Forget about finding a wine tasting event in your area for your next girl's night. Today's market is trending towards something a little healthier: olive oil. With the rise of boutique olive oil manufacturers and a trend towards interesting infused flavors, research has shown that olive oil is one of the fastest growing components of the food industry, enjoying around a billion dollars worth of annual sales. Unfortunately, even the priciest bottle of olive oil won't matter much unless you know how to use it. Here are two big olive oil mistakes you might be making, and how to change your ways: 

1: Incorrect Usage and Pairing

One of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make with olive oil is assuming that each type is roughly the same. After all, since canola oil and vegetable oil can be used interchangeably, why shouldn't you be able to drizzle a little refined olive oil over that bruschetta? Although olive oils might seem similar, the different varieties taste and respond very differently in cooking settings. Here is a brief explanation of what each type consists of, and how to use it properly:

  • Refined or Light Olive Oil: Since "refined" sounds like a fancy term, some people associate it with "top of the line." However, when it comes to oils, "refined" isn't always a good thing. When oil is refined, the olive particles are removed, which makes the flavor of the oil more bland. For this reason, refined olive oil is perfect for things like baking, since it has a light flavor. However, using light or refined oil as a finish might create a greasy taste and texture.     
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: On the other hand, extra virgin olive oil comes from the first press of the olives, which means this type of oil has the highest particle content. These microscopic olive bits lend a pungent flavor, green color, and nice aroma to the oil—making extra virgin olive oil perfect for salads or as a finishing drizzle to pasta dishes.
  • Premium Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Flavored extra virgin olive oils are made by infusing extra virgin olive oils with other ingredients, such as orange peel, roasted garlic, or herbs like basil. These oils are made to lend an added flavor to the dish. However, because they are so powerful, they shouldn't be used for dishes where the oil isn't the star of the show.

When it comes to pairing foods with olive oil, think carefully about the ability of the oil to stand on its own. If you want that oil flavor to blend into the background or disappear altogether, side with a more refined oil, such as a light olive oil. However, if you are counting on that olive oil to add a flavorful touch to your hors d'oeuvres, drizzle an extra virgin or premium flavored oil over your dish right before service.

2: Overheating Premium Olive Oils

While that rosemary infused olive oil might seem like the perfect addition to those potatoes you are about to stick under the broiler, overheating premium olive oils is never a good idea. When olive oil is overheated, it changes on a chemical level, which can alter your results. Here are a few reasons you should never overheat olive oil:

  • Reduced Health Benefits: On its own, olive oil has been found to produce powerful health benefits, such as reducing cholesterol and keeping blood sugar levels in check. Unfortunately, when olive oil is overheated, the quality degrades, and some of these antioxidants are destroyed.  
  • Altered Flavor: Since extra virgin olive oil contains microscopic olive pieces, these olive bits can burn when the oil is overheated—which can lend a burned, unappealing flavor to your dishes.
  • Increased Fire Risk: To make matters worse, premium extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of around 320 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that it is more apt to start ablaze if you use it at high temperatures. If you need to heat olive oil, opt for a refined version, which has a smoke point of around 468 degrees Fahrenheit.

To avoid a culinary catastrophe, try to serve premium oils in their raw form. For example, instead of coating those fingerling potatoes with oil before you roast them, use that rosemary oil as a finishing spritz after they come out of the oven. That way, you will be able to enjoy the flavor without watching your dish go up in flames.

By knowing how to use different types of olive oil, you might be able to put a unique spin on your meals without destroying the inherent benefits of the oil. Keep these tips in mind next time you check out an online olive oil store.