Olive Oil...Pure and Natural Perfection, Enjoyed Since Ancient Times
Oil is a very sensitive subject and the pros and cons of different types of oils are difficult for the consumer to understand, due to conflicting information both online and in the media. This is an unfortunate situation and we hope to shed some truthful light on the subject -- an unbiased light, as we are not affiliated with any food producer of any kind.
Olive oil is, hands down, the best type of oil you can cook with and is highly underused in the United States, though its popularity is growing rapidly. Olive oil has been a staple of the diet of many cultures, worldwide. One example being the Mediterranean diet -- a diet proven to be among the healthiest in the world. Additionally, olive oil has more than stood the test of time. Archeological evidence of the olive tree date as far back as 14,000 years!
Olive oil is a very versatile food that can be enjoyed many ways and is used even for medicinal purposes! However, olive oils can be as complicated as wines. They can be grown on estates; produced using only one type of olive; or by blending oils from different olives. Since olives trees are grown in many different countries, climate is also a big factor in the end product. As with wine, flavors vary greatly as well as the color of the oil.
So seriously is the olive tree and its oil taken that, in 1959, the International Oil Council was formed to oversee the world olive oil market -- ensuring quality standards, stabilizing the world price structure and boosting its world market. It is this organization that ensures that different types of olive oils live up to the very specific and regulated standards of their grade. Therefore, the true olive oil connoisseur will look for the IOC (or IOOC--International Olive Oil Council) mark on the label.
Olive oil is the only oil that comes directly from pressing the oil from its source, the olive. Extra virgin and virgin oils are unadulterated in that they are not altered. They are made simply through a process of being washed, decanted, pressed (in the old days using huge stones that literally pressed down on the olives but today by using a centrifugal press) and filtered.
TYPES/GRADES OF OLIVE OIL:
"Extra Virgin" is, by far, the best type olive oil. It is not bleached or chemically altered, as are most other oils. In fact, under the IOOC, olive oils marked "Extra Virgin" are not allowed to contain any refined oils. Their acidity (free fatty acid content) must not exceed 0.8% per 100 grams . Extra Virgin is the most delicate and tasteful of the types of olive oil and is the highest in anti-oxidants. The term "First Cold Press" means exactly that--it comes from the first pressing of the olives. Also important is the "Cold" part of this description, as it indicates that very little heat --not to exceed 27o C (80o F) -- was used in processing the oil, which can alter it's chemistry. Therefore, “Extra Virgin, First Cold Pressed” olive oil is the best you can buy. As a result, it is also the most expensive. Nonetheless, this is definitely the type of oil that we recommend, despite its cost. Many things you can skimp on but resist skimping when buying olive oil -- in doing so, you would be sacrificing both taste and health benefits.
The next level down in the types of olive oil would be simply "Virgin". Virgin olive oil is from the first pressing of the olives as well but the acidity may be as high as two percent per 100 grams. Virgin oils are typically less flavorful and not as mild as Extra Virgin oils.
Americans can certainly be fools for marketing ploys, as is evident by the percentage of money budgeted for marketing departments of American companies. One example is buying oils which label reads “100% Pure Olive Oil” or "Pure Olive Oil". Sounds wonderful, right? Wrong. While "pure" is a classification of olive oil, the term is taken advantage of in the American market. Pure olive oil is of lesser quality than Extra Virgin and Virgin and is blended with refined oil. The term “refined” means that the oil has been chemically altered. Pure olive oils have little taste and are not suitable for salads or dipping. Although they are acceptable for high temperature cooking, we do not recommend these oils.
"Light" olive oil is often confused as being lower in fat or calories. The truth is that all grades of olive oil have 125 calories per tablespoon. Light/Lite olive oil is yet lighter in taste and/or color than Virgin and Pure oil. It is not regulated, is highly processed and, in some cases, even added to other vegetable oils. Therefore, we do not recommend this type either.
Now that we have addressed how to differentiate the types of olive oils, let's move on to an equally important characteristic--health benefits. The list of health benefits from Extra Virgin olive oil is very long. It has no cholesterol. It contains monounsaturated fat which lowers LDL (the bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (or good) cholesterol, which promotes good heart health and reduces blood pressure. It has high amounts of vitamins A, D, K and E, which is good for the hair, skin and healing. It also aids in the fight against many types of cancers. Olive oil has been well known, especially by the Greeks, as a strong anti-inflammatory (save money on Ibuprofen!). It also reduces acid reflux. Worried about you sugar intake? You'll be happy to know that olive oil also helps to control blood sugar levels. More and more benefits of olive oil are being found as time goes on.
Extra Virgin Olive oil is highly esteemed in the culinary world and is the first choice of expert chefs around the world. Due to it's low acidity, olive oil is very stable when cooking at high temperatures. When baking, you may not wish to have a heavy taste of olive oil and therefore would be better off using the Virgin grade which is much lighter in taste. Extra Virgin olive oil is wonderful for salads, cooking vegetables, frying and more. It's a wonderful treat to take some fresh baked bread and dip it into a fine, Extra Virgin olive oil. Find a die-hard Greek and you may even catch him turning up a glass of it -- straight! Delicious.
All olive oils should be kept, well sealed, in a cool, dry and dark place!