Attitudes in the U.S are changing when it comes to olive oil, where it could scarcely be found 30 years ago. And this growing trend is having a positive impact on our health. Contained within olive oil are antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, and research has shown that these have the capability of lowering bad cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. It is also believed that the antioxidants found in extra virgin and virgin olive oils may protect against cancer, another good reason to start using olive oil. The same certainly can not be said about butter.
The most common types of olive oil include extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and olive oil. The extraction method used, and the fatty acid content determines how each oil is classified. When an oil is extracted and bottled without any other processing taking place, it is classed as extra virgin or virgin olive oil. If a combination of refined virgin olive oil and olive oil is bottled, it is known simply as olive oil. This mixture is sometimes known as pure olive oil. Labeling of olive oil is regulated by the International Olive Oil Council (www.internationaloliveoil.org), so you can be assured of what you are buying.
Olive oil flavor is heavily influenced by the area the olives are grown in, and the season that they are harvested in. Olive oil flavor comes from a combination of the olives, free fatty acids, minerals, and pigments and vitamins. The highest percentage of these, and therefore the olive oil with the most flavor, is extra virgin olive oil. To get the best from this olive oil flavor, it is best used uncooked in salad dressings, poured over cooked foods or as a dipping condiment. For a slightly milder olive oil flavor, try virgin olive oil. For cooking and baking, pure olive oil should be used, as it has the least flavor, and is generally the least expensive.
Over time, olive oil will go rancid, and this process will be sped up if it is exposed to air, heat and light. Rancid olive oils are not harmful if consumed, but obviously they lose the flavor that they are usually bought for. To help ensure a long shelf life, store olive oil in a cool, dark place, and never near the stove. Dark colored bottles and metal cans provide the best storage containers, and large containers can be decanted into smaller containers. If you live in a warm area and don’t utilize air conditioning, you can store olive oil in the refrigerator. However, the oil will begin to take on a solid, cloudy form. The olive oil is still usable, it just needs to be returned to room temperature.
Instead of chocolates or wine, consider a good bottle of olive oil the next time you are invited as a guest to someone’s house. If you cook extensively, invest in an expensive bottle of extra virgin olive oil, and you will immediately notice the flavor difference.