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2021 Olio di Penne (back in stock!) and the myth surrounding cooking with olive oil

We're busy preparing the land for this year's olive harvest that will start in a less than a week! It's been such a pleasure to see the olives coming to maturity with branches hanging low with the weight of all the olives!

We are about to send out my usual message to all those who buy our oil and reflected on how many of our customers buy only a few litres for the year (and do so year after year). Cost will be a factor for some but for many others they limit their use to cold dressings because they believe the myth that you shouldn’t cook with olive oil. This is not unusual and in many more northern countries in Europe extra virgin olive oil is used only for cold dressings. However this urban myth is simply wrong and in fact there are considerable health benefits in cooking with olive oil, as well as the more obvious benefit that it just tastes fantastic.

The myth seems to have originated in the fact that olive oil has a slightly lower smoke point than some seed oils such as sunflower and corn oil. Whilst true, this does not make olive oil unsuitable for cooking. In fact, the converse is the case.

So, some science.

The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is somewhere between 180 and 220 degrees centigrade. Fresh, high quality olive oil that is kept well (like Olio di Penne) will have a smoke point near the top of this range. Cooking on top of the stove will typically be around 120 degrees; deep frying 160-180 and roasting in the oven 180. At these temperatures olive oil will be stable and at a temperature below its smoke point.

But the science also shows that it is not just that olive oil is safe to cook with, but that it offers considerable health benefits over other seed oils. In fact, it SHOULD (as a monounsaturated oil) be used in preference to most other oils and this is because polyunsaturated oils produce toxins when heated and even more so with repeated cooking.

Studies have consistently shown that polyunsaturated oils (such as sunflower and corn) break down more quickly at normal cooking temperatures and produce carcinogenic compounds called aldehydes. Extra virgin olive oil on the other hand, because it is predominantly monounsaturated, is more stable and produces very low level of aldehydes.

Professor Martin Grootveld, professor of bio-analytical chemistry and chemical pathology (supporting the BBC “Trust me I am a Doctor” series) had this to say:

“Sunflower and corn oil are fine as long as you don't subject them to heat, such as frying or cooking. It's a simple chemical fact that something which is thought to be healthy for us is converted into something that is very unhealthy at standard frying temperatures."

He recommends olive oil for frying or cooking: “Firstly, because lower levels of these toxic compounds are generated, and secondly the compounds which are formed are less threatening to the human body.”

It is worthwhile remembering that southern Europeans consume on average more than 10 litres per head of population with the Greeks toping the score board at over 20 litres per head. Meanwhile consumption in the UK is a small fraction of this but it is growing as is the interest in the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. I will do another blog shortly explaining what some of those health benefits are and the scientific basis for them.

Steve and Pete

P.s. Our olive oil, Olio di Penne, is now available to pre-order through our website or through the link below (and yes, it will arrive in time for Christmas).


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