Cooking with extra virgin olive oil

If you go shopping, most likely you’ll find a great deal of cooking oils to choose from. Actually, if you are a cuisine lover, chances are you already have more than one type in your pantry. However, truth to be told we know too little about how they should be used and which are their benefits to our diet.

We know as a fact that fats are an important intake in our day to day, but not all types of fats will do. So when we are seeking for the good ones for our health, we need to pay especial attention to monounsaturated fats, which believe it or not, predominate in extra virgin olive oil, also known as EVOO these days. And effectively, several studies have proven its advantages over other oils. So why should we choose this oil instead?

Why you should be cooking with extra virgin olive oil

  1. Main reasons to use it:
    1. It’s more resistant to high temperatures
    2. It can be used in more than one frying
    3. It can be used cold beyond salads
    4. It has great health benefits
    5. It’s less caloric than other oils
  2. Problems other common oils have:
    1. Sunflower oil
    2. Soy oil
    3. Butter
    4. Coconut oil
    5. Refined olive oils


1. Main reasons to use it:

1.1. It’s more resistant to high temperatures

When we cook at high temperatures and use any oil, this goes through an oxidation process that alters its properties and begins to produce toxins such as aldehydes and peroxides, which are harmful to our health. However, it’s proven that extra virgin olive oil does keep its properties unaltered up to a temperature of 180ºC, therefore, it’s the best for sautéing and sealing food.

So if you are about to use it, just bear in mind that if your food has a large amount of water in it – such as some vegetables – it’s advisable to cook it between 130 to 145ºC. To make batters or breading, temperature should not exceed 160ºC. Whereas if your intention is to fry small foods like eggs or chopped like chips, it can be reached a temperature of 180ºC.

1.2. It can be used in more than one frying

For the same reason, if you want to deep fry your food, you should know that only extra virgin olive oil – thanks to its stability – will maintain the properties in more than one frying session. Likewise, in these cases we must be careful not to burn the oil, that is, to check that it doesn’t smoke before introducing the food we want to fry.

Additionally, since it has a higher density than other oils, it soaks fried foods to a lesser extent without invading their flavour, thus leaving them juicier and creating a crispier layer around them, especially if we place them on top of a kitchen paper after deep frying them.

1.3. It can be used cold beyond salads

We know extra virgin olive oil is a well-loved product to use on salad dressing. However, besides the typical vinaigrette, this vegetable oil can be the best emulsifier of any other type of sauce providing a perfect texture and an exquisite flavour to, for instance, mayonnaise, aioli and more avant-garde preparations.

Avant-garde preparations with extra virgin olive oil
Avant-garde preparations with extra virgin olive oil

On the other hand, extra virgin olive oil is ideal for the natural preservation of many foods, whether they are pickled, candied or marinated. This is due to its antioxidant properties that help isolate food so that it doesn’t come into contact with harmful microorganisms. And, beyond that:

1.4. It has great health benefits

Extra virgin olive oil is basically the juice extracted from olives. Its cold extraction, only by mechanical means, guarantees the preservation of most of the olive’s beneficial properties. Unlike the production of other vegetable oils, there’s no need to use chemicals in order to obtain it. That is, extra virgin olive oil is not a refined oil such as, for instance, sunflower oil.

Undeniably, extra virgin olive oil has great health benefits. It has a large amount of polyphenols and vitamins among other compounds, which are natural antioxidants that help our body reduce cholesterol. In fact, its moderate consumption on a daily basis helps prevent cardiovascular diseases, reducing by 30% the possibility of suffering from myocardial infarction or stroke.

In addition, these same studies have proven that the presence of antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil can help prevent certain types of cancer and Alzheimer’s, and can help control glucose levels, making it ideal for Type 2 Diabetes’ patients.

On the other hand, this oil is useful to combat gastric acidity and even the appearance of ulcers since it facilitates intestinal transit. Besides, it improves the absorption capacity of calcium, which strengthens our bones. So what else could we ask for?

1.5. It’s less caloric than other oils

What is its composition?

  • Saturated fatty acids: 14%
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: 73%
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids: 9%

Although it is true that, depending on the type of olive used to make the oil, its fatty composition and its calories may vary, extra virgin olive oil provides about 884 calories per 100 grams, 73% of which are monounsaturated fatty acids, and most of them in the form of oleic acid, also known as Omega 9. And consuming these types of fats is much healthier for us.

However, you need to remember that extra virgin olive oil is still a fat that we must take in moderation. In this case, the average portion would be about three tablespoons a day, approximately 40 ml of EVOO, which would be providing us with a large amount of nutrients compared to other oils.

2. Problems other common oils have:

2.1. Sunflower oil

Although sunflower oil is a plant-based product, it’s also a refined one. That means certain chemical solvents were added to its production process, which implies the loss of healthy compounds coming from the seed. On the other hand, its high amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids causes a greater release of free radicals and toxic aldehydes when heated to high temperatures, and it’s even worse when it’s reused several times.

What does it contain?

  • Saturated fatty acids: 9%
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: 20%
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids: 63%

2.2. Soy oil

This oil, widely used in America and Asia, has a large amount of vitamins; however it’s always advisable to take into account the contribution of fatty acids when buying any oil. So, in this case, despite the fact soybean oil has a similar amount of saturated fatty acids than extra virgin olive oil, it does contain more polyunsaturated ones and less amount of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are the ones with healthier anti-inflammatory actions.

What is its average composition?

  • Saturated fatty acids: 16%
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: 23%
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids: 62%

2.3. Butter

Although butter has traditionally been one of the most important products in the preparation of many dishes, especially in Europe, since it’s dairy product coming from fat from animal milk, it does contain a large amount of saturated fatty acids. These fatty acids are the ones causing cardiovascular diseases if not consumed in moderation. For this reason, the extra virgin olive oil intake is recommended as an alternative, especially among people prone to coronary heart disease.

What does it contain?

  • Saturated fatty acids: 48%
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: 23%
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids: 2%

2.4. Coconut oil

In spite of beginning to oxidise at higher temperatures than extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil doesn’t provide the same beneficial nutrients for health. However, some studies may affirm that it doesn’t increase cholesterol either, despite containing a large amount of saturated fatty acids, perhaps because these are mostly lauric acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

What is in its composition?

  • Saturated fatty acids: 92%
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: 6%
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids: 2%

2.5. Refined olive oils

Olive oil and olive pomace are products coming from the mixture of refined olive oils and the mixture of extra virgin olive oil. Although they have higher acidity, this last contribution to their production means that these ingredients contain a greater –however insufficient – amount of polyphenols and vitamins in their composition.

For this reason, when you need a greater amount of oil, let’s say for deep frying, these oils may be used. Likewise, you have to bear in mind that there are culinary alternatives to deep frying, in which less product is used, and therefore, a better quality one can be chosen, especially if it is extra virgin olive oil.

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