Can we use extra virgin olive oil for cooking? And, more specifically, can we use extra virgin olive oil for frying? Can we pan fry with extra virgin olive oil?
To answer these questions, let’s consider the composition of oils and of extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil smoke point.
To understand if extra virgin olive oil (also known with the acronym evoo) is a good oil for cooking, if we can use extra virgin olive oil for frying, we first have to understand a little about the oil composition.
Oils consist mainly of particular fats called Triglycerides (triglycerides make up about 95-98% of the olive oil).
Triglycerides are composed of three fatty acids linked to a compound called Glycerol.
In addition to the fatty acids linked to the glycerol molecule, oils can also contain a small part of free fatty acids.
The fatty acids present in the oil, either as part of a Triglyceride molecule or free, can be saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
The most stable fatty acids are the saturated ones; then there are the monounsaturated fatty acids and; finally, the polyunsaturated fatty acids, that are the most prone to oxidative damage.
Free fatty acids are more easily damaged than fatty acids linked to the Glycerol molecule.
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EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL FOR COOKING: EVOO COMPOSITION
To understand if we can use extra virgin olive oil for frying, let’s now consider the evoo composition.
In evoo we find saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Some fatty acids are free fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acids
Among the saturated fatty acids we find:
- A fair amount of palmitic acid (approximately between 9% and 12%)
- A small amount of stearic acid (approximately between 0.5% and 3.5%)
Monounsarturated fatty acids
Olive, hazelnut or peanut oils are mainly composed of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid.
Oleic acid, which is the most abundant fatty acid, is roughly between 70% and 80% of the total fatty acids of evoo. Among the monounsaturated fatty acids, we also find Palmitoleic acid (approximately between 0.3% and 3.5% of the total of the fatty acids of the evoo).
Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Among the polyunsaturated fatty acids – also called essential fats because they cannot be synthesized by the body and must be supplied daily by the diet – we find:
- A fair amount of Linoleic acid (approximately between 4.5% and 12% of the total fatty acids of the evoo)
- A very small amount of α-linolenic acid
Free fatty acids
Evoo also contains a small part of free fatty acids.
The amount of free fatty acids varies from one oil to another, and contributes to the definition of the quality of the oil.
The amount of free oleic acid in evoo must, by law, be less than 0.8%; the lower it is, the less the tendency of the oil to turn rancid.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL SMOKE POINT
Extra virgin olive oil smoke point is relevant for answering the question: can we use extra virgin olive oil for cooking? Let’s see what it is!
The smoke point of an oil
The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which the oil produces a bluish smoke and toxic substances to the body.
The evo oil smoke point is an important factor to consider to understand if we can use extra virgin olive oil for cooking.
The smoke point is a lower temperature than the boiling temperature.
Evoo is obtained by mechanical extraction and does not undergo any refining. For this, it contains a small percentage of free fatty acids and other impurities that can negatively affect the smoke point.
Extra virgin olive oil smoke point
Extra virgin olive oil smoke pointalso depends on the type of fatty acids and, above all, on the quantity of free fatty acids, the acidity of the oil. The larger the quantity of free fatty acids in the heated oil, the more it tends to smoke.
As we have seen, the amount of free oleic acidin evoo must, by law, be less than 0.8%; some extra virgin olive oils are very close to 0,8%; others, have smaller quantities (e.g. 0,5% or 0,2%).
If the acidity of evoo is high, the extra virgin olive oil smoke pointmay be less than 180 °C (356 °F).
If the acidity of the extra virgin olive oil is low, however, the extra virgin olive oil smoke point can exceed 190° C (374 °F).
OTHER VISIBLE EFFECTS OF OIL CHEMICAL SPOILAGE
When we use extra virgin olive oil for frying, we can also use our senses we can also use our senses to control the situation.
When we use extra virgin olive oil for cooking, some changes become apparent, and this can help us understanding that we are frying too hot.
One of them is the smoke; as we have seen, the extra virgin olive oil smoke point is related to the amount of free fatty acids present in the oil.
Other visible effects when we use extra virgin olive oil for fryingare:
- Development of distinctive odours and flavours
- The colour of the oil darkens
- The oil becomes thicker
- The oil tends to foam
CAN WE USE EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL FOR COOKING?
Frying puts a strain on the stability of the oil: the exposure of oil to oxygen and the presence of food can lead to rapid oxidation and the formation of substances harmful to health.
So, can we use extra virgin olive oil for cooking? Let’s see.
Heating a fat or oil to the normal frying temperature of 191°C (375°F) greatly increases its tendency to spoil and is one of the most important factors governing the life of oil. The higher the temperature, the quicker the oil will deteriorate.
Deep frying food is defined as a process where food is completely submerged in hot oil at temperatures typically between 350 °F (177 °C) and 375 °F (191 °C)
The normal frying temperature is typically between 175°C (347 °F) and 195 °C (383 °F).
If the acidity of extra virgin olive oil is high, the smoke point may be less than 180 °C (356 °F) and therefore we can’t use extra virgin olive oil for frying.
If the acidity of the extra virgin olive oil is low, however, the smoke point can exceed 190° C (374 °F), temperature high enough to fry at not too high temperatures. In this case, we can use extra virgin olive oil for cooking.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL FOR COOKING: USING A THERMOMETER
Using a special thermometer to check the oil temperature is helpful: frying in extra virgin olive oil at too low temperatures will result in greasy foods, in an excessive absorption of fat by the food; on the other hand, frying in extra virgin olive oil at too high temperature makes the oil deteriorate and can result in food charred on the outside before the inside is properly cooked.
REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
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