Today’s cooks have a wide choice of cooking fats, from lard and shortening to a variety of nut and vegetable oils. But many ignore extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) believing it isn’t appropriate for cooking and baking. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Extra virgin olive oil in cooking
Extra virgin olive oil is the perfect cooking fat; it adds flavor to any dish and increases its nutritional value. Many cooks think that extra virgin olive oil burns easily, but the smoking point of extra virgin olive oil is about 375 degrees F. (depending on the free fatty acid content), higher than the smoking point of butter.
The important thing is not to heat the oil beyond its smoking point where it begins to break down. To avoid that, pour the oil in a cold pan and warm up the pan and the oil together. If you forget about the oil and it starts smoking, throw it out and start from scratch — at that point, it has developed harmful ingredients and cannot be saved.
What about baking?
Extra virgin olive oil can also be used in baking. It can replace any oil a recipe calls for without any significant changes in the finished product. In fact, it adds flavor and makes the baked goods healthier.
In recipes that call for butter, simply replace each cup of butter with 3/4 of a cup of olive oil. Baked goods made with EVOO are softer and chewier than those made with butter. So, if you are making shortbread or pie crust, keep the butter. For all other baked goods, try extra virgin olive oil. You will be impressed with the flavor and your baked goods will stay fresh longer.
Extra virgin olive oil is especially good for baking sweet and savory loaf breads and is perfect for pizza, focaccia and other Italian breads.
Health benefits of EVOO
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil. It has been the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet since ancient times because of its many health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants and contains mostly monounsaturated fats. Its consumption has been linked to:
- Lower incidence of heart disease
- Lower cholesterol (total and LDL, the bad kind)
- Lower blood sugar
- Other health benefits, including improved skin health and the body’s ability to heal itself
So, using EVOO to cook makes perfect sense for your health. After all, generations of healthy Mediterranean people can’t be wrong.