You frequently hear that olive oil has a low smoke point and is therefore not appropriate for frying. I think this is myth. Here is one source:
There are other similar sources. Also, Elevation Burger restaurants cook their french fries in olive oil and it seems to work well.
Where did the myth start? Can we put it to bed? Or can anyone provide any proof otherwise?
Olive oil does not have a low smoke point. The "myth" of low smoke point, however, is due to imprecise terminology. When discussing olive oil, the immediate assumption or meaning for most people is "extra virgin olive oil", which is an entirely different animal than just olive oil.
XV olive oil is the first pressing of the fruit, and to be a true "extra virgin" oil, it must be pressed without the application of external heat. This methodology gives the first pressing the characteristic flavors of the oil. It's those flavor compounds that have the low smoke point. Cooking with a good, expensive extra virgin olive oil results in, at best, flavors that have a more neutral tone (like second- or third-press oils) and, at worst, a foul-tasting oil due to the breaking down of the heat intolerant compounds into bitter- or burned-tasting ones.
Plain olive oil has a much lower concentration of these compounds due mainly to two factors: a large percentage of the compounds go into the first, cold pressing, and most plainly named olive oils are second or third "hot pressings" where more lower quality oils are extracted. I have seen "Virgin Olive Oil" once or twice; it's claimed to be the second cold pressing. I've had it once in a side-by-side (by side?) comparison with XV and plain; I could tell the difference between extra virgin, but that was all.
TL;DR: Most people mean "extra virgin" when they say "olive oil" so the spirit is correct, even if the terminology is incorrect or imprecise.
I think it's worth noting that there is a difference between Extra-virgin olive oil and Olive oil. Most places I'm familiar with that do fry in olive oil do it in a fairly low-grade, yellow olive oil that has a higher smoke point and fewer impurities. The point of EVOO is it's fruity flavour and heat absolutely does ruin that.
Oliveoilsource.com is obviously a sales site devoted to promoting the sale of Olive Oil. Trusting any of their data regarding cooking or frying with olive oil is like trusting the data over at http://www.sweetsurprise.com/.
Of course they want you to feel like you can cook with it. I used to stir fry all my stuff in olive oil. More than once I filled the house with smoke. That just doesn't happen with ghee, coconut oil or bacon fat unless I accidentally leave the stove on for way too long.
Also, they spelled "macadamia" wrong on their page.
Anyways, if you're following their advice.... "It is annoying to counter these conflicting claims when most people would not fry with olive oil anyway. A cheap, flavorless oil with a high smoke point is usually recommended - something like canola, soy or peanut oil." ... you would be cooking with industrial seed oils. They completely sidestep the issue repeatedly if you actually read these lame articles.
The smoke that often rose from my pans did not look mythological.
Butter, lard, and tallow are all much better. Indeed, since butter browns before it burns you get a nice visual cue (as well as smell) that you need to put whatever it is you are cooking in the pan.
It can be a little more complicated than that. There are over 700 olive varietals and they have different qualities throughout the harvest as they are picked. Also, some producers pick their olives earlier that will impact their Free Fatty Acid %.
EVOO has to have Free Fatty Acid % below .8. That will only get you to 330 degrees. Now, you can certainly deep fry at 330 degrees, I just prefer a much higher temperature. If your EVOO has been California Certified, it must have a Free Fatty Acid % below .5 (and they actually test it in order for producers to get a seal).
Free Fatty Acid % - Smoke Point Temp (degrees F)
0.04 - 425 degrees
0.06 - 410 degrees
0.08 - 400 degrees
0.10 - 390 degrees
0.20 - 375 degrees
0.40 - 350 degrees
0.60 - 340 degrees
0.80 - 330 degrees
So, ya, you can deep fry with alot of EVOO.
The problem with cooking with a nonsaturated fat is that it breaks down into free radicals and this happens BEFORE it hits the smoke point. That's why you want a stable fat like coconut oil, lard, tallow or palm oil that is saturated (i.e. there are no open areas on the molecule for oxygen to attach and "oxidize" the oil), especially at higher temperatures.
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