cooking with extra virgin olive oil

Researchers examine the changes in bioactive compounds when foods are cooked using extra virgin olive oil.

Olive oil is the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. The quantities of vegetables, legumes, and fruits in the Mediterranean diet provide high phytochemical content, and previous studies have shown that it is beneficial for cardiovascular and metabolic wellbeing.

A common process in Mediterranean cooking is “sofrito”; this is when onions and garlic are lightly sautéed in extra virgin olive oil. There is also a tomato sofrito, comprised of tomato, onions, and garlic. Cooking with certain oils and/or ingredients can change the makeup of bioactive compounds within food. In a recent study, published in Molecules, researchers investigated whether cooking with extra virgin olive oil enhances the bioactive compounds contained in tomatoes, onion, and garlic.

Researchers made a sofrito sauce with “pera” tomatoes, onions, and garlic from Spain. The sauce was made at the University of Barcelona at the Food and Nutrition Torribera Campus. The bioactive compounds in the food were examined prior to cooking. After cooking, the sauce was examined for any reduction in water content. Then the water, oil, and insoluble components were extracted from the sauce, weighed, and polyphenol content examined.

The researchers found that during the cooking process, the bioactive compounds found in the vegetables moved into the oil, allowing enhanced absorption of these bioactive compounds when eaten. Findings also showed that two specific bioactive compounds, carotenoids, and polyphenols, produced isomer-molecules within the food. This increased the amounts of bioactive compounds and added anti-inflammatory effects to the food. Cooking with extra virgin olive oil enhances the healthfulness already found in vegetables – this is because it increases the quantity of bioactive compounds.

Next time you’re thinking of sautéing vegetables, try cooking with extra virgin olive oil to reap even more benefits from your food!

Written by Laura Laroche, HBASc, Medical Writer


José Fernando Rinaldi de Alvarenga, et al. “Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Cook Vegetables Enhances Polyphenol and Carotenoid Extractability: A Study Applying the sofrito Technique”. Molecules. 13 June 2019. 1-17. Online.

Cooking vegetables: healthier with extra virgin olive oil. 2019,, assessed 13 June 2019.

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