Long before Rachel Ray popularized the term “EVOO,” cooks around the world were tapping into the rich flavor of extra virgin olive oil. The smooth texture and slightly bitter flavor serve as an excellent complement to salads, sandwiches, and appetizers. It’s a prominent ingredient in many dressings and dips and is frequently applied as a finisher to a dish right before it’s served.
But what is EVOO in cooking, and how does it actually differ from other olive oils? Here’s everything you need to know, from EVOO’s meaning to how it’s most frequently used.
What is EVOO in Cooking?
“EVOO” is an abbreviation for “extra virgin olive oil.” The use of this term was popularized by celebrity chef Rachel Ray. It’s since spread from her programs to a more general audience. While you’ll usually see professional chefs and food critics use different terms to refer to their olive oil, the handy acronym is perfect for saving a few syllables or letters when discussing this common kitchen condiment.
EVOO vs Regular Olive Oil
Olive oil comes in many varieties. Extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, is one of the most expensive types. It’s a high grade of unrefined olive oil that has a distinct, fruity flavor. Extra virgin olive oil is cold pressed and must pass a rigorous series of tests in order to be certified as extra virgin. Regular olive oil, by contrast, includes any oil that’s manufactured from olives. It’s still sometimes cold pressed, but some olive oil manufacturers also use heat or chemicals to make normal olive oil.
This means that extra virgin olive oil and regular olive oil have a number of differences. The most obvious one is the taste. EVOO has a much more distinct flavor than regular olive oil. A well made EVOO will have a bold, complex taste that’s quite reminiscent of olives, while ordinary olive oil tends to simply taste smooth. In fact, regular olive oil has so little flavor that manufacturers usually mix it with a little bit (about 10%) of EVOO to spice things up.
Another big difference is cost. EVOO can be very expensive, while regular olive oil is fairly cheap. This is because regular olive oil can be produced via a number of methods, while EVOO must be carefully cold-pressed. Not only that, EVOO must pass strict quality control. Batches that fail to meet the proper standard must be sold as “virgin” or even regular olive oil. This makes EVOO quite difficult to produce.
It’s worth noting that while you don’t frequently hear about it, there’s a grade of olive oil called “virgin.” This grade exists somewhere in between the rich luxuriousness of EVOO and the cheap efficiency of regular olive oil. It’s great for any application where you’ll taste the olive oil a little bit but it’s not the focus of the dish.
Can You Cook With EVOO?
Cooking is all about experimenting to find the combination of flavors and ingredients that work best for you. That said, you really shouldn’t add EVOO to a dish that’s about to be cooked. The best way to get the most out of your EVOO is to add it to cold dishes, like sandwiches or salads, or drizzle it on dishes after they come out of the oven.
The reason for this is twofold. First of all, EVOO has a fairly low smoke point, which means that it burns and starts tasting bad if you get it too hot. The second reason is that the flavors inside of EVOO are even more sensitive than the oil itself. You don’t have to let olive oil get hot for it to become bland and tasteless. Instead, olive oil is so sensitive that it will degrade rapidly if you leave it out under a bright electric light. It fares far worse if you throw it in an oven for a couple hours, even if the oven temperature is below the actual smoke point of the oil.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t cook with olive oil at all. Instead, simply avoid using the expensive extra virgin stuff for recipes that involve lots of heat. Substitute a cheaper generic olive oil to save money and ensure that your oil doesn’t burn. You’ll get the exact same effect on the flavor and texture of the finished dish when you use olive oil for cooking (with heat) instead of EVOO.
Smoke Point of EVOO
The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which substances in the oil start to literally burn. If you cook an oil past its smoke point it will smell funny and start to taste bad, quickly ruining your recipe. EVOO has a fairly low smoke point that varies based on the brand, quality, and type of oil you purchase. It tends to range between 320 F and 400F. Virgin olive oil, which is somewhere in between EVOO and regular olive oil in quality, has a smoke point of around 410F, while regular olive oil can have a smoke point as high as 470F.
Bear in mind that the smoke point of an oil is not the point at which it loses flavor. Instead, it’s the point at which it burns. Olive oil is very sensitive to both heat and light and should be mostly used in dishes that are fairly close to room temperature. It is, however, quite safe to use as a sauteeing and even a frying oil for many frying temperatures. You’ll spend quite a lot of money to simply cook out the distinctive taste, but you won’t burn your oil or ruin anything.
On the off chance that you’re interested, olive oil’s boiling point is somewhere around 570F. This is well above the point at which it starts to smoke and parts of the oil start to burn. You’re probably not going to boil olive oil at home.
The flash point of an oil is the temperature at which small flames will start dancing above the surface of the oil. It won’t fully combust, but the fire is liable to quickly spread and become a massive safety hazard if you don’t deal with it properly. The flash point of olive oil is about 600F, which is again well outside of the range of normal cooking temperatures. You’re unlikely to light your olive oil on fire unless you set your burner on high for quite a while.
Olive oil cooking is not hugely different from cooking in canola oil or another common kitchen vegetable oil. Feel free to simply substitute one of these products in any dish where the specific flavor of olive oil is not required.
While olive oil (and olives in general) features prominently in many Italian dishes, pizza is one of the best ways to showcase the flavor of your favorite EVOO. You don’t want to cook your olive oil with your pizza, at least not most of it. While some top Italian chefs advocate adding a bit of olive oil to your pizza before it cooks, they do so only to help the flavors meld together and to inspire chemical reactions with ingredients in your tomatoes. The olive oil you’ll taste is the stuff you drizzle on your pizza after it’s done being cooked.
Want to make a tasty pizza with EVOO at home? Here’s a simple recipe that will leave you wanting more. This simple pizza combines classic flavors in a wonderful way that brings out the best of each ingredient.
EVOO Pizza Ingredients:
1 12″ pizza crust, pre-baked (you can buy dough at the store and cook it, buy a pre-baked crust, or make one yourself from scratch)
1.5 cups mozzarella, shredded
1 cup fresh tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup olives, sliced
1/4 cup peppers, sliced
1/4 cup pesto (you can substitute a bit of fresh basil instead if you’d like)
plenty of EVOO to drizzle
EVOO Pizza Instructions
1. Prepare your pizza crust. If you’re making it from scratch, use your favorite recipe. Otherwise, use the instructions that come with the crust you bought. Next, preheat your oven to 450 F.
2. Once your crust is fully cooked, brush it with pesto. If you’d like to use fresh basil instead, brush the crust with a thin layer of olive oil.
3. Load up your pizza with the other ingredients, starting with the cheese. Feel free to add more toppings or remove toppings you don’t like. My favorite additions include salami, artichoke hearts, and fresh herbs. When I want a simpler dish, however, I’ll cut everything but the tomatoes, pesto (or basil), cheese, and olive oil. Both styles are delicious in different ways.
4. Bake the pizza in the oven at 450 for about 12 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
5. Remove the pizza from your oven. Let it cool until it’s nearly ready to serve and then drizzle on several teaspoons of your favorite EVOO.
Olive oil is a prominent ingredient in many dressings and sauces. It’s often the base for aioli, it’s a major ingredient in many oil and vinegar type salad dressings, and it makes a wonderful sauce for pasta when combined with ingredients like basil, garlic, or cheese. It’s also a sauce on its own: many cultures around the world enjoy dipping foods directly in olive oil. Here’s a simple way to spice up your oil a little bit to make a simple sauce that can be used for pasta, salads, dipping, and more.
EVOO Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 cup EVOO
1/2 tsp garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp oregano
salt and pepper to taste
EVOO Sauce Instructions:
1. Add ingredients to a bowl (or plate) and stir. Taste and adjust herbs, spices, and salt as needed. For the best experience, let your sauce sit in the fridge for at least a half an hour before serving. This will help infuse the oil with all of the other flavors and give you a vibrant sauce that gracefully combines natural olive notes with your favorite spices.
Choosing the Best EVOO
EVOO is pretty popular. It’s expensive, too. In order to get the most for your money, here are some tips to follow to choose the best EVOO for your kitchen.
1. Look for a dark container
EVOO loses its distinctive taste pretty fast when it’s exposed to light and heat. Look for an oil that’s stored in a dark glass container or even a solid tin. Anything in clear plastic is going to be low quality.
2. Look for an age statement
While olive oil doesn’t go bad very fast, it doesn’t get better with age. Ideally, you want fresh olive oil, although anything with a harvest date within the last couple years is probably fine.
3. Find olive oil from an actual olive estate
If the oil you’re buying mentions an estate specifically on the label, you’re probably getting the right stuff. Olive oil is somewhat similar to wine in that aficionados will go a long way to find a bottle of oil from their favorite estate. You don’t necessarily need to recognize the name. Instead, view it as a positive endorsement. If the estate puts their name on the olive oil, they’re proud of the quality.
4. Ignore oil color
The folks who grade olive oil professionally go through a careful process to avoid coloring their perception of olive oil based on its appearance. They’ll view it through colored glass and judge it by taste and texture alone. While you don’t necessarily need to mimic their procedure, you should take it as a sign that the color of your olive oil does not matter. Whether it’s dark, light, green, yellow, or a different color, the taste, smell, and texture are the attributes that really matter.
5. Don’t get Italian olive oil
If you don’t live in Italy, don’t get Italian oil. There’s probably a local olive estate that produces fresh, high-quality oil that you can get much cheaper. Statements like “Product of Italy” don’t mean much, anyway: the olives themselves could have been grown in another Mediterranean country and shipped to Italy for processing.
6. Store your EVOO properly
Heat and light are the enemies of EVOO. Make sure your olive oil is stored in a dark cupboard at room temperature. Don’t refrigerate it, as too much cold air can cause condensation to ruin your oil’s flavor.
Is EVOO Healthy?
The health benefits of various foods are always the subject of lots of debate. Nevertheless, there have been promising studies that suggest that olive oil is full of healthy fats that are quite good for you. The FDA goes as far as to suggest eating about two tablespoons of olive oil each day in order to ward off heart disease. Olive oil has plenty of vitamins, minerals, and other healthy compounds, including omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. Its vitamin E content is particularly high, making it great for your skin.
EVOO does more than just that, however. One study showed that olive oil could help lower blood pressure, for example, while others indicate that it helps to regulate cholesterol, lowering LDL and improving HDL. It’s full of healthy fats that improve arterial function and keep your heart strong.
It’s unclear which way the causal arrow points, but studies have associated olive oil consumption or use in cooking with a reduced chance of strokes, less mental illness (including depression), and a reduced rate of cognitive decline due to age.
The antioxidants in olive oil may help combat skin cancer. Olive oil is a major component of the “Mediterranean diet,” which has been widely studied and confers many benefits, including the ones listed above. It’s been theorized that the vitamin E in olive oil serves an important role as an antioxidant, lowering the cancer rate among people who partake of this diet.
Again, though, it’s not always clear which way the causal arrow points. Olive oil is often consumed with things like tomatoes and cheese, which may be the real heroes. It is, however, considered to be a fairly healthy food.
EVOO: The Ultimate Cooking Companion
Extra virgin olive oil has a pleasant, fruity flavor and a wonderful texture. It’s a great way to finish off many dishes, from pasta, salads, and sandwiches to cooked meats, vegetables, or even potatoes. A little bit of olive oil, some fresh herbs, and a pinch of salt can help unlock a dish’s natural flavor and elevate a simple vegetable into an appetizer worth raving about. To make the most out of your EVOO, I suggest trying a range of recipes from around the world. Try making hummus, Caprese salad, and ful mudammas in order to get your feet wet, then start branching out and experimenting with your favorite flavors and spices. You’ll quickly learn how to use EVOO to bring out the best flavors in just about everything you cook.