OLIVE OIL 101
Olive Oil is a staple for me. I use so much of it one could think that I drink it! Over the years, I’ve tasted quite a few, from countries like Spain, Greece and Italy and thought I’d share a few basics about this …thus Olive Oil 101.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a fat obtained from the olive (the fruit of Olea europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin, in particular Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Legend has it that the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena to humanity. Homer referred to olive oil as liquid gold, and Thomas Jefferson proclaimed it the richest gift of heaven.
Every April in New York City, a leading panel of international experts tastes nearly 700 extra virgin olive oils from every corner of the globe to determine which deserve to be known as the very best olive oils in the world. The winning olive oils are coveted by chefs, food buyers and consumers everywhere who know the value of the very highest quality extra virgin olive oils. Check out Best Olive Oils to see this year’s cream of the crop.
Extra virgin olive oil is made using a process called “first cold-pressed.” In simpler terms, the word “first” refers to the olives being pressed on the first round of extraction. “Cold” refers to the olives being kept no higher than 81.9 °F, and “pressed” refers to the method of extraction. This method indicates that no heat or chemical additives were used to extract the oil from the olives, which can alter and destroy the flavors and aromas of the olive oil. Without adding heat to the processing, the olive oil also retains its full nutritional value. Virgin olive oil has a slightly more acidic level and does not meet the same requirements. Regular olive oil is a blend of slightly defective or low quality olives. For consumption, these olives are refined and tend to have a colorless and flavorless profile. Light olive oil has undergone a similar process but is lighter in color and flavor, not calories!
It may be difficult to think of oil as having anti-inflammatory properties but olive oil does provide many health benefits. One reason is that olive oil is a fruit fat. It is not made but found within the olive, in its finished form, and extracted. The higher the level of antioxidants in an olive oil, the healthier it is for you. One can actually assess the level of antioxidants in olive oil by the peppery “burn” on the back of the throat. Thus, the more pepper-like burn the olive oil has, the higher its antioxidant content. In terms of culinary applications however, there are some dishes were you may not want a pair a high antioxidant olive oil (more peppery), with a light dish.
- Harvest Date – You want your oil as fresh as possible!
- Region – If you don’t know what olives are in it, you have no idea what it might taste like! Knowing the region of the olive oil is very important. Not knowing the region is like buying a bottle of wine and it just says “red wine” – it could be from anywhere! When looking for a high quality olive oil, look for olives that have come from the same region, made entirely from one type of olive.
- Type of Container – Try to look for an olive oil in a dark or tinted glass bottle, rather than a plastic or clear glass. Any light that enters the bottle can cause the oil to photo-oxidize and taste rancid or bitter. In general, heat, air and light are the enemies of oil. To prevent olive oil from going rancid, store it in a cool, dry area, away from the stove or other hot appliances.
Note: You can also check out Olive Oil Times for more useful information, including refined vs. unrefined, health benefits, production, quality, cost, storage, etc.