I recently ran into our family friend who is a well known chef and got to ask her a question that’s been *burning* at my conscience ever since a certain beloved friend put it on my radar. Is it safe to eat food cooked in hot oil? In particular, I was wondering about my personal hopefully healthy fav, olive oil.
Why wouldn’t it be safe to cook with hot oil? The concern is about an oil’s smoke point, which according to the ever-trustworthy wikipedia, is the
“temperature at which a cooking fat or oil begins to break down. The substance smokes or burns, and gives food an unpleasant taste. Beyond the smoke point is the flash point, the point at which combustion occur.”
We definitely do not want combustion, but even heating an oil past its smoke point can cause it be potentially carcinogenic, as well to leave nasty black grease in your kitchen. However, according to Molly, who is working with food scientists to make her recipes safe and nutritious, olive oil is in the clear (and she highly recommends it as a source of good fat and a way to make vegetables more delicious so you eat more of them).
The oils not to heat are those with super low smoke points, like unrefined walnut oil; those might be best drizzled on salads or even in soup once it’s been served.
To find out the smoke points for your favorite oils, you can check out wikipedia’s list (a few eyeball comparison’s showed it to be comparable with the other lists I found) or read this totally suspect article from the olive oil source (conflict of interest, much?). Note that refined, unrefined, extra virgin, etc, all affect the smoke point.