Olive oil is wonderful at enhancing and carrying the flavor of different foods and spices. However, in order to get the best use out of your olive oil, it is important to know which olive oil should be used in different situations.
Extra virgin and virgin olive oils lose their flavor as they are heated. Expensive, flavorful extra virgin olive oils are best showcased in UNCOOKED dishes. They can be poured over pretty much anything – drizzled on cheese or bread, in salad dressings, mixed with tomatoes and herbs, and much more.
For your typical cooking practices, including sautéing, it is best to use lower quality extra virgin and virgin olive oils. When used correctly, these oils can add body and depth to your flavors, enhancing your final food product.
However, whenever you are heating olive oil it is important to pay attention to the oil’s smoke point (the temperature at which the oil starts smoking). Passing the smoke point ruins the oil. Not only does it give the food an unpleasant taste, it also makes the oil no longer good for you. While the actual smoke point depends on the quality of the oil, the general smoke point is around 400ºF (204ºC). If you see the oil in your pan starting to smoke, you have passed the smoke point. Carefully discard the oil and start again. The smoke point for olive oil is higher than most oils, so it can stand up better to heat-intense cooking methods, including frying.
Though not typically done in the United States, olive oil can also be used in baking. Due to high heat used in the baking process, it is best to use lite, light, or mild types of olive oil. Olive oil can be substituted for other oils and for butter, reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol without altering the taste of the finished product.