Can I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Sauté and Fry Food – Yes!

A blogger named Katie who writes a neat cooking blog, Kitchen Stewardship, recently asked us about using extra virgin olive oil when sautéing and roasting food:

I’m working on the safe heating point of EVOO (and virgin olive oil). What exactly does the smoke point mean? How do I know without a thermometer if I’ve reached it while sautéing? Does adding butter help lower the temp? … Perhaps the most perplexing question: How does the smoke point translate when roasting veggies in an oven? Can one safely roast potatoes at 400 degrees for an entire hour?

You can Saute and Fry with EVOO

Great questions. The short answer: You can sauté, fry, roast, and deep fry foods with extra virgin olive oil.

But we also promised to get back to Katie with more detailed information. So we turned to our culinary friends for advice. We got great feedback – so much that we’ll be spreading it out over a few blogs.

So here goes:

Can I sauté food with extra virgin olive oil?

“I sauté EXCLUSIVELY using extra virgin olive oil and do not burn my food or lose the flavor of the oil. In fact, a good oil ENHANCES the flavor of the food being cooked. I tell my audiences that in a home kitchen it is difficult to burn olive oil. However, in a restaurant kitchen – since their stoves have a higher heat output – a chef needs to be more careful. Pure olive oil has a higher smoke point mainly because it undergoes further filtering in the refining process.”  Nancy Ash, trained olive oil taster and owner of the consulting firm Strictly Olive Oil

What does the smoke point mean?

“The characteristic temperature at which a fat breaks down into visible gaseous products is called the smoke point.” Harold McGee in his book, On Food and Cooking (Scribner, 2004)

“The smoke point refers to the temperature of the oil when it will burn. Even filtered oils contain minute particulate matter that will burn before the sauté pan bursts into flames (I’m being overly dramatic to make a point!). This is not dangerous, per se. However, it will lend a burnt, acrid flavor to the food being cooked.” Nancy Ash, Strictly Olive Oil

What determines the smoke point of an oil?

“It appears the smoke point of an oil depends on several factors such as if it’s filtered or not (including settling which is a form of filtering), the grade of the oil (i.e. extra virgin, pure) and the variety (type) of the olives used to produce the oil. So since most olive oils are made from a blend of varietals, and the percentage of varietals used may change from batch to batch (even when blended by the same producer) there is no definitive answer to this question.” Nancy Ash, Strictly Olive Oil

By the way, we have a great recipe on our web site for eggs fried in extra virgin olive oil and topped with a Spanish-inspired Romesco sauce.

And stay tuned for more info on frying, sautéing, roasting and deep frying with EVOO.

Bon appétit,

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