As promised, let’s take a closer look at smoke point and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
The smoke point is the critical temperature at which heated oil begins to smoke. Bear in mind that when an oil begins to produce smoke it releases toxic compounds (specifically the carcinogenic compound acrolein) and it is therefore no longer edible. The higher the smoke point of the oil, the more suitable it is for frying.
The smoke point of an Extra Virgin Olive Oil is determined by various things:
the specific cultivar i.e. the olives from which the oil is pressed
the freshness of the oil i.e. how close it is to harvest
eventual impurities and acid content of the olive oil
Essentially the better the quality of the oil, the higher the smoking point.
Studies have shown that the smoke point of olive oil is actually higher than that of palm oil, rapeseed oil, soya oil and sunflower oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is actually the most stable when heated and does not change as much as other oils do when exposed to high heat.
The smoke point of a quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil is between 350°F and 400°F. A normal temperature for pan-frying (sautéing) is around 250°F, while a normal range for deep-frying is between 320-356°F.
Of course no one would ever suggest that heated olive oil is as good for us as raw oil is. Some deterioration is always unavoidable when Extra Virgin Olive Oil is heated. That said, keeping the olive oil far below the smoke point and using a lid when cooking are two ways to maintain some of the health benefits of polyphenols and oleic acid.
And as always, using a premium quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil will make the difference.