-radical mess? The answer is no. Extra virgin olive oil is four to five times more resistant to heat than seed oils or butter, and it can be heated until 405°F or 210°C without smoking. The fact is that the average cooktop heats to between 350° and 375°F (177–191°C). So, unless you go above this point, which in a household kitchen is difficult to do, then this argument becomes debunked.
Another good point is that you need less oil in food preparation because extra virgin olive oil actually increases in volume when heated. Also, heating extra virgin olive oil does not affect its digestibility.
Let me save you the suspense and tell you: go ahead and cook with extra virgin olive oil to your heart’s desire!
The bottom line is that extra virgin olive oil does not become dangerous when you cook with it, and it will not lose its nutrients. It stands up well to heat due to its monounsaturated fatty acid and phenolic compounds content and fares much better than other vegetable oils.
I guess it seems like Granny did know best.
Want to Learn More?
If you enjoyed this article, go and check out my book: SLOW Life Diet — Greek Village Living: The Pathway to a Healthier Lifestyle, Healthy Habits, and a Happier You.
It provides a detailed explanation of this slow living lifestyle and provides a guide to help you on your journey in adopting the habits and lifestyle into your own life.
Ever wonder why people in Greek villages live past their 90s? Is it good genes or luck? I’ll let you in a little secret…it’s neither. It’s their slow living lifestyle. Greek villagers are known to have a long-life expectancy. They live a healthy, honest, and happy life. This all comes down to all-encompassing idea of Siga Siga, which literally means ‘slowly, slowly’, but emblematically means to take a deep breath, embrace the moment you are in, practice self-caring, and exhale…
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