Extra-virgin olive oil is a staple in my diet. It is incredibly versatile, has a delicious flavor, and has extraordinary health benefits.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, which is well documented for helping to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer and asthma. It can lower cholesterol and blood pressure; assists to balance blood sugar levels; has potent anti-inflammatory effects, powerful antioxidants to combat free radical damage, and supports good gastrointestinal health.
Olive oils come in a variety of flavors. They can be rich and fruity, or light and buttery. They also range in color: from dark green to light gold.
Generally, the deeper the color, the richer the flavor. The color and flavor are dependent on the variety of the olives; the climate and quality of the soil; cultivation and farming practices; and storage techniques.
The labeling of olive oil is important. I am concerned with “first cold-pressed” and “cold-pressed”; and “extra virgin” and “virgin”.
The first press yields the richest flavor, and so on. In some places where they use more advanced technology, really powerful presses are used, and there is only one press that yields a uniform top quality product.
The “virginity” of an olive oil is a measure of the acidity or amount of free oleic acid. Extra virgin olive oil has an acidity of about 1%; and has a deep flavor and color; and strong aroma. Virgin olive oil is slightly more acidic, at up to 2%, and contains less phytonutrients, and is more fruity in flavor, which is not as strong on the nose or the back of the tongue.
I always reserve my most expensive, decadent, and nutrient-rich olive oil for use in raw recipes – salads, dips, sauces, and dressings, and for drizzling on steamed vegetables etc. These luxurious olive oils are best enjoyed raw. Some of the flavor, and a lot of the nutrients are lost as soon as you heat olive oil. So you are wasting your money if you are going to heat it.
Olive oil boasts a moderate heat tolerance. But this is more as a measure of exposure to toxic carcinogens. I recommend heating olive oil as little as possible, to reap the most nutritional rewards and taste sensations.
I do use extra-virgin olive oil for stir-frying. But I usually start frying with filtered water, and then stir through the olive oil at the end after removing from the flame. Then I get the best of both worlds – the raw oil, and the satiation of the cooked food wrapped in oil.
If you're using olive oil in baked goods, try a standard virgin olive oil that has a lighter flavor. Extra-virgin olive oil tend to overpower baked good.
I tend to use other vegetable oils like grape seed oil or rice bran oil for baking. But olive oil is delicious in some savory cakes.
Purchase olive oil that is as fresh as possible from vendors with a high turnover and good suppliers. Olive oils are not like fine wines. They don’t age well.
Choose olive oil packaged in dark, tinted or opaque bottles, and store in a cool dark place. Olive oil goes rancid quickly from exposure to light and heat. Oxidation will compromise the nutritional profile.
As a general rule, once you open a bottle of olive oil it has a shelf life of 6 to 8 weeks. After a few months, the phytonutrient and antioxidant profile begins to drop. So, use it or lose it!
It is so sad when you save that gorgeous artisan olive oil for that special event only to open it and be ripped with rancidity. It's like opening that fine bottle of wine and discovering it's corked!
A good tip if you purchase large quantities of olive oil: Decanter a small amount into a dark bottle and keep at room temperature to minimize the oxidation factor. Leave the rest in a cool dark pantry.
I see a lot of people storing their olive oil beside in gorgeous decanters beside the stove top for easy access or nice presentation. This is not a good idea. The constant exposure to heat compromises the integrity of the oil.