When it comes to cooking oils, there are plenty of options to choose from. However, not all oils are created equal, and some are better suited for certain cooking methods than others. In particular, when it comes to frying, there is one oil that stands out above the rest: olive oil. In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of frying with olive oil and why it’s the way to go.

The Smoke Point Myth and Why Olive Oil is Ideal for Frying

For years, the conventional wisdom has been that oils with high smoke points, such as canola or vegetable oil, are the best for frying. However, recent research has debunked this myth, showing that the smoke point is not the best indicator of an oil’s suitability for high-heat cooking. In fact, the American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) smoke point tests, which have been used as a benchmark for many years, have been criticized for their lack of experimental validity and practical relevance in real-life kitchen scenarios.

Many experts now believe that the smoke point is not the best indicator of an oil’s suitability for frying, as it doesn’t take into account other important factors such as the oil’s stability and resistance to oxidation. In fact, some oils with lower smoke points, like extra virgin olive oil, have been shown to be more stable and less prone to breaking down when exposed to high heat, making them a healthier choice for frying.

white ceramic round plate on brown wooden table

A study published in the journal National Institutes of Health compared the oxidative stability of several cooking oils, including canola, soybean, sunflower, peanut, and extra virgin olive oil, under high-temperature frying conditions. The researchers found that while canola oil had the highest smoke point of all the oils tested, it had the highest levels of harmful compounds, such as polar compounds and trans fats, after frying. In contrast, extra virgin olive oil had the lowest levels of polar compounds and trans fats, despite having a lower smoke point than canola oil.

Another study published in the journal Volatility investigated the effect of different cooking oils on the formation of harmful aldehydes, which can cause oxidative damage and have been linked to various health problems. The study found that extra virgin olive oil produced the lowest levels of aldehydes when heated to frying temperatures, while sunflower oil produced the highest levels.

These findings challenge the conventional wisdom that oils with high smoke points are the best for frying, and suggest that factors such as the oil’s stability and resistance to oxidation are equally important. In fact, some experts now recommend using extra virgin olive oil for frying due to its high levels of polyphenol antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids, which make it more stable and less prone to breaking down under high heat.

brown and black mushroom on black frying pan

The Benefits of Lipid Migration When Frying with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Another benefit of frying with olive oil is the potential for lip (or fat) migration. When frying foods that are rich in healthy fats, such as fish, the fats reinforce each other, resulting in greater oxidative stability and improved nutritional value. This means that not only is olive oil better for frying, but it can actually enhance the nutritional value of the food being fried.

According to a study in The Journal of Nutrition, feeding rats sardines fried in olive oil normalized cholesterol metabolism more quickly than just consuming the extracted fat, and increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the liver.

Eating fatty fish like sardines is recommended because it has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (MUFAs), which are good for you. However, some people have suggested that the protein in fish might also have an effect on your blood lipids (fats). So, researchers wanted to see if feeding rats sardines fried in olive oil, or just the fat extracted from the sardines, would make a difference in their cholesterol and fatty acid levels.

fish on black frying pan

First, they fed the rats a diet with casein (a type of protein), olive oil, and cholesterol for three weeks to induce hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). Then, they switched the rats to three different diets for two weeks: casein and olive oil, sardines fried in olive oil, and casein with the fat extracted from sardines fried in olive oil.

The rats liked the diets with sardines, and when they stopped eating the high-cholesterol diet, their cholesterol levels went down. The rats that ate the sardines had the greatest decrease in cholesterol levels, and their blood lipids were more normal, with high-density lipoproteins (HDL) being the major lipid carrier. The rats that ate only casein and olive oil still had beta-very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles in their blood, which aren’t good for you.

The rats that ate sardines had lower levels of liver fat and total, free, and esterified cholesterol compared to the other groups. Eating sardines or the fat extracted from them also increased the levels of MUFAs in the rats’ livers. The liver fatty acid profile of the rats that ate sardines was more normal than the other groups.

Overall, the researchers found that eating whole sardines fried in olive oil was better for the rats’ cholesterol and fatty acid levels than just eating the fat extracted from the sardines. This suggests that eating sardines fried in olive oil could help normalize cholesterol metabolism in people with high cholesterol more quickly than just eating the extracted fat.

Using High Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Frying Increases Antioxidant Capacity

It’s important to note that not all olive oils are created equal. When using olive oil for frying, it’s essential to choose high quality EVOO that has been extracted using cold-pressing methods and is free of any additives or contaminants. This will ensure that you’re getting the full benefit of the oil’s antioxidants and healthy fats.

One study in Food Chemistry found that frying vegetables in extra virgin olive increased their phenolic content.

In this study, potato, tomato, eggplant, and pumpkin were cooked using deep frying, sautéing, and boiling in different cooking mediums such as water, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), and a water/oil mixture (W/O), and the changes in fat, moisture, total phenols (TPC), and eighteen phenolic compounds were measured.

The results showed that deep frying and sautéing increased TPC and fat contents, while both types of boiling reduced TPC, and the presence of EVOO in cooking increased phenolics such as oleuropein, pinoresinol, hydroxytyrosol, and tyrosol, as well as vegetable phenolics like chlorogenic acid and rutin, and all cooking methods conserved or increased antioxidant capacity as measured by DPPH, FRAP, and ABTS.

steam pasta beside tomatoes and plate

The study found that the cooking method, cooking medium, and type of vegetable influenced the changes in fat, moisture, total phenols, and specific phenolic compounds in potato, tomato, eggplant, and pumpkin; deep frying and sautéing increased total phenol content and fat content, while boiling reduced total phenol content; the presence of extra virgin olive oil in cooking increased the phenolic content of the vegetables, and all cooking methods conserved or increased antioxidant capacity.

In conclusion, when it comes to frying, olive oil is the way to go. Its high concentration of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, along with the food-fortifying benefits of lipid migration, make it the ideal choice for high-heat cooking. By choosing high-quality EVOO and following a few basic guidelines, you can enjoy delicious, crispy fried foods that are both nutritious and satisfying. So, the next time you’re in the mood for some sauteed vegetables, fried chicken or fish, reach for the olive oil and enjoy all the benefits it has to offer.


Willow Brennan is the editor of SeedOils.com, a blog focused on health and wellness. With an interest in botany and holistic medicine, Willow has become obsessed with the use of fruit oils and animal fats for improving overall health. Before starting her homestead life with her family, she had a short career as a park ranger, where she fell in love with the outdoors and the importance of preserving natural habitats. When not writing or tending to her homestead, Willow indulges in her love of photography and capturing the beauty of nature. Feel free to email her at Editor@SeedOils.com.

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