I’ve heard both sides of the argument, and I’m determined to find the answer once and for all.
I was pouring olive oil into my cast-iron skillet to stir fry some veggies when my friend’s voice reached a feverish pitch.
“You can’t fry things in olive oil!” she cried.
I looked over. She was talking to some other friends in a different room.
“People who do that are so stupid,” she went on. “They don’t realize they’re wasting the oil. Olive oil is for dipping. You need canola oil for frying.”
I blocked the oil from view.
I’ve always fried with olive oil. So have my parents and my grandparents. The stuff tastes great. And it’s part of the Mediterranean diet, which as we all know is probably the fountain of youth or something. But I’ve heard this anti-olive oil spiel before. People say frying olive oil is wasteful or even dangerous – they claim that the oil turns poisonous when you heat it.
So I decided to find out once and for all: should you fry food in olive oil?
“I do fry with olive oil all the time, but I typically fry at low to medium temperatures, so I’m not too worried about the smoke points,” explained our resident food expert, Israeli Kitchen’s Sarah Berkowitz.
As it turns out, frying is all about “smoke points.” When oils get hot enough, they start smoking. That means they’re burning, and that’s bad.
“You don’t want the oil to reach the smoke point because at that temperature, the fatty acids will break down and turn into toxic fumes and substances that are unhealthy to ingest,” Berkowitz told me.
In fact, olive oil may be one of the better oils to fry with.
“Smoke points tend to increase with olive oil quality, as the free fatty acid content tends to decrease and the antioxidant content increases,” explained Rachel Adams, a health science professor at Cardiff Metropolitan University in the U.K. “The high antioxidant content of olive oil could even reduce the amount of harmful chemicals produced during cooking,” Adams told The Conversation.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, flaxseed oil has a low smoking point, meaning you really shouldn’t heat it up. Light olive oil, by comparison, has a high smoking point, meaning you can make it pretty hot. If you’re going to deep fry, light refined olive oil is a good way to go. Extra virgin olive oil and canola oil are more in the middle – you can stir fry or bake with them, but don’t deep fry.
“Bottom line – if you cook at high heat, stick with refined olive oil,” Berkowitz explained. “Medium temperature on most stoves is 250-350, which even extra virgin olive oil can handle. But high temp cooking or frying deserves high smoke point oils.”
So there you have it. I will continue stir frying with olive oil. Unless of course, I overcome my inertia and cook something more interesting than stir fry one day. Anything’s possible.