The answer is a resounding YES!
To make sense of it all, I need to give you a little lesson in science.
Oils are made of fat molecules (triglycerides), which consist of a glycerol molecule linked to three fatty acids. Fatty acids may be either saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated - which are terms used to describe the number of ‘double bonds’ present in the chemical structure. Saturated fats have no double bonds, monounsaturated have one, and as implied by the name, polyunsaturated fats contain many.
What’s important to know, is that double bonds become unstable when exposed to heat, oxygen and light – which is why you should always store your oil away in a cool, dark place.
Saturated fats contain no double bonds, which makes them extremely resistant to damage. Monounsaturated fats are also highly resistant as they contain only one double bond, whereas polyunsaturated fats are the most fragile, containing numerous double bonds.
Also found in oils, are free fatty acids - those that aren’t buddied-up with glycerol. The amount of free fatty acids in oil varies between oil type and quality. Olive oil is low in free fatty acids, which is good news, as they tend to be more prone to oxidative damage.
Not only is olive oil rich in stable monounsaturated fats and low in free fatty acids, it also contains an abundance of protective antioxidants, which resist oxidative damage.
The third aspect which makes olive oil a superior cooking oil, is its high smoke point.
The smoke point is defined as the temperature at which you see bluish smoke rising from the oil. It’s at this point that the oil is more likely to break down and form harmful compounds. Despite common misconception, olive oil actually has a high smoke point of around 200-215°C. To help put this in perspective, stovetop cooking is around 120°C, deep-frying is 160-180°C and baking in the oven may be up to 200°C.
What likely perpetuated the myth that you shouldn’t cook with olive oil, is that olive oil contains a small portion of water. As such, some steam (not smoke) will appear upon heating olive oil long before it even reaches its smoking point.
So there you have it! Not only is olive oil exceedingly good for your health (more on this another time), it is perfectly safe to cook with.
Image credit: Medical News Today