Olive oil is a staple of many a kitchen cupboard and with 628 olive varieties in Italy alone there is no shortage of choice when it comes to this healthful oil. You may be wondering why olive oil is so widely used; the answer is that the health benefits have been proven over and over. Olive oil also plays a huge roll in the Mediterranean diet which has been shown to decrease the chance of heart disease, cancer, strokes and even Alzheimer’s.
When choosing an olive oil look for extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil means that the olives used to make the oil have been pressed within 24 hours being picked which leads to an acidity level of 0.8% or less. You will also want to look for oil that states it has been obtained by solely mechanical means. While mechanical means doesn’t sound like it should conjure up thoughts and imaged of time-honoured traditional farming methods it means exactly that! The mechanical means refers to presses used to extract olive oil rather than the olives being chemically treated or having her applied to them to release their oils.
Another common label to avoid when purchasing olive oil are the ones that state that they are Italian. Instead look for oils that name a specific estate or region of Italy. Oil that is classed as only ‘Italian” most likely doesn’t come from olives grown in Italy. An unfortunately common method is to import olives from other countries into Italy where it is either processed or sometimes just bottled, in order to classify it as Italian Olive Oil. The more specific the oil you buy is about where it was grown the higher the quality is likely to be.
There are many different uses for olive oil, a common misconception of olive oil is that it should be used for frying. In reality, olive oil has a relatively low smoke point meaning that if it gets too hot, not only will many of it healthful benefits be lost but it will literally start smoking in the pan and most likely set off your smoke alarm.
For the best results use olive oil as an addition to foods, try drizzling it over cooked vegetable or pasta, combine it with balsamic vinegar for an easy salad dressing or use it as a marinade for raw meat. Olive oil expertly carries the flavours of other herbs and spices making it an ideal carrier for a marinade. If you are using a particularly thick or tough piece of meat consider making small holes in the meat to allow the oil to reach the interior of the meat.
It may seem unusual but olive oil can make a tasty and healthier replacement to butter in some cases. Dip bread into oil instead of adding butter and try using it in place of butter when making mashed potatoes for a decadent, yet healthy, twist on classic comfort food.