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While many people equate oil with fat, olive oil is actually an extremely healthy part of your everyday diet. Research suggest that just two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day can have a significant positive effect on your health and well being.
The keys to olive oil’s health benefits are its high levels of monounsaturated fat and antioxidants. Here are just a few of the benefits that come from adding olive oil into your diet.
Heart health. Olive oil is known as one of the “healing fats.” The monounsaturated fats help lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels while simultaneously raising HDL, or “good,” cholesterol levels. The antioxidants, especially those found in extra virgin olive oil, help increase the antioxidant level in your blood.
Cancer prevention. Studies continue to suggest that olive oil contains a protective element against many types of cancer. Research has shown a link between diets that use olive oil as the main fat source and a lower risk for colon, breast, prostate, endometrium, and digestive tract cancer.
Blood pressure regulation. Olive oil works to decrease both your maximum (systolic) and minimum (diastolic) blood pressure
Diabetes maintenance. Olive oil not only helps improves the level of your blood sugar, it also helps lower “bad” low-density lipoprotein and enhances your insulin sensitivity.
Studies have shown that people with diets rich in olive oil also have a lower risk factor for strokes and a decreased possibility of developing rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
Olive oil also benefits mental health. Recent studies in Spain suggest that people who include olive oil into their healthy diet are 30% less likely to suffer from depression. Other research shows that a diet rich in olive oil can off-set many types of brain-related problems, including memory loss and verbal fluency.
With all of its potential benefits, not to mention it delicious flavor, it is no surprise that many areas of the world have olive oil as the center of their cuisine.
Once you have selected the perfect olive oil, it is imperative that you store it correctly in order to ensure that maintains a high level of freshness and flavor.
It is important to remember that olives are a fruit. The oil from olives can be compared to the juice from any other fruit. Air, heat, and light can all cause olive oil to oxidize, making its lose its fruit flavor or turn rancid. The safest way to buy olive oil is in small sizes so you can use it before it goes bad.
Look for oils that come in opaque or tinted glass, especially for extra virgin olive oil. The quality of olive oil can degrade when exposed to light. Dark containers help the oil maintain its freshness and quality.
When bought in bulk, it is important to transfer the oil from the large container into smaller containers. The best containers are cans or dark-colored bottles. Olive oil should never be stored in plastic containers. The oil has the potential of pulling harmful substances from the plastic, making it unsafe to use. Ensure that all containers have proper lids that fit tightly to ensure that the oil has minimal contact with the air.
Once your oil has been transferred, keep a small bottle in the kitchen. Oil is best stored in a cabinet and should never be kept near the stove where it will be continuously exposed to heat. Store the rest of your supply in a cool dark location like a cabinet, basement or cellar. The ideal storage temperature is 57°F or 14°C.
It is not recommended to store olive oil in the refrigerator. While refrigeration itself does not harm most grades of oil, condensation can form in the bottle and affect the flavor, especially in expensive extra virgin olive oils.
Olive oils should be consumed within two years of the pressing date. After this time, the nutrients within the oil degrade, acidity levels increase and the flavor deteriorates. Check for pressing dates on the oil bottle and make sure that you throw the oil out once it passes its expiration.
Olive oil is wonderful at enhancing and carrying the flavor of different foods and spices. However, in order to get the best use out of your olive oil, it is important to know which olive oil should be used in different situations.
Extra virgin and virgin olive oils lose their flavor as they are heated. Expensive, flavorful extra virgin olive oils are best showcased in UNCOOKED dishes. They can be poured over pretty much anything – drizzled on cheese or bread, in salad dressings, mixed with tomatoes and herbs, and much more.
For your typical cooking practices, including sautéing, it is best to use lower quality extra virgin and virgin olive oils. When used correctly, these oils can add body and depth to your flavors, enhancing your final food product.
However, whenever you are heating olive oil it is important to pay attention to the oil’s smoke point (the temperature at which the oil starts smoking). Passing the smoke point ruins the oil. Not only does it give the food an unpleasant taste, it also makes the oil no longer good for you. While the actual smoke point depends on the quality of the oil, the general smoke point is around 400ºF (204ºC). If you see the oil in your pan starting to smoke, you have passed the smoke point. Carefully discard the oil and start again. The smoke point for olive oil is higher than most oils, so it can stand up better to heat-intense cooking methods, including frying.
Though not typically done in the United States, olive oil can also be used in baking. Due to high heat used in the baking process, it is best to use lite, light, or mild types of olive oil. Olive oil can be substituted for other oils and for butter, reducing the amount of fat and cholesterol without altering the taste of the finished product.
Olive oil is often compared to wine in that it is important to pair the right oil with the right dish. The right olive oil will harmonize with the spices, enhance the flavors of the different ingredients, balance the acidity of certain foods and add body and depth to the final product.
The two basic ways to pair olive oil are to create complementary or contrasting flavors. Complementary pairings aim to blend two ingredients of similar intensity of flavors so that one does not overpower the other. Examples of complementary pairings include using robust oils with hearty foods such as rich pastas and heavy meats; medium oils for cheese, bread dipping, or in salad dressing; and mellow oils for baking and creating condiments such as mayonnaise.
Contrasting pairings aim to add interest by combining ingredients with diverse intensities and flavor. A mild oil over a strong cheese (like pecorino) or a robust oil over a delicate cheese (such as fresh mozzarella) work to provide a more impactful and noticeable taste sensation.
The most important factor in pairing olive oil pairs with food is actually your personal taste. Take the time to taste different olive oils and determine which one will give you the flavor you are looking for.
Another way to add impact to your olive oil is to do an infusion. An infusion is when you add different ingredients (usually herbs) into a bottle of olive oil and allow the flavors to mix. It is important not to add any ingredient that contains any water or moisture (including garlic, fresh peppers, fresh herbs and spices, or lemon peel) as it can cause harmful bacterial growth. Preserve or dry all ingredients before placing them in the bottle. Olive oil is quick to pick up the flavors of additional ingredients and infusions can add great variety to the flavors you can create in your kitchen.
If you’ve ever stepped into the aisle in a grocery store that contains olive oil, you can be easily overwhelmed by the choices in types, colors, grades and flavors. The quality, aroma, flavor, and color of olive oil can vary widely due to the way that it was produced. Several factors work together to impact the taste of the oil, including:
Once you have determined the grade of olive oil that is best for your intended use, there are a few other considerations to help you make your choice.
Spain, Italy and Greece lead the world in olive oil production. The other top producers are France and the United States (mostly California). The oil from each country varies in its taste, aroma and color.
Spain is the largest producer, providing about 45% of the world’s olive oil supply. The oil is typically golden yellow and has a fruity, nutty flavor. Italian olive oil is usually a dark green with a grassy flavor and more herbal aroma. Greek olive oil has the strongest flavor and aroma and is typically a green color. French olive oil has a mild flavor and is pale in color. California olive oil is light in both color and flavor and has a fruity taste.
The color of the olive oil often gives clues as to its flavor. Typically, the darker or deeper the color, the stronger the flavor of the oil. Dark green or emerald colored oils have a strong, bold, fruity, grassy or peppery flavor that can dominate other food flavors. Green olive oil is made from unripe olives and has a bitter, pungent flavor. Olive oils that have a shiny, golden color are made from ripe olives. These oils are defined by their smooth, mild and subtle buttery taste.