Can olive oil be used for cooking at high temperatures?

Created on 7th Nov 2023

The question of whether you should cook with olive oil in general - or whether olive oil can be used for cooking at high temperatures - is something we get asked a lot about, especially when we do demonstrations and tastings of Pomora olive oil. The answer is absolutely yes... but with restrictions.

All of the Pomora olive oil is extra virgin (and at the very top end of that category) and you absolutely can cook with olive oil - in fact, you should do, due to the health benefits - but you must constrain the temperature to below its smoke point. This is actually true for all kinds of oils (not just olive oil), it's just that other oil types have higher smoke points.

The trick is to use the right kind of oil for the correct purpose. All oil (not just olive oil) are made up of three different types of fat: monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated and saturated fats. Every type of oil has each of the three different fats in them, they simply have different ratios. Olive oil has a high proportion of monounsaturated fats, the "good fats", which is why olive oil is deemed to be a super food that is good for you. The downside of having a higher proportion of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is that they break down earlier under heat i.e. they break down at lower temperatures.

EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) has a relatively low smoke point (high proportion of monounsaturated fats vs polyunsaturated and saturated) compared to other types of oil. The smoke point for olive oil is 230-240°C so it is absolutely fine for roasting and low to medium sauteing. What you can't do with olive oil is stir fry with it or use it for any other type of cooking which requires a very high heat. For stir frying you need to use an oil with a lot more saturated fats, which have higher smoke points. Saturated fats as not so good for the heart in too much quantity, but ok in small measures. To stir fry, coconut oil is trendy to use, but if you don't want the coconut flavour, then a groundnut oil will do the job.

If you do accidentally overheat EVOO (or any other type of oil) past its smoke point, you should throw it away and start again. It is really easy to tell if an oil has gone beyond its smoke point as you will see smoke coming off it. Crucially, above the smoke point, the anti-oxidants in the olive oil - which are good for you - start to change and become oxidants which are very bad for you and are carcinogenic. Furthermore, high-quality extra virgin olive oil can give off a strong aroma and taste sensation, hence why it is often used in dressings or drizzled over cooked dishes where the flavour of the oil is a key component [Pomora Lemon-flavoured olive oil is superb for this on salads, chicken and fish!]. If you're cooking at high temperatures and don't require the distinctive flavour of EVOO, you might consider using a different type of oil.

So, to answer the question of can olive oil be used for cooking at high temperatures, yes, you can cook with olive oil - just keep the temperature below the olive oil smoke point of around 230°C.