Next time you think about coating the bottom of a sauté pan using that prized stash of primo extra-virgin olive oil to impress your guests, consider this: According to Olive Garden's culinary guru, because of their low acidity, heating these oils depletes some of their prized flavor.
It makes more sense to reserve extra-virgin and premium extra-virgin olive oils for dressings, dipping and marinades, says Schweizer. Selected from the first press of the olives and unprocessed, these grades also command top dollar for a reason: They are of the highest quality and deemed to have the best taste.
Most chefs know this, but it can't hurt to repeat Schweizer's advice: "Every grade has a distinct quality and flavor, making each suitable for different uses and cooking methods."
- Virgin olive oil, which is also unprocessed but slightly more acidic than extra-virgin, is a better choice for high-heat cooking methods such as sautéing, pan-frying or broiling.
- Pure olive has a high burning point and thus is ideal, Schweizer says, for deep-frying. It is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils and is the most common type found. It is often used to add flavor and coloring to foods.
- Light olive oil has nothing to do with calories and is not considered a quality grade. "Light" simply refers to the oil's color and mild flavor. This variety is commonly used in baking.