There’s a belief that it’s unsafe to cook with olive oil – that it isn’t stable and oxidizes when heated, forming harmful by-products in the process. While this is true for other oils like canola and vegetable oil, it is okay to cook with olive oil at low temperatures.
Olive oil has some unique qualities that make it stable under cooking conditions, and provided that you are buying high quality olive oil to begin with, you can sauté to your heart’s content.
There are two reasons why olive oil outperforms other vegetable oils when it’s heated.
First, it contains polyphenols and tocopherols, which act to protect the oil from oxidation.
Second, it’s made up of mostly monounsaturated fat which makes it more stable in heat than fats with high amounts of polyunsaturated fats such as soybean oil, corn oil and sunflower oil.
These oils are created in a laboratory, not in nature. And they most certainly do not belong in our diet. Cooking with soybean oil, corn oil and sunflower oil promotes carcinogenicity, inflammation, and unhealthy imbalances of fatty acids in the body.
The key to good oil is freshness, so check to make sure you’re getting the freshest oil possible. Some oils label a ‘best by’ date and some even label a harvest date. It’s best not to buy olive oil that comes in a clear container, especially if you suspect it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while; this is likely the case with many larger super markets. It’s important to store olive oil properly – in a cool, dark place within a dark, airtight container. Heat, light and oxygen can cause cause fatty acid oxidation.
Many of the very best oils are available in olive oil boutiques, delicatessens, and other specialty shops. Take a look at some of our favorite olive oils that can be found online or at some local shops in the Denver Metro. EVOO Market is always a fun stop, or Kristos Epicurean Market in Arvada offers only the purest products.