Frying With Olive Oil: Yes, It's OK!
When we refer to frying with olive oil, we're talking about home cooking and not commercial frying as in restaurants. One of the debates about frying with any oil is that once the oil is heated it undergoes alteration and decomposes. There is concern that the oil breaks down, becomes rancid and produces toxic products.
Repeated heating of the same batch of oil (as in deep frying in a restaurant), may very well lead to unstable and unhealthy properties of oil, but we want you to know that simply using some olive oil in your frying pan at home may be done with no adverse health effects. Richard Gawel, an Australian olive oil expert, states in an article written on the California Olive Ranch website that the polyphenols you find in extra virgin olive oil are natural preservatives and protect the oil from heat degradation. Gawel also states that "The smoke point of good quality EVOO is within the temperature range typical of shallow frying" on his blog Slick Extra Virgin.
Here is what the International Olive Council (IOC) has to say about frying food with olive oil:
"When heated, olive oil is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying temperatures. Its high smoke point (410ºF or 210ºC) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (356ºF or 180ºC). The digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is re-used several times for frying."
Freshness and quality of the olive oil plays a huge part in whether or not you should fry with olive oil. You want oil with a low free fatty acid percentage and a high polyphenol count. These two characteristics together will allow for a higher smoke point.
Smoke point refers to the temperature at which oil begins to break down. High quality extra virgin olive oils have a low free fatty acid count, allowing them a higher smoke point, usually in the temperature range of 365-400 degrees F.
You don't want to heat oil beyond its smoke point, because you run the risk of hitting its flash point, which is the point where it will burn into flame. Now, unless you're a chef at a Hibachi restaurant, this is never a good thing.
You may run into conflicting information on the Internet regarding the smoke point of olive oil. Depending on who is doing the writing, the smoke point for olive oil can range from 180 degrees F to 420 degrees F. One way to see for sure what the smoke point is of the olive oil you have at home is to try the suggestion of Dr. John T. Deane, the creator of The Olive Source, which is to conduct your own stove top experiment. Pour some oil in a pan, insert a frying thermometer, and turn up the heat. When you see the first hint of smoke, note the temperature on your thermometer and there you have the smoke point for your specific oil.
Here is an excerpt taken from an article written on "Frying With Olive Oil" by the International Olive Oil Council:
"Olive oil is ideal for frying. In proper temperature conditions, without over-heating, it undergoes no substantial structural change and keeps its nutritional value better than other oils, not only because of the antioxidants but also due to its high levels of oleic acid. Its high smoking point (210ºC) is substantially higher than the ideal temperature for frying food (180ºC). Those fats with lower critical points, such as corn and butter, break down at this temperature and form toxic products."
Rest assured that our oil is of the highest quality, therefore having a higher smoke point. So toss your fear of frying with some EVOO right in the pan along with your veggies and enjoy!