The short answer? Yes, you can! A resounding yes, without hesitation or complicated qualification. Good quality extra virgin olive oil is a great ingredient to cook with and is suited for the majority of cooking processes. A number of industry specialists support the view that the higher the quality of your olive oil, the safer it is to cook with it. And let's not forget how much it adds to the taste of everything. Good quality olive oil just has an unbeatable taste that people yearn for.
Consumers are often confused about "smoke points" and whether those are "high" or "low". First of all let's clarify one point: not all olive oils have the same smoke point. It very much depends on several factors. You will get a better feel for this by the end of this article. Our extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of around 210 degrees Celsius (410 F). Which makes it suitable for roasting a chicken whole or a joint of beef in the oven, baking a cake, a quiche or a pie, roasting potatoes or vegetables. Most oven cooking takes place at 180-200 degrees Celsius (356 F). Beyond roasting we also shallow fry eggs, vegetables and fish in our Opus Oléa. Olive oil has been shown by research to remain chemically stable, without producing toxic byproducts even beyond its so called "smoke point".
Please keep in mind that olive oil that is unfiltered has suspended particles of olive fruit pulp and skin in the oil. It is these particles that burn and smoke first when the olive oil is heated during a cooking process. It is the same particles that will oxidise much faster than the actual oil, but that in doing so will turn the oil rancid and unpalatable before its time. Especially for oil that has to travel to get in the hands of the the final consumer, it is highly adviseable that the oil is filtered. Producers who do not filter the oil do so to avoid the expense and time involved in filtering - this oil needs to be consumed within only weeks from milling before it loses its benefits. Filtering olive oil does not diminish its integrity in any way. It is the step that enhances it.
The way high quality olive oil is filtered is a process that starts with "racking" ie. allowing the sediment that is suspended in the oil to make its way to the bottom of the storage vat through normal gravity. This takes a few weeks. Once this is done, the next phase of the filtering is similar to passing a mix of coffee grinds and water through a coffee filter. We use special papers and run the olive oil through them to filter it, to remove any particles left over from the milling process. This leaves us with a crystal-clean oil that will not burn when heated, while retaining all of its positive attributes. Opus Oléa is a filtered extra virgin oil.
In Mediterranean countries people have been cooking with olive oil for millennia. People in these countries who still follow the age-old ways of nourishing themselves and consume an average of 70ml of olive oil per person per day (in Greece), have significantly lower incidences of cancers, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer's, diabetes 2, rheumatoid arthritis etc. There is no such thing as a seed or "vegetable" oil in the Mediterranean diet. Other types of fat are not consumed in a Mediterranean diet except for the fats that occur naturally in nuts and meats, both of which are enjoyed in moderation.
People often reach for lower grades of olive oil to cook with because they consider them to have higher "smoke points" or be "better" for cooking. A lower grade olive oil, especially if it is of the pomace/lampante grade is an olive oil that has been refined in a factory to remove undesireable elements such as unwanted odors etc. It has therefore been heavily processed and filtered. While this oil is still better to consume than other types of oil and fats, it is not the best you can offer the temple that is your body and those of your loved ones.
Others worry that the valuable antioxidants and polyphenols in olive oil will deteriorate during the cooking process. The antioxidants in the olive oil actually significantly enhance the meats and vegetables that you cook, resulting in a synergistic effect with the nutrients that they carry. Vitamins in vegetables become more bio-available when cooked in olive oil, carbohydrates have a lower glycemic index when cooked in olive oil (particularly important for people who are at risk of or battle diabetes) etc etc . Please also see our other blog posts on how the antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil enhance the health attributes of vegetables and meats.
At the end of the day, whether you cook with a very good olive oil or whether you just reserve it for dressing salads, dips and other dishes with it, really only comes down to how much you value your wellbeing and long term health and to what you can afford to invest in it.