“You do what?”
My colleague, a trained and experienced restaurant chef, couldn’t believe it. “Yep,” I repeated, a tad defiantly. “At home I cook just about everything in extra-virgin olive oil.”
Like many in the culinary world, my colleague believes that it is at worst awful and at best irresponsible to cook with extra-virgin oil. That’s because the flavor compounds that give extra-virgin olive oil its unique and often nuanced flavors (fruity! buttery! peppery!) are volatile, and heat (and light) can destroy those compounds—the very thing you’ve ponied up top dollar for.
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Extra-virgin olive oil, the thinking goes, should only be consumed raw and unheated to experience and enjoy its full flavor. And to get your money’s worth out of it. So why do I cook with EVOO? The answer is two-fold.
Cook with EVOO for Convenience
It’s convenient to cook with extra-virgin olive oil because I don’t typically keep canola or vegetable oil around, thus EVOO becomes my go-to all-around oil for anything savory.
Cook with EVOO for Flavor
Even though I know the oil is losing some nuance of flavor when I heat and cook with it, as long as I’m not deep-frying I’m not losing all of the oil’s complex flavor, and I believe my food tastes better for it.
Plus, I’m cooking with good olive oil but the not super-expensive stuff—that, when I splurge and buy it, is always consumed raw and unheated (most often in salads or as a dip for bread). And I don’t deep-fry much at home, but I do use EVOO for sautéing and searing.
Sautéing with extra-virgin olive oil doesn’t do anything overtly bad to the oil. According to our science editor Paul Adams, “The family of unpleasant flavors that arise in hot oil, like the fishy, rancid notes that show up in canola, come from breakdown of fatty acids; interestingly enough, EVOO is less susceptible to that than refined oils, because it naturally contains antioxidants that prevent that breakdown.”