Everything you ever needed to know about olive oil

Oh, olive oil! Pressed from the humble olive, this oil is hands down one of my favourite things to use in the kitchen and is a staple of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Today, olive oil has become a staple for many homes and kitchens and an essential ingredient many dishes can’t do without. It’s been known for its health benefits and the rich taste it brings to food. Not everyone is an olive oil expert and so for those who aren’t well-versed in the nitty-gritty, I’ve put together a handy guide for everything you ever needed to know about olive oil.

1.Olive oil is healthy

As I mentioned before olive oil is one of the staples when eating a Mediterranean diet, which uses more healthy fats and less saturated fats. It is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy fats, and also contains important minor components including antioxidants and other beneficial plant-derived compounds thought to protect against disease. Studies have also shown that people who regularly include olive oil in their diets have lower rates of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and reduced rates of diabetes.

olive oil

There’s more than one kind of olive oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade and best tasting. It must come from the first pressing of fresh olives, normally within 24 hours of harvesting and must be extracted by non-chemical, mechanical means, and without the use of excessive heat, specifically below 28C. It also has to have less than 0.8% acidity.

Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin olive oil also comes from the first pressing and must have an acidity level of between 0.8% and 2%, so it is more acidic than extra virgin olive oil. Its flavour intensity can vary and its taste is milder than extra virgin olive oil. 

Refined Olive Oil

Refined olive oils have been refined by agents such as acids, alkalis and heat to extract as much oil as possible from the olive pulp that remains after the first pressing. The result is a fattier and more acidic oil which lacks taste, aroma and natural antioxidants.

Blended and flavoured olive oils

Sometimes olive oil is blended with canola or other vegetable oils. Canola, soybean, grapeseed and safflower oils are commonly used in these blends because they are mild tasting and low-cost. Blended oils are usually mild in flavour and lighter in colour. Flavour infused olive are also available, such as lemon and garlic. You can even make your own olive oil infusions at home if you like. 

olive oil

2.How to tell if the olive oil is good

The best way to check for good olive oil is to taste it. Good olive oil should have a vague bitterness that isn’t too overwhelming, with a hint of the fruitiness of fresh olives and a slight pepperiness. Together, these elements should create a balance of flavours with complex aromas and aftertastes. You might think you can tell just by looking, but there are more than 500 different types of olives in Italy alone, and they all have a unique colour, which means you can’t tell simply by the colour of the oil. The only true test is a good old taste test.

3.How to choose the right oil for the job

The most important thing about olive oil is how you use it. As a good general rule, extra virgin is most suitable for salads, cold dishes and sautéing; and milder oils are for frying and roasting. Oils described as robust, full-bodied or ‘early harvest’ should be used in strong-flavoured dishes or ones where they will be able to shine; for instance, tomato bruschetta or mozzarella salad. Mellow oils labelled mild, delicate or ‘late harvest’ are more suited to frying and lighter dishes such as fish or chicken, or ones where a less flavourful oil will suffice. 

At the end of the day, good quality extra virgin olive oil is incredibly healthy. Due to its powerful antioxidants, it benefits your heart, brain, joints and more. The best healthy change you can make in your kitchen is to substitute extra-virgin olive oil for other fats. If you’re looking for more creative ways to incorporate olive oil into your diet have a look at my book: All Sorts of Healthy Dishes the Meditterean Way. 

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