Many individuals who often cook or use olive oil with any frequency may have some questions and concerns or best practices. Getting the best use out of olive oil is the primary goal, but also ensuring kitchen safety is another strong consideration most individuals want to be well educated on.
A question that arises reasonably often is simple but does need some explanation. Is olive oil flammable?
So, can olive oil catch fire?
Yes and no. It doesn’t ignite or cause a grease fire very easily. Olive oil needs to be heated to its flash point before it reaches a point where it will ignite. In addition, olive oil will begin to boil or show signs of high heat before it reaches these dangerous and flammable levels.
There are a few other factors and considerations to keep in mind when using olive oil often or when olive oil is used for specific applications.
It’s time to cover a few more points about olive oil’s flammability and if, indeed, olive oil will really burn or catch fire during a cooking session.
Olive Oil: Flammable vs Combustible
Scientifically speaking, olive oil is considered a combustible substance rather than a flammable one. This distinction is based on the temperature at which a substance can ignite and sustain combustion.
Something is considered flammable when it can catch fire and sustain combustion at or below a specific temperature. Flammable materials tend to ignite at much lower temperatures, raising their fire risk.
Something is considered combustible when it requires a high temperature to ignite and sustain combustion. They typically have higher flash points and don’t catch fire as easily. Olive oil falls into this category. It can be used for cooking and can be exposed to an open flame and heat source without readily catching fire in typical cooking scenarios.
Is Virgin Olive Oil Flammable?
As stated above, olive oil isn’t very volatile. It must be heated to a flash point or sprayed in a fine mist manner over an open flame to cause any form of fire.
A flashpoint is simply the temperature at which the olive oil can create flammable vapors that, if exposed to heat, will or could cause a fire.
So, is virgin olive oil flammable? For virgin olive oil, the flashpoint ranges between 375-420°and sometimes lower for other olive oil types.
Olive oil, including virgin olive oil, has a relatively high flashpoint, which means it can withstand moderately high cooking temperatures before reaching the ignition point. This makes it suitable for different cooking methods, including frying, sauteeing, and roasting.
However, you definitely want to monitor the hot oil while cooking and avoid overheating it to prevent the oil from smoking and burning as you cook.
Again, this doesn’t mean cooking fires will erupt in your kitchen when you have olive oil that reaches this high temperature. Have you ever had olive oil that pops or sizzles in the frying pan while cooking?
This is the scenario that can give you an early indicator that you are getting close to an issue or that the heat may be getting too high for the olive oil.
This is likely the olive oil hitting that point or slightly below when the olive oil is reaching its flash point.
Olive oil tends to boil or show signs of “popping” before it’s any real threat to cause a fire or be considered “highly flammable.”
What Is the Smoke Point of Olive Oil?
The smoke point of olive oil really varies depending on the type of oil you use and its quality, and the temperatures here are slightly lower than the flashpoints. Here are some of the approximate smoke points for different olive oils you may use in your kitchen.
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil||Around 350° to 410°F (177 to 210°C)|
|Virgin Olive Oil||Approximately 390° to 468°F (199 to 242°C)|
|Pure Olive Oil||About 410°F (210°C)|
|Light or Extra Light Olive Oil||Approximately 470°F (243°C)|
Why do these smoke point temperatures matter? The smoke points matter more when you use other types of cooking oils. However, olive oil has been shown that it retains impressive stability against oxidation even when heated at a temperature over 350° for several hours straight.
Extra virgin olive oil is made of monounsaturated fatty acids. This provides adequate protection against degradation during heating.
Is Cooking Vegetables With Olive Oil in the Oven a Bad Idea?
If you are going to cook vegetables with olive oil, you should only sauté them. Using olive oil is actually a great way to cook vegetables if you use the sautéing method, but one method people tend to make a mistake with is using olive oil in the oven.
This not only will burn the vegetables but can also cause a kitchen fire. People have been known to place vegetables in a pan, pour olive oil on the vegetables and cook for a set amount of time in the oven.
When olive oil is placed in the oven like this, and the heat rises to that flashpoint, as discussed previously, the olive oil is going to burn the vegetables and likely char the pan they are cooking in.
Long story short, when using olive oil for cooking vegetables, the stovetop and sautéing method is best for a great-tasting meal and less likelihood of a kitchen fire occurring.
Cooking Olive Oil on High Heat
Yes, olive oil can be cooked on high heat, but it is important to understand its characteristics before doing so to prevent burning or producing harmful compounds. Here are some tips on how to use olive oil on high heat.
- Choose the Right Type: When cooking over higher heat, use oils with higher smoke points, like pure or light olive oil. Extra virgin and virgin olive oils have lower smoke points and won’t be as suitable for higher-temperature cooking.
- Monitor the Temperature: A thermometer is a good way to monitor the temp and avoid going over the smoke point of the olive oil.
- Avoid Overheating: Never allow the olive oil to smoke. When smoke starts to form, the olive oil breaks down. Reduce the heat right away.
- Use the Right Cookware: Use cookware that can evenly distribute the heat and prevent hot spots.
- Keep Your Cooking Times Short: It is best to try to minimize the cooking time when using high heat to reduce the chances of the oil reaching its smoke point.
- Use Olive Oil for Flavor: Olive oil is a delicious addition, so consider using it to finish or dress up dishes after cooking is done.
- Consider Alternatives: For extended high-heat cooking, use cooking oils with much higher smoke points, like canola oil, grapeseed oil, or vegetable oil.
Yes, olive oil can be used for high-heat cooking, but there may be other options available for different recipes. Choose the right oil for the cooking method to achieve the best results and maintain the oil’s quality.
Why Should Olive Oil Not Be Heated? 3 Reasons Explained
#1 Potentially Harmful Compounds Released into The Air at Smoke Point
A few reasons exist as to why olive oil shouldn’t be heated, like the flashpoint that was already discussed. There is also something known as the “smoke point” when it comes to cooking olive oil.
When olive oil reaches this smoke point, it begins giving off toxic smoke, which can contain compounds that aren’t necessarily desirable to have in the air.
#2 Omega 3 Benefits Can Be Lost With Heat
Some of the best-known health benefits olive oil has to offer come in the form of omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids.
Unfortunately, when olive oil is heated, some of the properties and positive characteristics are lost in the exchange. Omega fatty acids can’t withstand heat or a high temperature.
#3 Polyphenols Are Damaged by Heat
In addition to the Omega 3 benefits being potentially lost during the heat exchange with olive oil, you are also likely losing a lot of the polyphenols (hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein) that contain high levels of antioxidants which are known to carry significant health enhancements.
When olive oil is heated, many of these properties are lost, and the olive oil begins degrading the polyphenols.
Putting It All Together, Although Not Common, Olive Oil Can Catch Fire
Although it’s certainly possible that a potentially large kitchen fire could occur specifically because of olive oil, if you follow some standard best practices, such as not heating it beyond a flash point and not using inappropriate methods to put out small oil fires, then you shouldn’t have much to be concerned with.
Although the flammability of an oil is primarily determined by its smoke point, you may still want to avoid using cheaper oils when cooking. This is mainly because you won’t necessarily have the same unique flavors and health benefits often associated with more premium oils like extra virgin olive oil.
How to Extinguish an Olive Oil Fire
When olive oil reaches higher temperatures and remains near a heat source, it becomes much more volatile.
The problem with olive oil or other cooking oils is that if they do happen to catch fire, they can spread and grow quickly. Even pouring water on olive oil will cause the olive oil to jump out of the pan, bringing the fire with it.
Trying to simply pour or dump water on the oil will only cause it to grow, become more dangerous, and potentially spread to other areas of the home.
If there is ever a potential oil fire in your kitchen, turn off the heat source and do not pour water over it. If the flame is small, place a pot lid over the pan, cutting off the oxygen supply to the fire or potentially use a mist bottle, fire extinguisher, or directly pour baking soda onto the fire to put it out.
Why Did My Olive Oil Catch on Fire?
Olive oil will catch fire after it begins to heat to its smoke point and flash point. Olive oil will start to boil or “pop” first. Following this, you will notice your olive oil beginning to smoke or “burn.” This is when your olive reaches a dangerous state where it can easily catch fire.
Use the methods discussed previously if your oil does happen to catch fire to help put it out safely and effectively.
Does Olive Oil Burn Off in The Oven?
Yes, if the oven is above 400 degrees, it can still burn in the oven. It’s not the stove causing the fire discussed previously.
It’s the temperature. Using olive oil in the oven when cooking above 400 degrees is not advisable, especially if it’s going to be a long cooking process or a cooking process that will require you to leave the kitchen unattended at times.
Is Heated Olive Oil Bad?
Outside of the potential harmful smoke burning olive oil can give off, heated olive oil shouldn’t cause any harm to you physically.
Sure, it may break down and lose some of its positive traits and characteristics through the cooking and heating process, but nothing takes place that would cause the olive oil to become “bad” or “harmful.”
If you are overly concerned with the heating dangers or fire potentials, you can potentially choose a different olive oil to cook with as well.
Can You Put Olive Oil in a Hot Pan?
Technically, you should add olive oil to a heated pan after the other ingredients have been added. Adding olive oil to a heated pan by itself will cause faster breakdown and the potential for the olive oil to burn or catch fire.
Adding cold ingredients to a hot frying pan is also known to cause damage to the cookware.
Overall, I’d add olive oil before the process and with the other elements already placed into your pan. I wouldn’t just put olive oil into the pan and begin to heat it. It wouldn’t take long before that sizzle and pop sound would start becoming noticeable.
Is It Worse to Heat Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
No, if you need or choose to heat olive oil, it won’t make a difference if it is extra virgin olive oil or regular olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil does have one of the lower temperature flashpoints, but nothing correlates with any health damages or health concerns related to heating extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to be one of the favorite picks for cooking, and not only is it safe, but it can even be a better-tasting alternative.
What Is the Most Flammable Oil? Coconut oil is one of the more flammable cooking oil options. It has a smoke point of around 385°F (196°C) and a flashpoint of 563°F (295°C).