One of the most common questions we receive during tastings and conversations with folks about olive oil is, "Can you use extra virgin olive oil for cooking?"
The answer is a resounding yes.
However, there seems be quite a bit of confusion and misinformation regarding this fact and it boils down to two points:
First, let's differentiate between extra virgin olive oil and all other olive oils. Extra virgin is the result of the first pressing of olives and contains the healthy polyphenols. Other grades of olive oil are refined and lose much of their nutritional benefits.
Extra virgin olive oil has a naturally lower smoke point than a refined vegetable oil (regular olive oil, canola, corn, soybean, peanut). However, this doesn't indicate that extra virgin olive oil shouldn't be used for cooking. As long as the temperature doesn't exceed approximately 325 degrees, it's perfectly suitable for cooking. In indirect heating applications, even higher temperatures are fine. Medium temperature sautéing is perfectly fine.
As the amount of cooking shows, channels, websites, blogs, and celebrity chefs have proliferated over the past 15 years, so has the amount of information and misinformation regarding cooking techniques and ingredients. A common refrain from many "experts" is to choose two different olive oils for your kitchen--one for cooking and one for finishing. This advice is primarily based on the notion that authentic high-quality extra virgin olive oils tend to be a bit pricier than non-extra virgin oils. However, using a lower-grade olive oil is essentially the same as using a vegetable oil--it doesn't possess the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
1) Use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil (like Spartan Oil) for all of your cooking, even if it involves heating.
2) If you need an oil for a high-temperature application like stir-frying or deep-frying, look into a higher quality refined oil with a higher smoke point. Peanut oil is a common one, but look into coconut and avocado oils.
Here are a couple additional articles for reference:
Yahoo Health - Should You Really Be Cooking with Olive Oil?
Huffington Post Healthy Living - Yes, Cooking with Olive Oil is Perfectly Safe