Olive Oil Tips - buying, storing, use, health benefits
The other day I had a phone call from a listener to my National Public Radio program. She was in the supermarket in front of the olive oils and had no idea which one or type to buy. Should it be extra virgin; is a dark green color preferable; and does more expensive mean a better quality are some of the questions I’m often asked. On a recent trip to Andalusia Spain, I talked with several olive oil specialists. Spain produces 65 to 70 percent of the world’s olive oil and Andalusia produces 80 percent of Spain’s olive oil. Much of the oil is shipped to Italy and France for bottling as Italian or French olive oil. The country of origin is stated on the label.
Here are some tips on buying, storing and using olive oil.
What the label says:Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is the finest grade of olive oil. It is 100 percent olive juice. By law, it must have less than 0.8 percent acidity. Many premium oils have less than 0.5 percent. The oil is extracted from the olives without the use of chemicals. Extra virgin olive oil comes in a variety of colors, flavors, and textures. The oil must also have perfect aroma, color, and flavor.
Cold pressed: This term is now a marketing term. Olive oil used to be processed adding hot water to the olive paste to extract the maximum amount of oil. Today, hot water extraction is rarely used. Most extra virgin olive oils are cold pressed.
Pure Olive Oil: Oil that does not pass strict quality tests or is made from inferior olives is refined. The impurities are removed, but the nutritional qualities remain. This oil is then mixed with extra virgin or virgin (a category that is not generally for sale) olive oil and sold as pure olive oil. Although the flavor is less, it still retains all the health benefits.
Light Olive Oil: This oil is softer in flavor and lighter in color. It does not mean that it has fewer calories.
Unfiltered oil: This oil has not had some of the solids removed. They usually settle to the bottom of the bottle. These oils often have more flavor and are probably an artisanal product produced in small quantities.
Tin versus Bottle: A tin gives the best protection for the oil. A dark glass bottle also protects the oil.
Should the oil be dark green or gold? The color of the oil does not affect the flavor. Dark green or gold – it’s really a matter of your personal taste. The color of the oil depends on how mature the fruit is when picked. It’s also determined by the harvest season. If it’s been dry, the olives have less color; if wet, a darker color. However, most olive oils are a blend of different types of olives (picual, arbequina, cornicabra, hojiblanca and manzanilla). Each manufacturer has its own special blends. They create the blend each harvest to produce their own consistent style olive oil. The Spanish experts I talked with prefer the gold-colored oils. My Italian friends like the dark green. Again, it’s really a matter of your taste preference since all extra virgin olive oils are good quality oils.
There are also a few specialty olive oils that are made from a single variety of olive.
Light, heat and oxidation are the enemies of olive oil. Store the oil in a cool, dark place, and keep the bottle cap on tight. Be careful not to store it in a cupboard near the stove or where there is lighting under the cabinet. The heat from the light could harm the oil. Even the light in a supermarket can harm the oil. It’s best to buy oil from a market where the oil is quickly sold and not exposed to the light for extended periods.
There are varying opinions on storing olive oil in the refrigerator. Some experts feel it changes the flavor. Others say it is OK, but prefer a cool rather than refrigerated space. If you do store it in the refrigerator, it may turn solid and will need to come to room temperature before use.
Olive oil does not improve with age. The fresher it is the better. If stored properly, it can be kept for two years. After that, it is past its prime and should be used quickly.
Commercial extra virgin olive oil can be used for cooking. Specialty oils, often estate bottled, are best used for salads or to pour over foods after they have been cooked to get the maximum benefit of the flavor.
Extra virgin olive oil should not be used for deep frying. Refined olive oil is better. It has a higher smoke point.
Choosing the best olive oil for you is a matter of taste. Some like a very mild, fruity flavor and others prefer a robust, peppery or spicy finish. Some specialty stores have olive oil tastings. It’s a great way for you to decide which oil you prefer.
Fruity and fragrant oils have an olive aroma. They’re best used over pasta and drizzled over salads. Try some spooned over oranges or cheese.
Pepper or spicy oils start off tasting of olives and end with a peppery finish. Many producers prefer this more robust flavor. The degree of pungency varies from mild to strong. They delicious over flavored breads, whole grains or roasted meats.
Olive oil naturally contains a variety of antioxidants and is high in monounsaturated fats. Tests have shown that it plays a role in combating heart disease and cancer. Of course it is important to use olive oil, as with other foods, in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet that includes lean protein, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.