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Olive Oil

Nutrition data (3.5 oz/100 g)

Proteins0 oz/g
Fats3.49 oz/99.8 g
Carbohydrates0 oz/g
Energy898 kcal

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Olive oil is a heart of Mediterranean cuisine, which is immensely popular around the world. The ancient Greek poet Homer called olive oil “liquid gold”, Hippocrates studied its health benefits, and Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca devoted to it his poems.

Image source BelucciPremium website

From history

Olive tree is one of the oldest known cultivated fruit trees in the world. It is a known fact that olives were used by mankind from times immemorial. Olive tree was first cultivated by ancient Egyptians about 6-7 thousand years ago and then was introduced to the ancient Greece by Phoenician merchants. With the expansion of Greek colonies olive cultivation spread to the entire Mediterranean region which nowadays provides 99% of the world production of olive oil.

In the ancient times olive was believed to be a sacred tree and olive branch was considered as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. The winners of ancient Olympic Games were crowned with a wreath of wild olive and prized with jars of olive oil which was extremely valuable at that time.

Health benefits

Olive oil is very healthy food for your heart and blood vessels. Statistics shows that death rates from heart attacks and strokes are quite low in the Mediterranean countries. The secret of olive oil is in high content of monounsaturated (which means healthy) fats decreasing the level of bad cholesterol. Regular consumption of olive oil reduces the risks of atherosclerosis, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Olive oil helps to improve your digestion function and better absorption of nutrients. Due to its high oleic acid content olive oil reduces the acid production in the digestive tract, and therefore it is able to prevent many digestive problems, including stomach ulcer.

Despite its fatty nature, olive oil can be added to dietary products, as its regular intake (in small amounts) reduces appetite, stimulates metabolism, excrete toxins and waste products. Besides, it is perfectly assimilated by the human body.

Olive oil is rich in vitamins A, D, K, E which work perfectly for your skin. It is one of the best natural moisturizer, making your skin very soft and smooth. That is the reason why olive oil is commonly used in the cosmetic industry. The other reason is that olive oil is a rich source of powerful antioxidants, which slow down aging processes.

Anti-cancer benefits of olive oil have been one of the most actual areas of modern researches. Results of studies have shown that regular consumption of olive oil can sufficiently reduce the risks of cancer of breast, respiratory tract and digestive tract.

Culinary

In European countries olive oil is used for all purposes. Eating olive oil in raw is undoubtedly beneficial for your health. But before using it for frying, sautéing and baking, you should be aware of the adverse properties of heated oil.

Unfortunately all the amazing health benefits of olive oil are destroyed when it is heated over 140 F degrees. Famous chefs prefer not to use expensive high-quality extra-virgin olive oil for cooking because its wonderful taste and flavor disappear once you heat the oil, so there is no difference which sort of olive oil was used.

It is crucial to understand that cooking oil over high heat can be really dangerous. In case the oil was heated over its smoke point, it becomes toxic and carcinogenic. Smoke points are different for different grades of oil.

For your reference, the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is quite low (about 300F/150C), so it is not recommended for high-heat cooking. It is more reasonable to use for these purposes light olive oil which has the highest smoke point among olive oils (about 460F/240C).

Classification of olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is cold pressed unrefined olive oil of superior quality. Extra virgin oil has bright taste and strong flavor. It is derived from the best olives by mechanical extraction methods (without chemicals and heating) and has acidity less than 1%. The best oil has the lowest acidity and therefore the shortest shelf life.

Some olive oils may also have additional certifications designated as DOP, IGP и BIO.

Labels DOP (Denomimazione di Oridine Protetta) and PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) mean that the whole production process has taken place in the territory of specific geographic area. In order to obtain DOP certification, producers should comply with strict standards and regulations. It ensures the highest level of quality.

IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) is another certification which guarantees that at least one phase of production was executed within a certified region indicated on the packaging.

BIO label certifies that the product is ecologically safe. It guarantees that the oil was produced from the olives grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Virgin olive oil is also cold pressed unrefined oil of high quality. The acidity of virgin olive oil can vary between 1 and 2%, which is not low enough to qualify as extra virgin.

Olive oil, 100% Olive oil, Pure oil – all these names are referred to a blend of refined (which means extracted with the use of chemicals) with unrefined olive oil. Note that refined oils cannot offer health benefits described in this article. These oils can be used solely for cooking.

Light olive oil is highly refined oil which is suitable only for heat cooking and baking. It has no taste, flavor as well as health properties of virgin olive oil.

Pomace olive oil is inferior grade oil and should not be considered as olive oil. This is the cheapest olive oil that is why it is commonly used for industrial purposes. It is not recommended to use it for home cooking as it may hold carcinogens.

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How to choose

1. First thing you need to pay attention is the grade of the olive oil and the country of origin. The best quality oils come from Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. Make sure that the oil was produced and bottled in the same country.

2. Packaging. Choose olive oil in a dark-tinted glass protecting oil from deterioration. It’s better to choose the smaller bottles, as olive oil gets worse with age.

3. Shelf life. It’s easy – the fresher the oil, the better. Check the date of harvest, it should be indicated.

4. Do not choose olive oil for its color. Color is not an indication of quality as it depends on many factors.

Storage tips

In order to preserve healthful properties of olive oil it should be stored properly. Place the bottle of olive oil in a cool dark place. Optimal temperature is about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit (or 15-21 degrees Celsius).

It is not recommended to refrigerate olive oil because it may change the taste. But if you live in a very hot climate, storing olive oil in the refrigerator may be a good idea. Chilled oil may turn cloudy and thicken, but it will not affect the quality and flavor. After restored at room temperature, oil will return to its normal condition.

Keep your oil away from heat and direct light. Be aware that olive oil does not get better with time, so use it within 2 months after opening.

Interesting facts

In Ancient Greece people who destroyed olive tree were sentenced to death.

The winner of ancient Olympic Games in foot-race was awarded with about 5,500 ounces of precious olive oil.

The average Greek citizen consumes more than 17 liters (4.5 gallons) of olive oil annually.

The age of the oldest olive tree which is growing in the Greek island Crete is estimated at over 3,000 years. The tree still produces olives and is considered as a natural heritage monument. 

Olive Oil: recipes

Comments

Leila 4 June 2014
I love olive oil :-) Personally I find the Croatian the best, along with some of the Italian ones. If I could only remember the name of one that I got in a travel...

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