OLIVE OIL AND THE KITCHEN

Olive oil can be heated on the stove. And should. Before anything else, if it is not olive oil, it could be one from some transgenic seed or the result of a complex chemical process. So often, mainly from doctors, we hear the warning: ?Do no heat olive oil?. Rarely do these same doctors know how to answer why one should not. In fact, olive oil can be heated. It is just that, like any other fat, one should know how much the temperature can be raised without reaching the smoke point, which breaks its molecular chains and makes it lose its original properties.



As all those of antiquity and the peoples of the Mediterranean knew, this temperature is not so low that it cannot be used for cooking. You can cook with it whatever springs from your imagination. Suffice to know how to use oil. A smoke point is not something exclusive to olive oil. All fats have one. All must be heated under control, and you, chef, should be attentive to your pan whenever heating a fat. See the table. It is well researched and well known by olive oil enthusiasts, and published in the book, What Einstein told his cook by Robert L. Wolke, professor of chemistry at Pittsburgh University.

At this point, it is important to stress that with olive oil there occurs a known physico-chemical phenomenon: vitamin E performs a protective role for the vitamin A and the poly-unsaturated fatty acids, preventing undesirable alterations from arising caused by oxidation of the olive oil. In other words, olive oil has the capacity to resist higher temperatures than is disclosed.

Besides this, the most important fact, and one that is not found in the book by Professor Wolke, but known by chefs worldwide, is that one should not, and it is not even necessary, to cook at temperatures above 185º C. To sauté vegetables, heat between 155º C and 165º C is sufficient. Fish between 165º C and 175º C, and meats, 185º C maximum. Of course, all mothers and grandmothers (and my own mother is no exception to the rule), will not believe this information. However, we would remind that the best roasts are those that spend hours in the oven, at a low heat. The cooking manuals of the great culinary schools of gastronomy rarely indicate temperatures above 200º C. And several chefs agree it is unnecessary to use temperatures above 185º C. Although in haste to perform their professional duties, many exceed this temperature, they never let their dishes smoke, unlike many housewives who, in their daily lives, often put food into the frying pan while they wash dishes, answer the phone or dress a child ready for school. The result is butter or olive oil or another oil smoking. Irrespective of the type of fat, as much the fat as the food itself will be lost.

Olive oil offers an interesting property: only a slight rise in temperature is enough for it to expand, and in expanding, olive oil envelops the food and does not penetrate it, in effect exercising protection against itself. The result, provided that the temperature never reaches 210º C, will always be a dry, healthy food. To prove this statement, try making popcorn in olive oil. Still cold, pour the maize into the olive oil so that, upon shaking, the maize sticks to the pan. Just gentle heat is sufficient for the olive oil to increase in volume, for the maize to leap from the oil and pop.

For those who say that olive oil loses its properties upon heating, try cooking cod sprinkled with olive oil and kept within the recommended temperature. Once ready, smell the aroma and taste the flavour of the olive oil. If it has lost its properties, its original vitamins and components, it certainly has also lost its color, aroma and flavour. Well, I don?t remember tasting cod without an excellent flavour and aroma of olive oil.

I am sure that, among all the known oils and fats, it is hard to find one with so many attributes as olive oil. Few others will undergo so many independent studies carried out by industries, governments and producers as olive oil. Few will give us so many vitamins, and, above all, pleasure in savoring it.

Do not forget that, every day, there will be a fat in front of you. It will be from the most diverse sources, manufacturers and traders of the most diverse dispositions and characters. At this point, do read any pages of this site again to check what can be purchased, what can be consumed. Above all, never stop thinking what each of these foods means for your body, your mind, what each of these products means for your life. Health!