Hey guys, was just looking around to see if Sauteing chicken breasts in Extra virgin olive oil is a safe choice as far as carcinogens and oil oxidation is considered. It feels all right going by this article:
Olive oil represents a good compromise between fluidity and resistance for its high content (65-70%) in oleic acid, which is mono-unsaturated and less oxidable than poli-unsaturated fat acids. It is less fluid than soy oil, but, as the peanut or sunflower (with high oleic acid content, as it is now preponderant on the market) oils, it is much more fluid than palm oil. This means that the fried food will not be too greasy (especially if we do not forget to dry it!) and the oxidation is limited.
An added protection can come from antioxidants, which belong to two categories, lipophilic antioxidants (mainly tocopherols), more soluble in oil, and hydrophilic antioxidants (mainly acids, phenolic alcohols and compounds), more soluble in water. Tocopherols are destroyed or inactivated at 180 Â°C, while biphenols and polyphenols are more resistant and oil protective at higher temperatures.
These compounds are present exclusively in the extra virgin and virgin olive oils. Polyphenols are important for cooking, tocopherols for the preservation at room temperature. Actually, phenolic substances and tocopherols act in synergy, but this topic is another story. Here, we can be content to remind that the important variables for the resistance to oxidation of a cooking oil are an average index of unsaturation and the presence of phenolic antioxidants. The lattest, according to a recent study by UniversitÃ Federico II di Napoli researchers (Napolitano et al., 2008), prevent the International Agency for Research on Cancer and can form during the uncontrolled frying of potatoes, or the baking of some food or the roasting of coffee.
All these evidences support the use of extra virgin olive oil. Only virgin and extra virgin olive oils can be commercialized without refinement, thus maintaining the phenolic substances.
There are still two factors against extra virgin olive oils: the smoke point and its sensorial features.
The smoke point refers to the temperature at which an oil begins to emit toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic smokes, which contain aldehydes, such as acrolein, whose formation should be limited as much as possible.
Oddly enough, the smoke point does not depend on the degree of unsaturation of the oil but it is rather an indicator of the breaking of the bond between the glycerol and fat acids (Katragadda et al. 2010). At high temperatures, the glycerol undergoes oxidation and turns into acrolein, which can form in other ways too, although the decomposition of glycerol is preponderant at high temperatures (> 230 Â°C). The oil burns at as low temperatures as the carbonic chain of fat acids is short (short acids, such as lauric acid, are not adapt to cooking), producing several other aldehydic substances, not desirable from a nutritional standpoint.
The rule that recommends to use high smoke points oils is correct, although the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is not so critical as one may think, especially if the oil is of good quality and the temperature of frying is in the right range. The smoke point is lower (<160Â°C) for those highly acid virgin oils which are not adequate for frying neither for composition or for taste when heated (what a disgusting thought is the idea of frying with a flawed oil!).
As recently indicated by Katragadda, an extra virgin olive oil can have a smoke point higher than 190 Â°C and it could produce less acrolein than a safflower oil or rape seed oil 180Â°C. The acidity should be low, as well as the concentration of partial glycerides, free acids, and glycerol, that reduce the smoke point. According to the law, the acidity of an extra virgin olive should not exceed 0,8 (g/100 g), but a good and fresh oil can easily have an acidity lower than 0,4 (g of acido oleico per 100 g di olio). The only remaining issue is taste: some chefs are just skeptical about frying with extra virgin oils due to their too intense aroma and taste.
Our results have supported the use of extra virgin olive oils. The reasons of their better performance have been found to be related to the presence of phenolic substances, able to protect the fat substances from the acceleration of oxidation induced by the heating. Only the drastic conditions of the meat sauce cooking have brought to an almost complete decomposition of phenols.
Our reasoning brings to a conclusion: using extra virgin olive oils to cook is an excellent choice, both for the taste and for health, provided that a high quality, fresh and not acid oil is chosen.
One last observation. Does it make sense to use extra virgin oils to cook, especially to fry, given their price and value? In our opinion, yes, and we can suggest solutions to save, such as frying less often or frying according to the Asian style, in a wok type pan, where the oil is concentrated at the concave bottom of the pan, thus reducing the necessary quantity that dips the food.
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