Reason 1: The flavor is outrageous
It’s not hard to get me to talk about olive oil. Olive oil is the best—for dipping chewy pieces of bread, for frying eggs, for drizzling on avocado toast, and, of course, for baking. Seriously, if you haven’t tried baking with olive oil, it’s time to take the plunge. While some fruit and vegetable oils do nothing but moisten your batter (and you can’t blame them, that’s all we really needed them to do), olive oil—extra virgin olive oil, especially—imparts a delightful floral, slightly peppery flavor to baked goods.
“Olive oil lends a distinct but delicious flavor to baked goods,” Maia Hirschbein, Oleologist for California Olive Ranch, told me in an email. Hirschbein said she uses olive oil in everything from quick breads to brownies, and that “it pairs particularly well with cornmeal cake, pie crust, and citrusy muffins.”
Personally, one of my favorite ways to use olive oil is in granola—there’s something about that extra hit of savory, even slightly bitter, that accentuates the sweetness of the crunchy snack. Though not technically a baked good, olive oil also makes a killer addition to cornmeal pancake batter.
Most boxed baked goods from brownies to Funfetti cake call for vegetable oil along with eggs and water. As oil is purely fat, it makes for moist, tender baked goods. While butter is an excellent fat option for baking in terms of flavor and texture (duh), oils can make a bake that is just as rich and flavorful as its buttery contemporaries. There's really no difference when it comes to baking with olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Sure, it might be a few cents more expersive per tablespoon, but I promise it's worth it.
OK, we’ve established that olive oil tastes good in baked goods, but Hirschbein pointed out another benefit of using olive oil when baking: extra virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat (a “good” fat that can actually help lower bad cholesterol levels) and polyphenols (a macronutrient naturally occurring in plants). Fats like butter or coconut oil are higher in saturated fat—not technically a reason to avoid them, but according to the American Heart Association, they’re simply less nutritionally beneficial fat options. I’ll admit that when I reach for olive oil in baking it’s purely for selfish reasons of enjoying the flavor; however, I wouldn’t knock a pat on the back from the AHA.
Next time you’re tasked with making banana bread for brunch, why not try a bright extra virgin olive oil instead of canola oil. Hirschbein explained that swapping other oils for olive is a simple 1:1 trade, and the extra flavor points will be unparallelled. You can also essentially always use olive oil instead of butter when baking, but it’s important to note that since butter is made of fat, water, and milk solids; while oil is all fat, some adjustments to measurements will need to be made. Hirschbein’s team recommends substituting ¾ the amount of butter called for in a recipe with olive oil. For example, if the recipe lists ½ cup of butter, you’d need ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons of olive oil.