A Flash in the Pan – Cooking with Olive Oil


I get a few emails/comments per week warning me about the danger of cooking with olive oil.

I am going to make this article short and to the point, cooking with olive oil is only as bad as weightlifting is for kids.

Here’s a fun, 60 second video of me attempting to season a pan. I placed it on the heat, but then got side tracked. It was hotter than expected when adding the oil and I quickly reached is smoke and flash points…

You see, Italians, Greeks and Spaniards, among others, have been cooking with Olive Oil for centuries. Not decades, centuries. It is common to hear that heating olive oil above room temperature will cause it to break down, become toxic, turn into trans fat, etc… Don’t believe it!! Do your research and be prepared to give a reason for the hope which you have. I hope that hope is in the legitimacy of olive oil as a cooking agent…

When it comes to food science and cooking with oils, there are two numbers that we care about; the smoke point and the flash point. The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to smoke and break down. The flash point is the point at which the oil will burst into flames. The goal is to keep the oil below its smoke point. If you are searing or caramelizing, then just below its smoke point is best. More on that at a later date…

There are many articles and books out there that give smoke points for different oils. I am not going to re-write the book, but will give you links to a few articles.

Here is one from Good Eats that gives a spreadsheet of oils and there smoke points.

Here is a great article on Cooking With Olive Oil from The Olive Oil Source.

And, here is the site from the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC)who is quite possibly the foremost authority on olives and olive oil.

Here is a short excerpt from the IOOC:

When heated, olive oil is the most stable fat, which means it stands up well to high frying temperatures. Its high smoke point (410ºF or 210ºC) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (356ºF or 180ºC). The digestibility of olive oil is not affected when it is heated, even when it is re-used several times for frying

Aside from the aforementioned, every restaurant I have ever worked in has cooked with olive oil. I have been doing it for 17 years and I am going to continue doing it…

My point here is to do your research, use common sense, and don’t believe everything you hear.

I’ve been called crass once before, or maybe twice… I don’t mean to be, I just want to be prepared if I am ever transplanted into a community of Barbarians :).

Just like me, Olive Oil is your friend.

Keep It Paleo, my friends.

Hasta la proxima vez,

Paleo Nick


Leave a Reply