Olive oil is one of the most popular tastes of the Mediterranean, and is appreciated by people all across the world. Whether it’s for accompanying some fresh bread, drizzling over a Greek salad, or cooking crispy roast potatoes, olive oil is excellent in a wide range of different foods.
But, despite its popularity, does olive oil represent a significant fire risk, and should we give more care and thought to how and where we store it in our kitchens?
This guide will take an in-depth look at the flammability of olive oil, including a focus on its properties, the flashpoint of the liquid, and the effect of different cooking methods.
Properties And Uses Of Olive Oil
Olive oil is a cooking oil made from pressing olives, which are the fruit of olive trees often found in Mediterranean climates. Olives are commonly grown in Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and many other places.
Olive oil is used in traditional Greek cuisine, as well as Italian and Spanish, and has been adopted by a number of other cooking schools.
In terms of its chemical make-up, olive oil is mainly oleic acid (fatty acid), a blend of other fatty acids, and a trace amount of flavor chemicals.
If you’re after extra virgin olive oil, the highest grade of olive oil, it needs to have no more than 0.8% free acidity as well as an exceptional flavor profile.
The use of olive oil hasn’t always been restricted to cooking. It’s believed to have been used for birth control in the past and for baptismal oil in some Orthodox churches.
Some natural skin treatments also look to make use of the fatty properties of olive oil, although research warns against this as it can cause atopic dermatitis.
Can Olive Oil Catch Fire?
Like the majority of cooking oils, olive oil can catch fire and when it does, it burns in a self-sustaining manner due to the hydrocarbon chains in the molecule of the oil.
This is why many old churches used to use olive oil as a lamp fuel. Moreover, olive oil remains a popular choice in the Eastern Orthodox Church for lamp fuel in the churches as well as in cemeteries.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind that olive oil isn’t flammable by definition. This is because of its high flashpoint temperature.
What’s The Flashpoint Of Olive Oil?
The flashpoint temperature of olive oil is around 410℉ or 210℃, far above the 250-350℉ range that covers most of cooking. This flashpoint, however, doesn't mean that you can’t encounter both that temperature and an open flame in a kitchen.
If this happens, the oil will burn and the fire may be self-sustaining, so if you intend on extinguishing the blaze, you’ll need to use the standard protocols for fires in cooking oils and greases (also known as Class K fires).
It’s worth noting here that if you decide to use olive oil in a spray bottle, you risk making the olive oil much more flammable. These finer particles have a significant amount of surface area exposed to oxygen, so therefore, require lower temperatures to burn at.
Can Olive Oil Catch Fire While Cooking?
If you’re cooking with olive oil and you exceed its flashpoint, it will begin to smoke. For this reason, many people prefer to focus on the “smoke point” when talking about oils rather than the flashpoint.
If your olive oil is smoking this means it's burning. More often than not, it’ll be because the pan you’re using is too hot and needs to be cooled down appropriately.
This is why some cooking oils are better than others for certain applications, as they have different smoke points. Therefore, it’s important to select the right oil for the temperature range you’ll be cooking within.
Can Olive Oil Spontaneously Combust?
With such a high flashpoint, there’s no real risk of olive oil getting hot enough to spontaneously combust when stored in a kitchen.
This is because olive oil has an auto-ignition temperature - the temperature at which olive oil catches fire by itself - of 815℉ (435℃). This is a high enough temperature for the risk of spontaneous combustion to be incredibly low.
Ultimately, you’ll need a source of heat and flame to get olive oil to catch fire, so as long as you use your common sense in the kitchen, you’ll be completely safe.
Is Olive Oil Flammable In The Oven?
This all depends on the amount of olive oil that you’re using and the heat of your oven. If you’re cooking with a fair amount of oil and the temperature of the oven goes above the “smoke point”, the more likely a fire becomes.
This, however, is a risk that can easily be overcome with regular checks of the oven temperature and avoiding the use of excessive oil.
Strictly speaking, olive oil isn’t a flammable liquid, so the risk is very minimal. However, we appreciate that this is no consolation if the substance does indeed catch fire in your oven. Just be super careful!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Flammable?
While extra virgin olive oil is more flammable than ordinary olive oil and has a lower flashpoint temperature of 325℉, it still doesn’t fit OSHA’s criteria to be a flammable liquid. Nevertheless, it’s still important to be particularly careful using extra virgin olive oil around a naked flame.
Is Vegetable Oil Flammable?
Vegetable oil isn’t technically flammable, but can still catch fire in common cooking. Most types of vegetable oil have a flashpoint of around 600℉ (315℃) which means that it isn’t classified as a flammable liquid by OSHA.
If something burns below 199.4℉ in the presence of a flame or spark then it’s considered to be a flammable liquid according to OSHA. Vegetable oil, however, burns at nearly 400 degrees above this mark.
Can You Burn Frying Oil?
Yes you can, so therefore it’s important to choose the right oil for your cooking. To help with this, it’s useful to consider the smoking point - the temperature at which the oil begins to burn and smoke. If you heat your oil beyond its smoking point, it’ll subsequently taste bitter and rancid.
Oils with a high smoke point such as almond, sunflower and avocado oil are great for searing or browning. If, however, you’re looking to stir-fry, pan-fry, roast or bake, then oils with medium-high smoke points work well. These include grapeseed, olive and peanut.
Oils with medium smoke points include extra virgin olive, sesame and corn, and these can be used in sauces and for baking and light sauteing.
Finally, if you’re looking for an oil to use as a salad dressing, marinade or dip, walnut and flaxseed oils are good choices as they both have low smoke points and aren’t the best for general cooking. Extra virgin olive and avocado oil can also be used as finishing oils to add extra flavor to a dish.
Are Essential Oils Flammable?
Essential oils are commonly used for aromatherapy and reflexology purposes, and can catch fire incredibly easily.
They typically have flashpoints ranging from 100-215℉ (37-102℃), which according to OSHA, means that most are classified as flammable. With this in mind, they need to be stored and used safely.
Nearly all essential oils are flammable so they should be kept away from naked flames and sources of sparks at all costs. However, there are a few that have a flashpoint above the 199.4℉ mark.
These include sandalwood, wintergreen and clove bud. On the other hand, some of the most flammable essential oils include fir needle, pine needle, frankincense and juniper berry.
All essential oils, when not in use, should be kept in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dark place. This helps to prevent the risk of auto-ignition through sunlight piercing through the glass bottle that they’re enclosed within.