Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Olive Oil Update: Can You Saute with EVOO?

August 11th, 2009 · 18 Comments · Food for Thought, Science of Nutrition, Super Foods, What to Buy

I can’t tell you how much joy it brings my heart to find a quality company with actual, reasonable, high-quality customer service.  It’s also great if they sell a quality product that I need at a price that beats the grocery store.  Today I get to share good news with you about just such a company…and confusing news about olive oil!!  Read on, if you dare…

Can you Saute with EVOO?

(photo source)

I have been searching and searching for some answers about olive oil, virgin and extra virgin, and I wish I had something good to share…but the more I learn, the more I find conflicting information.

I emailed a couple websites and browsed others, only to get a yes and a no on the same question.  *raspberries* to that!

Nonetheless, we might as well trudge through the jungle of information together.  I wrote a post on How to Buy, Use and Store Olive Oil: Some Precautions when we looked at EVOO as a Super Food.  I was left unimpressed with what I found and felt there were still more questions to be asked.  The discussion in the comments at this post at Kelly the Kitchen Kop inspired me to keep looking.  Here are the questions to which I’m looking for answers:

  • Is it Safe to Saute with Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
  • Is it Safe to Roast Vegetables with Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
  • What Happens to EVOO when Heated?
  • Can I Bake (Bread, etc.) with Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Safe Under Heat?

California Olive Ranch actually wrote a whole series of posts to answer my questions.  You can find them here and here so far.  They give an unequivocal yes to all heating with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I don’t know that I’m convinced, though, because I have to run the source through my “smart-media filter” and remember that they’re trying to sell a product.

I strongly disagree with some of the info in the first post, because one expert says that heating an oil to its smoke point is “not harmful, per se,” whereas my research tells me that hitting the smoke point oxidizes the oil, creates free radicals, and can damage your system working to cause cancer, heart disease, yadda yadda.  Not exactly what I’d call “not harmful”.  I feel like their experts are mostly focusing on flavor, where I want to know about my health.

I did appreciate this breakdown (from the second post) when considering roasting potatoes with EVOO:

The temperature of the oven or stove top is not the same as the temperature of the food being cooked. For instance when you roast a turkey in an oven set at 325 degrees F, the heat does not make the turkey also 325 degrees. Instead you roast the turkey at 325 degrees until it reaches the temperature of 165 degrees (or so).

However – the 165 is internal temp.  What happens to the oil on the OUTside of my potatoes?  More research needed!

Can you Saute with EVOO?

(photo source)

George at World’s Healthiest Foods (a site I go to again and again for nutritional information) writes:

If you want to use olive oil for cooking, we agree not to use extra virgin olive oil as it has a lower smoke point than others. We’d use virgin oil, depending upon the temperature. We use extra virgin olive oil in cold dishes, so that its fatty acids and antioxidants aren’t destroyed.

And because I forgot I got a reply, I emailed again and received an even better response:

Until we see studies indicating otherwise, we will choose to play it safe when it comes to heating extra virgin olive oil. The phenolic antioxidants that they feature are simply too important to risk potential damage through unnecessary heating. The 200-250 F (93-121 C) temperature range is the one we feel safest with when it comes to the heating of extra virgin olive oil and protection of its phenols. This temperature range will work well for making sauce or for the warming of a dish that has extra virgin olive oil added just before this warming stage (but not during the actual cooking or baking process).

And from the Weston A. Price Foundation site:

Those fats and oils that are appropriate for cooking or sautéing and will withstand fairly high temperatures are those that have been in use for thousands of years, including olive oil as well as the more stable saturated coconut and palm oils and the animal tallows. An oil such as sesame oil with its special heat-activated antioxidants can be blended with coconut oil and olive oil to form a very stable good cooking oil.

Huh?  So now EVOO is the best for sauteeing?  I’m lost!

UPDATE 8/24/09: From Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, The Schwarzbein Principle: “Yes, you can saute in EVOO as long as the olive oil used to cook with is not already rancid and the temperature of cooking doesn’t exceed the smoke point of 375. Which I don’t think should when you saute!
If you exceed this temp than the fatty acids begin to degrade and that is when oxidation occurs. If the oil is rancid then the fatty acids have already degraded, so it shouldn’t be used in any case.”

So I ask another question:  Are There Still Health Benefits to Virgin Olive Oil (and is that a better choice for heat)?

Virgin Olive Oil and Cooking

World’s Healthiest Foods says this:

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition indicates that virgin olive oil provides significantly greater protection against free radical damage to LDL cholesterol-one of the first steps in the initiation of atherosclerosis.

Now I consider:  I’m reading that virgin olive oil has some health benefits.  I understand that extra virgin may be sketchy at best at high heat, and I’m not always so good at watching my sauteeing closely.  Virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point (420 vs. 375, according to Wikipedia), so it seems that it would be safer to use in cooking and roasting.  I can roast some Yum-O potatoes at 400 and feel safe.  Right?

This is an awful lot of information to digest for one night.  I’m going to make part two of the Olive Oil Update the part where I get to share my new oil source company and more information from their chemist, who was kind enough to answer my emails very thoroughly (just one of the reasons I like this company!).  Come on back tomorrow for my entry in The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter Thursday:  A Good Deal on Top Fats (Or, Why I have 63 Pounds of Coconut and Olive Oil on my Porch).

For now, somebody should tell Rachel Ray to quit sauteeing in EVOO, don’t you think? ;)

Head over to Real Food Wednesday at Cheeseslave and Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

And a request for you:  next week I’m posting on healthy school lunches.  Any ideas or favorite tips and tricks to packing truly nourishing school lunches, preferably without (a) breaking the bank or (b) taking all day?  Thanks for your help!

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • Tanya Brown

    This is a great post, confusing but great. I love all the research you do:)
    On the school lunch thing, last year was the first year I made all the kids lunches. They really liked it. I bake my own bread so I start with that. I also use natural (fresh ground) peanut butter and jelly that I made during the summer (with the no sugar pectin). Or they ask for honey and that is something that I buy fresh and local at the farmers market. I usually put a fruit and a vegi in there. They like cucumbers, carrots, celery and the like. Apples, bananas, grapes, or peaches, they are not picky about fruit. I like to give them a treat like home made granola bars or cookies. They all like cheese and yogurt too. All of this is pretty inexpensive. I need to buy them aluminum bottles for drinking (instead of plastic) but after your post on that I am not sure. They can’t bring glass to school.
    Sorry for the long comment. I am looking forward to your ideas on lunches.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Tanya, Try stainless steel water bottles! Click my gadget wishlist at the top for a picture of one possibility. Great lunch ideas! Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Local Nourishment

    I, too, was very confused by the research I did. When I get confused, I scale back to basics and stick to what I know for sure. I know for sure that coconut oil has a very high smoke point, so I cook with it almost exclusively. I know unheated olive oil is very health-promoting, so I use it almost exclusively for cold oil applications like salad dressings.

    One shouldn’t need a degree in food chemistry to figure out how to cook! It’s sad that good, reliable, consistent information is so hard to find.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    I’m thinking I should use my refined coconut oil more for cooking, and wishing I hadn’t made the purchase I’ll mention in part two! You make good points…especially about that chemistry degree! Seriously. Maybe someday Kitchen Stewardship and Local Nourishment can be a source of reliable info!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Ari-Food Intolerances Cook Reply:

    Why use refined coconut oil in cooking? Shouldn’t you use the unrefined stuff?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Ari,
    It’s possible to use unrefined, but refined:
    1-has a higher smoke point
    2-is tasteless if coconut wouldn’t fit w/ the dish
    Hope that helps! :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Rose Reply:

    FYI: the only refined coconut oil that I’m aware of that has not come from rancid copra and then deodorized with aluminum and other chemicals is from Tropical Traditions. It’s a little expensive, but it’s the best there is and it’s actually comprable in price to the unrefined you can get at places like Radiant Life, Wilderness Family Naturals etc. if you buy it in bulk. I think the smallest container you can buy is 5 gal. but you might be able to get 1 gal.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Anne at Catholic Mommy Brain

    Thanks for diving in! My mom and I were just discussing this, and I need to get more adventurous with coconut oil. :) I’ll need 63 pounds asap :) Looking forward to tomorrow’s post!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • suzannah

    i never even considered that heating EVOO could release free radicals.

    i had wondered why rachael ray cooks with EVOO when regular olive oil is supposed to taste better cooked and cost way less.

    i usually save my EVOO for dressings and bread dipping…but the bulk jar i got means it is all i have, currently. your post def. makes me not want to cook with it–even in a pinch. thanks for looking into this.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rachel R.

    Well, I’m sure it should be fine for baking, as Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill says that even flax can be used in baked goods – the internal temperature apparently does not get high enough to cause the changes we want to avoid.

    I know that Jesus ate fried fish, and assume it was likely fried in olive oil, since that’s what they typically had and used then/there.

    If I could find my book, I would look to see if I can find answers to the other questions, but it seems to have disappeared. (I looked the flax question up a while ago, when I was wondering about the numerous bread recipes that include flax.)

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Rachel,
    THAT is good news! I keep seeing that baking with flax seeds (meal) is ok, but only from companies that sell flax, so I was never sure. I’m very reassuring about baking with EVOO after your source. Thank you so much! Super intriguing point about Jesus eating the fish. I like going to the Bible as a source for traditional foods. Thank you for taking the time to share with us – Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Skylor

    I really appreciate this article. I am a holistic health counselor and am constantly telling different clients different things about cooking with olive oil depending on what article I read that week. :) You take a nice, unbiased approach and I am glad you have contributed to this debate!

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Chris

    Although this is an older topic, I noticed one thing:
    The Weston A Price quite talks about ‘Olive Oil’, not specifically Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and I think most people agree all grades more refined than EVOO are fine for sauteeing. Also, the comment about people in Jesus’ time using Olive oil to fry fish, unless we assume that people then had the greatest knowledge about food safety which humanity will ever have, I don’t think we can use their 2000 yr old practices as a reference for nutritional science.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Goodgenie4u

    Most people in the food industry are driven by profit; theirs not yours.whether the food is packaged, frozen or served fresh at a resto. Most chefs know little or nothing about the chemistry when they cook, because they will add whatever is needed to make it taste good. In the west, with some exceptions like France, food is not about “what’s good for you”. It is about convenience in overcoming hunger first and then spending mega bucks on taste and ambience.

    The articles we read are often sponsored by special interests, to alleviate our doubts. Various lobbies exist to promote their products on food shows using celebrity chefs and doctors who often took little or no education on nutrition.

    The easiest way to look at healthy food, even though, only non organic raw materials are available, is to eat them raw, simmer, steam or grill them and use very little clarified butter to fry. At least it’s natural. Margarine is a molecule away from being a plastic and olive oil and coconut oil are cold pressed for a reason. Canola oil so far seems to have avoided controversy. Smoking point cooking as pointed out is a fad, as the oil will get oxidized. Do it once in a way OK. All the time? not good science for your immune system.

    The immune system only recognizes nature and not the brilliant man made chemical inventions. that we call food (denatured food I’d say) So it stores it around your waist, hips and your vital organs and in the digestive process get a nervous breakdown if they are handed chemicals for processing. Now that stuff they cast aside, we call toxins.

    The local markets that sourced from semi illiterate people. They grew food, using natural fertilizers, unpolutted watersand and were not smart enough to invent or use toxins. Corporations employ 1 dimension geniuses. I guess we need to dumb down to eat what nature has provided, just in sufficent quantities. The phamaceutical industry would lobby against it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Rugeirn Drienborough

    The reason you keep getting conflicting answers is that you keep asking conflicting questions. You need to clarify your research objective. Do you want to know:

    1. Is it safe to saute in olive oil from the standpoint of not catching fire?

    2. Is it good to saute in olive oil in terms of flavor?

    3. Is it good to saute in olive oil in terms of the nutritional effect on the food?

    Things that taste really good can be bad for you. Things that are great for you can taste terrible. And things that make food great tasting, or wonderfully nutritious, can be unsafe in the kitchen. Those are three very different questions. Separate and clarify your questions and the answers you get will start making a lot more sense.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • Good Fats, Bad Fats, and Why I Eat Plenty of Butter - Keeper of the Home

    [...] (any animal fats). I would also include extra-virgin olive oil in this list, but when it comes to really high-temperature sautéing, I would use something [...]

  • Pam

    Geez. Totally confused. I just recently stopped using vegetable oil. Now wondering how “bad” it really was and should I go back and save a few bucks a month? I buy whatever olive oil is cheapest and use it for everything, from baking to sautéing. So far so good. Coconut oil costs a lot more than olive oil, so can’t quite stretch the budget there yet.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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