My Love Affair with The Green Gold – Olive Oil
If I was stuck on an Island, and could choose to receive only one item delivered, it’d be Olive oil. Oh that beautiful liquid green treasure! It’s true that I grew up with olive oil, not just for consumption, but for other use. Between my mom and grandma, I seriously thought that olive oil was cure and solution for all things. So now nearly half a century of using this oil, I have to agree, that life without Olive oil would be a very sad life. I often speak of Mediterranean Diet. It’s important to understand that for me eating this diet is a lifestyle, not something I choose to eat occasionally. In order to see the long term benefits of Olive oil and Mediterranean diet, it has to be consumed on regular basis, consistently. Millions of people all over the world love the authentic Mediterranean foods, the colorful, fresh, simple and the variety of flavors and of aroma. The best part of this diet, are the benefits that come along with it. It is like a kingdom of gifts, with Olive Oil being the King of them all (In my opinion). In this article, instead of talking about all the science behind the benefits of of eating Olive Oil, I want to address the experience of eating this green liquid gold.
How Much ?
So, for all of you who keep asking me, how much Olive Oil do I really use? Well here it is…No I do not wash my hair or my face with it ! – I only eat it! Yet just eating it, can effect our skin and hair. Truthfully, between my husband and I + our two teenage boys, we eat 1 gallon/3,8 Liter of Olive Oil per month. It is true that I do feed my grand kids and married kids now and then, but the bulk is the four of us. I don’t cook with it too often, since pure Extra Virgin Olive oil gets effected by heat. Instead, I use it primarily on variety of salads. Before you start wondering how in the word I can eat that much salads or Olive oil, well… we just DO It! My plate consist of 60% salad and 30%protein and 10% of some form of carbohydrate. Four years ago, when I lived on a very strict anti-inflammatory diet , I discovered something interesting. I watched how my body lost weight gradually, even while eating a lot of Olive and Coconut Oil. I don’t claim that Olive Oil is a diet program for weight-loss, but it won’t work against you either.
In order for us to appreciate the valuable properties of Olive Oil, we must understand what to look for. We can read and learn the health benefits, but in order to have a lasting relationship with it, we must learn to distinguish the different characteristics. Buying and eating Olive Oil is not like buying butter. Yes it’s true that there are hundreds of brands of butter, organic and non, but majority of the time, butter tastes like, well…butter (I’m not talking about margarine). But in the Olive Oil world, there isn’t one brand that tastes exactly the same as the next. So how can we as consumer know which one is the best? There are couple of distinct flavors and generally three grades. Each person has their own opinion of which flavor is preferable, but as far as the grades, there is some science behind those. As a child I used to think that all Olive Oils were created equal and tasted the same. Well, that really wasn’t fair, because I grew up with the best! Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I didn’t know there was anything different out there, until I started shopping. There are so many varieties and brands out there, it’s like trying to buy a car. But really, it’s not that hard. You have to decide which one you prefer. Don’t worry, I am not saying we’re suppose to distinguish all the properties, you just need to figure out which one you prefer.
Olive Oil should have fresh aroma. Unfortunately as sad as it may be, even this liquid gold can go rancid. There are couple of big reasons why Olive oil goes rancid, light and age. You can’s just buy it, use it ones and let it sit there for months, it does expire. The aroma of Olive Oil is really critical to the full experience. Before you even taste it, smell it. You want to be able to smell olives or greens. Think of herbs, fruity flavors and fresh apples. Your nose will tell you if you can smell mold or metal. With time it gets easier to recognize a good olive oil only buy the aroma.
Olive oil should be deep green to perhaps a tint of yellow. Most of us are familiar with oil being clear, but it’s becoming more and more common to come across oil with “pulp” in it. The pulp is the fruit of the olives that is left after the first press. There are those who claim that oil with pulp is more natural, that is not the case. Olive Pomace Oil is just an alternative, not the best, nevertheless an option. One important thing to remember is that the shelf life is much shorter than pure unrefined extra virgin oil.
There are pretty much two different, distinct flavors available, mild and fruity or bitter and strong. Keep in mind, I am not talking about added flavors in the oil thru infusion of some kind. I’m speaking of pure oil. In order to understand the difference, you have to taste variety of olive oils. This is called sensory analysis. In recent years, store fronts have popped up everywhere, that specializes in olive oil and xyz. I have visited several of these stores, and it is interesting to see how many of them focus on added flavors in the oil, instead of the pure form. Unless you are lucky enough to come across pure olive oil tasting, you should try it yourself or even better, with friends and family. Buy three (small) bottles of different olive oils, made in Greece, made in Italy and made in Spain. Majority of the oils come from one of these countries ( I said majority). Have fun with your “tasting party”. You will notice that everyone has their individual experience, with their own preferences. When you taste, make sure the oil is room temperature. Put about one teaspoon in your mouth and hold it. Look for sweet or bitterness. Taste for its strengths and weaknesses. As you do this, with each bottle and brand, you will start recognizing the differences. Good oil should taste light and not oily (that’s ironic). It’s a real savoring journey well worth it.
There are actually five grades of Olive Oil. I’m going to talk about the three top (the other two aren’t worth it). Refined Oil (also known as Olive Oil), Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Extra Virgin is the BEST! It is produced from first press. And as far as overall properties, flavor, smell and above all, HEALTH BENEFITS, it is the champion. But in order to get that label, the olives must be pressed within 24 hours of harvesting and there can be no blemish on them. It must be produced under perfect temperatures, so it doesn’t get degraded. It does cost a little more than the other grades, but for eating (not cooking) purposes, it’s well worth it. The next one is Virgin Olive Oil. This also is from first press but it does not have the same requirements. The acidity levels are much higher than the Extra Virgin, which makes it a little lower in quality. The flavor is often times much milder than the Extra Virgin. Then we have the Refined Olive Oil. Sometimes it will just say Classic or Pure Olive Oil on the bottles. This is the grade that, in my opinion is best to cook with. This is the oil that gets refined and acid is added to help with the extraction of the remaining of the oil out of the olives. This often result with oily and more acidic flavor. This is the unfortunate story of Olive Oil, the cheaper it is, the less of benefits, aroma and flavor.
Pair It Up
Once you have picked an oil you like, now pair it up with something. I usually have no issues not being able to eat fresh baked bread. But when I see my family enjoy a fresh baked Ciabatta dipped in Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a good balsamic vinegar, that’s when I start having moments of pity party. But lucky for me there are thousands of other options out there. How about homegrown fresh tomato from your own garden , sliced with leaves of fresh basil and oil drizzled on, with just salt and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. The best way to identify your favorite oil, is to eat it fresh with your favorite produce.
Keep your Olive Oil in a dark place. Light speeds up the oil going rancid. You can store it in the refrigerator, but it will get and look thick until it’s brought to room temperature. I only keep a thin bottle, enough for 2-3 days, out by my stove. The rest I store in my pantry. Make sure you check dates and as mentioned, check the aroma and the flavor if you’ve had your bottle for too long.
When we eat, we need to have all four of our five senses involved (hopefully not the hearing one 😉 ). For me eating is not merely getting full, but to enjoy the flavors, the aroma and see the pretty colors and occasionally feel. But it’s also important for me to know that what I am eating is a smart and healthy choice. When flavor, sight and aroma, meet smart and healthy, that’s when I know I’m in love. When it comes to Olive Oil, the extra spend on it, is totally worth it. Most people in the Mediterranean countries never feel that cutting corners with their oil is worth it. It changes the flavor and the full experience. In Italy, Olive Oil is considered the elixir of life. They believe it can prolong life. To make sure I remember that I have 10% Italian in my DNA, I always add some Olive Oil in my spaghetti meat sauce. So you see, my love for Olive oil is really deep and long lasting. I know there is no way I could break this relationship, it’s here to last. I just have appreciate it, take care of it and eat it, and it will be my best companion in my kitchen.