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When to Use Olive Oil

As healthy as it is, extra virgin olive oil isn’t always the smartest choice.

By
Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N,
October 22, 2008
Episode #014

For those who are into fancy food, olive oil is the new wine. You can go to olive oil tastings where the talk is all about peppery notes, and spicy undertones, and fruity finishes. You can spend your vacation touring olive plantations in Napa. You can spend a lot of money on some really special olive oils.

But it doesn’t make sense to cook with the good stuff. The compounds that make extra virgin olive oil so tasty and so expensive are quite volatile. When they’re exposed to heat for any length of time, they break down or evaporate.

Save your extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings, drizzling over cooked vegetables, pasta, baked potatoes, or even popcorn. Or, pour it into a dish and dip hunks of bread into it. That’s when you’ll really be able to appreciate the flavor that you’re paying so much extra for. You’ll also be getting the health benefits of all those valuable plant compounds.

But for sauces, sautéing, or roasting vegetables in the oven or on the grill, reach for the 100% olive oil instead. You’re still getting the heart healthy benefits of the monounsaturated fats and you’re not wasting money on compounds that are largely destroyed in the cooking process.

What Other Oils Do You Need in the Kitchen?

Olive oil is great for the majority of cooking tasks, but you may want to have a couple of other oils on hand, as well. Even the lighter, more refined olive oils have a noticeable olive flavor that sometimes doesn’t go with what you’re cooking. Canola oil is perfect for those times when you want a very neutral flavor. Although it doesn’t have all the extra antioxidants and polyphenols that you get with olive oil, canola oil is also mostly monounsaturated fat

When you’re cooking over very high heat, such as stir-frying, choose peanut oil or an oil that’s specifically labeled for high-heat cooking. These have a very high smoke point, which means you can heat them to higher temperatures before they start setting off your smoke alarm. Frying foods at high temperatures reduces the amount of oil that the food absorbs, so the end result is lighter and crisper.

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