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Garlic Rolls @ the Union Grill

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     So it’s been a busy week, and you’ve finally managed to get the whole family in the house with no imminent obligations for the evening. Or perhaps you’ll have a friend stopping by later on, or even just a family member paying an overdue visit. When it comes to figuring out what to do for dinner, you’ll have to make a decision, one more important than the 200+ decisions you’ve made that day, one that will affect your whole wellbeing and dictate how the remaining hours in the day feel. In evaluating another night with delivery or take out, you may opt to tantalize the atmosphere and offer up a hot home cooked meal. 

     Regardless of what your traditions are, whether they be family recipes, online food blogger aficionado, or ‘whatever it takes to survive’, most every cooking tradition involves the use of oil and that simple truth is yet one of the most diverse and controversial kitchen rules as it sets the whole tone for the meal. When reaching for your cooking oil,  you may aim for butter, crisco, canola, or the now highly coveted, extra virgin olive oil but the subtley of dish’s success will depend on your choice.   

   In consideration of diet, we should look into why we cook with oils in the first place. They’re often high in calories and take up so little space on the plate, so it’s worth looking into why they seem essential, regardless of culinary heritage. Well, for one thing, oils are the most energy efficient calorie you can consume. They assist in providing essential nutrients (omega 3s, healthy fats), facilitate in cellular function and in regulating hormones. It has been cited that three to five servings of a premium oil can lead to a healthier life. And of course, they enhance the flavor of food and add an often desired silkier texture!   

  Venturing into cooking oil culture, the benchmark for many seems to be the smoking point, and this is where a lot of the furor over which oil to choose comes in. Does the ever definitive smoke point hold up to your dish? Are all health benefits completely eliminated? Does the flavor get cut in half? These are all viable questions that are often misunderstood or overthought beyond comprehension.   



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     Focusing on olive oil, there are many advocates on either side of the fence, those that wholly support it and others that won’t even consider it, and in understanding some basic truths, one will find that cooking with olive oil is a beneficial culinary pleasure despite the controversy.      

      Of all the cooking oils, olive oil has its claim to fame as one of the ones with the highest smoke point and that stability alone makes it one of the greater decisions in selecting a cooking oil. The smoke point is universally understood and known to be the moment when the fats begin to break down into free radicals and cause smoke in the air. At this point, the oil has become more hazardous to your health and more often than not, it’s better to start over. According to the International Olive Oil Council

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     

     The ability to take high heat is good, but does the benefits go out the window despite the fact that it can handle high temperatures? The answer is no, and in certain cases, the exact opposite has been found to be true. When sauteing vegetables in olive oil, clinical studies have concluded that the polyphenols in the olive oil transfer to the vegetables via the heat and enhance the nutritional value and energy content of the vegetables. 

Their results revealed that using extra virgin olive oil for frying vegetables increases their fat content and reduces their moisture, while this was not observed in other cooking methods.

     What makes olive oil so effective in being a cooking oil? The same reason it’s considered a healthy fat, particularly a monounsaturated fat. It’s the MUFAs that are amongst the most thermal resistant of oils and allows them to be used in relatively high temperature cooking. Though like many applications, a know of when and how is essential in order to extract these benefits. 

     In one consideration, the benefits seemed to be fairly quickly zapped away when heated in a microwave. As a rule of thumb, never put EVOO in the microwave and if you must use the device, drizzle it on afterwards. 


Photo courtesy of banditob(CC No Derivatives)

     Also keep in mind how quickly a surface heats prior to cooking. You won’t want pure olive oil exposed to the high heat too long unnecessarily and it is often used for relatively briefer cooking methods. Some studies have shown that the quality may decline by as much as 15% over the course of an hour, but realistically this is a small percentage over a less often used time. 

     When it comes to baking, olive oil is a great alternative to butter and other denser fats because it is already a healthier choice to begin with and additionally will add a smoother texture to your baked goods that couldn’t be matched by other options. Additionally with the infusions of flavors now readily available, using a potent and well made infused oil, the flavor will come through to the end! Welcome orange olive oil biscottis or jalepeno olive oil dark chocolate brownies!

Lemon Sesame Kale and Tofu

Photo courtesy of moria(CC Attribution)

     Deep frying, though there are many whom have sworn off this method of cooking, it is yet another option where olive oil beats out many other probably alternatives. But despite how you feel about the healthiness of deep frying, most everyone agrees that the food tastes great! There is even an old Ligurian proverb saying ‘fritta e  buona una scarpa‘, which translates as “even an old shoe taste good when it’s fried.’

     What makes olive oil stand out is that 60 percent of the moisture content of the food has to evaporate before the olive oil begins to penetrate which ultimately leads to a crunchier and less greasy result when compared to other fats. 

     So it seems that olive oil, as tried and traditioned by many cultures throughout the world, can withstand even contemporary controversy as to whether or not it should be cooked with. When it comes to healthy calories, promotion of cardiovascular health, and incomparable flavor, olive oil belongs in every kitchen. 

Written By

Matthew Barnes, The Olive Tap Ballantyne Charlotte, NC


Cooking with Olive Oil: Old World Tradition with Today’s Application

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