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It all depends on the quality of the extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) you’re buying. All oils have a smoke point – the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke and break down. High quality EVOO – the kind chefs use in restaurants – has a medium smoke point. Since the average stove top reaches about 266˚F to 293˚F when heated on medium, it’s completely safe to cook with EVOO on that heat.
That being said, this is not true of the EVOO commonly found on supermarket shelves for $10 to $15 a bottle. Those oils are generally processed through poor extraction methods, which results in a harmful breakdown of fat chains into free fatty acids decrease the smoke point of EVOO significantly, making it unable to withstand stove-top heat above low. At Clean Eating, we encourage you to opt for EVOO, since it is less processed and therefore higher in nutrients than the more heat-stable regular olive oil; however, unless you’re willing to invest in the high-quality stuff, it’s best to reserve EVOO for low-heat cooking or in cold salad dressings and dips.