If you’re frying an egg or making a stir-fry, you might default to pouring extra virgin olive oil in your pan. Olive oil is good for you! But if you're cooking with it over high heat on the stove, you’re using this healthy oil all wrong.
Oils of all kinds have something called a smoke point. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it will (you guessed it) smoke. But there’s more happening than just the release of a few wisps of smoke. The smoke rising from your pan is evidence of changes occurring in your food at a chemical level and affecting its flavor.
When any oil is heated to its smoke point, the compounds that contribute to its flavor break down and change the oil’s flavor. And when it comes to extra virgin olive oil, even heating to moderate temperatures can reduce the presence of those floral, fruity notes you look for in good EVOO.
"We recommend to consumers that they may want to save a costly olive oil with complex flavors for finishing and cold uses instead of cooking [in order] to preserve its flavor, and use an everyday extra virgin olive oil or just olive oil instead," Joseph R. Profaci, the Executive Director of the North American Olive Oil Association, told us via email.
There are so many different kinds of olive oil out there, and if you're going to cook with it, we suggest you use refined or virgin olive oils, which have less flavor and a slightly higher smoke point than extra virgin (over 400 degrees versus EVOO's 375, approximately). While pan-frying foods with non-extra virgin olive oil at medium heat is probably okay, you don’t want to turn the knob on your stove all the way up to high, or else it may start to smoke.
As tempted as you might be to turn up the temperature for time’s sake, don’t overheat your olive oil. Try out one of these simple 20-minute recipes instead.
UPDATE: This article was originally published on January 22 and was updated on January 24 for clarity and to include comments from Mr. Profaci.