Refined Olive Oil vs. Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Culinary Applications

Those with a limited scope of experience or access to quality extra virgin olive oil typically make broad and therefore ignorant statements.  Often, these statements come from individuals who maintain high visibility and are " industry professionals", cookbook authors, or chefs.  These are often the same folk who champion the tired mantra that extra virgin olive oil can never be heated or cooked with.   

The fact remains that delicate, or what we refer to as “sweet” premium quality extra virgin olive oil can and should be used in dessert recipes designed to contain "olive oil" and in some cases can even replace other types of fats.  There are even some instances where a throaty, robust extra virgin olive oil may be selected for a particular dessert recipe to great effect.  Choosing the right extra virgin olive oil for any olive oil-based dessert is made easier when there is a broad selection of fresh, premium quality extra virgin olive oil to choose from.  The flavor and intensity range offered by such selection will help identify the right extra virgin olive oil for a particular application.  Those without access to such a selection, or who are faced with an overabundance of poor quality extra virgin may default to using flavorless, odorless refined olive oil as a stand in.  After all, the typical defects of rancidity and fustiness found in most supermarket and retail products labeled as extra virgin olive oil tend to be more pronounced when used in delicate desserts and applications.     

However, if a flavorless, odorless refined fat such as "pure" or refined olive oil is called for in any culinary application, it begs the pragmatic question, why not just opt for a much less costly refined oil that is similarly flavorless and odorless?  In fact, I challenge the reasoning behind using pure olive oil in any culinary capacity, as I can list several other refined vegetable/seed oils that outperform it where health benefit, cost, and functionality are concerned.  It is common knowledge that in the refining process, olive oil is stripped of the basic characteristics (flavor, aroma, and phenols) which are precisely what are extolled in good quality extra virgin olive oil.  And in a side by side blind taste test between refined olive oil, corn, soy, or canola oil, it would be hard to differentiate the "pure" refined olive oil from the others. 

Furthermore, refined olive oil contributes the same amount of calories tablespoon by tablespoon as canola, peanut, safflower, or soybean oil etc. without contributing precious antioxidants.  So, to summarize, if we are looking to cook or bake, be it a sweet or savory application, and want no flavor or antioxidants to be imparted from the oil chosen, then we should look to lower cost safflower, sunflower, rice bran, or grape seed oil – not costly refined olive oil.   If we are looking for flavor and health benefit, then fresh, premium extra virgin olive oil should be used exclusively.


Daniel Pitt said...

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Markella Vavaka said...

I totally agree with you as far as using good quality extra virgin olive oil. Like you said what's the point in paying a lot of money for an olive oil that will not give you the nutritional benefits we seek in olive oil. I live in Greece and I cultivate olive oil for my family needs from our olive groves and I know a few things about this oil. Refining olive oil strips away all the qualities that olive oil is famous for. I would also recommend using organic extra virgin olive oil cold pressed if possible. Pressing the olives to extract the oil by using heated methods also strips away the beneficial nutrients.