There’s a craze among my family and friends over the health benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and we are using it on everything. Many of us (myself included) have even purchased specialized sprayers for their misapplication in the kitchen. On several dining occasions I’ve witnessed (and participated in) a new cooking ritual where one team attends to the home’s smoke alarm, windows, and doors while the other operates the oven door. This highly choreographed act opens along with the windows and doors, hits its crescendo during a synchronized dance involving the waving of colorful dish towels to the incessant beat of the smoke alarm’s chirp, and closes with tears, apology, confusion, and the oven door.
The one factor we all seem to have happily overlooked is the smoke point of the oil we are cooking with. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and produce smoke. It should be noted that the smoke point is well bellow the flash point (the point when the oil ignites).
The smoke point for most common cooking oils is in the 225F (107C) to 520F (270C) range and a particular oils smoke point should dictate their application in cooking. Varieties of canola and peanut oil have a smoke point around 450F (232C) and are typically used in applications such as deep fat friers while extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point around 320F (160C) and is typically used for cooler application such as vinaigrette, pasta / salad drizzles, or eaten with bread and a little pepper.
I can’t help but wonder, what health benefits (not to mention flavor) we’ve negated with our misapplication of the Olive Oils we purchase.