Referred to as “liquid gold” by Homer; it is believed olive oil holds the key to good health and longevity.
Research shows that olives were harvested and consumed as far back as 8th millennium BC. Olive oil is procured by grinding whole olives and extracting oil from them.
Tasting and selecting olive oil, and understanding the different types and flavours is a skill; much like tasting wine. Olive oil changes in colour, flavour and consistency, depending on where it is made, the process used and method of storage. Generally, when an olive is green and raw, the oil procured in bitter. On the other hand, using over-ripe olives makes oil rank and sour. So they must be picked when perfectly ripe for delicious, flavourful oil. All these varieties of oil have their merits and can be used in different ways.
Besides the stage at which the olive is picked, the freshness of oil also plays a big role in its flavour. Olive oil tastes best when it is fresh and can be consumed raw. It works well in salads, drizzled over grilled meat or roasted vegetables. As time passes, the oil gets stale and the flavour deteriorates. About a year after it has been made, olive oil must preferably be used for cooking and not consumed raw.
Cold-pressed oil is said to be the best kind of oil. This is method of extracting oil by pressing oil out of fruit using a heavy stone slab or modern metal presses. Obtaining olive oil by this method ensures that the temperature of oil does not rise, thus maintaining its nutritional value, flavour and aroma. The process is also chemical free and the oil produced is less acidic.
There are several types of cold pressed olive oil; Extra Virgin Olive Oil is often considered the finest grade of olive oil. This oil is obtained from the first pressing of olives. It varies in colour depending on the colour and ripeness of olives used. It can be like golden champagne or a rich bottle green; the deeper the green, the more intense the flavour. Extra Virgin olive oil has the lowest acidity of all varieties of olive oil. First pressed oil which is slight more acidic is referred to as Virgin Olive Oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is the best type of olive oil to use raw in salad dressings or to brush over bits of toasted bread. It can be used instead of butter, to drizzle over freshly baked bread, over roasted potatoes or a pizza that has just come out of the oven. When stir frying, sautéing or poaching one can use extra virgin or virgin olive oil.
A bottle labelled Pure Olive Oil or Olive Oil usually contains a blend of is a blend of refined oil and virgin olive oil. If large quantities of food need to be deep fried, or for poaching it is generally pure olive oil which is used. It can even be used in baked dishes, dough and batter. Pure olive oil should not be consumed raw, as it has other refined oils mixed in, which may not always be safe for consumption unless cooked.
Fino Olive oil, which translates to Fine Olive oil, is a blend of extra virgin and virgin olive oil. Light Olive oil is lighter in colour and is milder than extra virgin, virgin, pure or fino olive oil. The refining process gives it a higher smoking point, and reduces the flavour. It is preferred while baking or deep frying. The name ‘light’ olive oil is often mistaken for being lower in saturated fat. But the name comes more from the lack or colour and flavour. Light olive oil has the same percentage of fat and cholesterol as extra virgin olive oil.
When cooking with olive oil – or any other oil for that matter – one must make sure the temperature of oil stays as low as possible. Overheating oil decreases its nutritional value. Sautéing, pan frying on a low flame and using gentler cooking methods are always recommended over deep frying and searing. If one does have to heat oil, ensure it does not start smoking or turning dark brown in colour. When oil smokes, it not only loses its nutrients, but also begins to become toxic.
Olive oil is rich in Vitamin E and antioxidants, and helps lower cholesterol and fight diabetes. It adds great value to meals, not only in terms of nutrition but also in flavour. It definitely must feature in one’s diet; just ensure you pick the right kind of olive oil, use it correctly and make the most of it.