Many of us have wondered what happens when olive oil is used for frying. In general, when cooking with an oil (any oil, not just olive oil), you should avoid heating it higher than the oil’s smoke point. In terms of olive oil, the ‘smoking point’ is the temperature at which the olive oil begins to chemically break down to glycerol and free fatty acids, yielding an unpleasant smell and taste and generally losing most of its health benefits.
Olive oil’s smoke point varies from oil to oil. Average smoke point temperatures of excellent olive oils are at approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit as poorer olive oils break down at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher quality extra virgin olive oils are known to have higher smoking points. Widely mass produced olive oils generally have lower smoking points and are therefore more ideal to cook (particularly fry) with rather than simply consume in a salad or as a dipping oil.
As an olive oil’s chemical composition begins to break down when it is heated to smoke point temperatures, natural antioxidants found in the oil decrease, drastically lessening its health benefits. Smoke point marks the start of flavor and nutritional benefits degradation. Although studies have shown that frying with extra virgin olive oil is not harmful to your health, it is not suggested to do so. Try using a cheaper olive oil alternative for your frying needs and reserve your best extra virgins for dips, dressings, drizzles and marinades.
Myth: Frying extra virgin olive oil causes cancer.
Heating extra virgin olive oil past its smoke point will NOT cause cancer, however is not recommended since it is a premium quality olive oil that should be enjoyed as is. Although overheating extra virgin olive oil won’t cause cancer when consumed, repeatedly burning the same oil to its smoke point can begin to form cancer causing substances. This is not a concern to the olive oil experts because seldom would someone heat and reuse an oil that has been burnt, having a fowl taste!