Debunking Misinformation about Olive Oil & Cooking

We’re tuned into cyberspace – including Twitter and the blogosphere – so we see a lot of what people are saying about olive oil. Not surprisingly, we occasionally run across stuff that’s just plain wrong.

Egg fried in extra virgin olive oil

Fortunately, there are plenty of online experts jumping in to debunk bogus info.  “Just crap” is how Australian olive oil expert Richard Gawel described a misleading blog.

Two bits of misinformation caught our attention recently and I’d like to dispel the inaccuracies.

For starters, it’s just plain wrong that olive loses its healthy benefits when used in cooking. Likewise, it doesn’t transform into something unhealthy when heated above 350 degrees.  (Gawel used the “crap” comment in a Tweet about a blog post involving a discussion that erroneously tried to link olive oil – when heated to a certain temperature – to trans fat even though there’s absolutley no truth in that at all.)

People ask us if you can cook with extra virgin olive oil – or if it should be used only to finish a dish such as roasted vegetables or fish. Yes, you can roast and fry foods with EVOO. The food will taste better, for starters.

And, notes nutritionist Karen Collins, EVOO doesn’t suffer a significant loss in health benefits when used to cook. Collins is a nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research, a nonprofit which funds cancer-prevention research.  “Olive oil is a very healthful oil and most people are aware of its heart-healthy monounsaturated fat,” she says.

Collins told us she wrote a piece for the AICR web site to deflect misinformation she’d read online about cooking and olive oil. In a Q&A, Collins responded to the question of whether EVOO “loses its health benefits when cooked?”

No, she says. It doesn’t destroy the polyphenols EVOO contains. Polyphenols, by the way, are chemical substances found in plants that may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

The most surprising item we’ve found was a blog wrongly suggesting olive oil forms trans fats when heated. Trans fats are something totally different. They’re otherwise known as partially hydrogenated oils and are found in stick margarines, shortenings and some packaged goods and fast foods.

“Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke,” says the American Heart Association. “It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

Not a good thing, of course.

No matter what you do while you’re cooking at home, you fortunately can’t create trans fats yourself. They’re created through an industrial process known as hydrogenation, in which hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.

“The hydrogenation process involves heating up oil under extreme pressure and then bubbling hydrogen gas through it in the presence of a Palladium metal catalyst,” Gawel writes in an informative FAQ. “For trans fats to form all of these conditions must be in place – heat and pressure and hydrogen gas and an appropriate catalyst.”

“It just can’t happen in your kitchen.”

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch