EXTRA VIRGINITY AND OLIVE OIL MYTHS

Olive Oil has many proven healthful qualities
Olive Oil has many proven healthful qualities
Olive Oil has many proven healthful qualities

The olive fruit is the greatest cure for any problem in life” – Solon, Athenian Statesman, 550 B.C.

The 80’s and 90’s brought us Flashdance, Billy Jean, Lionel Richie, American Gigolo, shoulder pads and (sigh) Frances Mayles’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun, which awakened all non-Italian residents to the fact that we were living dull and unromantic lives. This same era also brought us extraordinary home chefs such as Marcella Hazan, who championed the taste and healthy benefits of an ingredient that we could all have — which could transport us to that Italian countryside lifestyle: Olive Oil.

The Tuscan dream lifestyle
The Tuscan dream lifestyle

And with great enthusiasm, passion and Tuscan dreams we’ve been drizzling over and dunking into silken olive oils that are labeled Extra Virgin, Pure, Light, Infused and flavored. But, as it turns out there are a many things we think we know about olive oil and those things are mostly wrong! Huh? A recent rash of articles and books exposing the myths and frauds surrounding olive oil are directing us to the truths and have begun to clear our palates.

The array of color in olive oils
The array of color in olive oils

Six Myth Busters you need to know about Olive Oil:

  1. All Olive Oil is good for you.   Myth.

Any oil that isn’t labeled Extra Virgin Olive Oil is not worth your consideration. If it doesn’t say “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” on the label, it isn’t worth purchasing. “Light and Pure” on labels are neither light in calories, nor pure.  These are terms for marketing purposes only.  These are  refined, heated and industrialized products!  Step away from the shelf. Sadly, most grocery stores are not good sources for quality oils. Best bet, go online or to an olive oil and wine specialty shop.

      2.  First cold pressing on the label means it’s the best. Myth.

This phrase means nothing today. More of that marketing language. In ancient times, when pressing was done by hand, the first pressing was the freshest and cleanest. With today’s technologies oil is extracted by cylindrical spinning. No heat, no second or third pressing — at least for the quality oils.

       3.  You can’t roast, bake or fry with olive oil.  Oh, yes you can.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the most stable of olive oils, due to its high phenolic content. EVOO can sustain heat up to a smoke point of 410 F — this is above the temps needed to fry — without losing any of its antioxidant health or benefits. So go ahead and roast, bake, saute, fry and enjoy the added flavor and health benefits.

       4.  You can judge olive oil by its color. Nope.

Olive oil comes in an array of color hues based on the variety of the olive.  It’s all about the taste. In fact, when we’re judging olive oils at a competition, we taste the oils in cobalt blue, glass cups in order to to send any messages to our brain about the hue.

       5.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil doesn’t have to be expensive.  Sorry, it does, and here’s why.

Olives making high quality oil are picked or collected in nets by hand, pressed the same day, milled and bottled locally. All of this labor costs money and the price will likely reflect that.  Be very wary of large containers of olive oil at a cheap price, found in big box stores.  Cheaper oils (which can still be labeled EVOO) come from olives that drop to the ground (and start to macerate on themselves) or are machine collected, causing oil loss and damage to the fruit.  Or, the olives may be shipped in plastic containers where the weight of the olives begins to express their oils which can pick up bad flavors and odors from the containers.

       6.  You can store olive oil indefinitely, as it ages. Myth.

Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t improve with aging. Unopened, a bottle can last about 1.5 – 2 years stored in a cool, dark place. Once opened, use (liberally) within 6 weeks to 2 months. After that the flavors and health benefits will begin to dissipate. Purchase smaller bottles you’ll use quickly. You can refrigerate or freeze olive oil in bottles or in ice cube trays (then place the “cubes” into baggies) to keep it fresh.  The cool temps will turn the oil cloudy, which will disappear at room temp, and there’s no effect on taste or healthy anti-oxidants.

How to know if Olive Oil is of good quality:

  • The label knows. Check for the date of the harvest.  Oil is at its best within two years of that date, if stored properly in dark bottles.  Look for the country of origin on the back of the label. If it says “bottled in (name of country)” this could be oil brought in from another country and the quality has been damaged by shipping, handling and heat. Look for “Estate Grown and Bottled” or a designation of origin ( i.e., 100% Italian, Greek, California, etc.). If the oil is from Europe, look for the initials DOP.  This is a designation of origin and must offer a certain prestige and meet the rigorous specifications established by the Regulatory Board.
  • Your nose knows.  When you  open the bottle, the oil should have fruity aromas, or aromas of artichoke, asparagus, citrus. If it smells of stale walnuts, musty/damp, peanut butter, crayola/waxy, then the oil is rancid.  It won’t kill you, but the benefits of taste and health are gone, much like a corked wine.  Return that bottle to the store and get your money back.
  • Taste tells:   The oil should feel silky-oily on your tongue.  When you swallow, you may suddenly want to cough due to the peppery feeling in your throat. THIS IS GOOD NEWS!  It’s your cue that the oil has a high anti-oxidant content – that’s the health benefit you’re feeling. This is most prevalent in Tuscan olive varieties. There are milder olives whose oil is less peppery from Greece,  France and Spain.  California has such a richness of agriculture that the olive oils run the gamut of varieties, styles and flavors.  California also has the most rigorous laws regarding olive oil quality.  Australia follows our lead on these laws for their oils.

Olive oil has extraordinary qualities for our health as well as pleasure.  Scientifically, it is low in solid fats, has zero trans fats, very high in Vitamins A and E, and easy on our digestive system.  Olive oil helps us absorb calcium, resist hypertension, and recent studies and trials show promise for prevention and possible cancer cures.  Next blog post we’ll focus on how to use olive oil for recipes, face masks, cosmetics and a wild array of surprising uses for Olive Oil!  Solon was right, olive oil can be the greatest cure for any problem in life!

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Credit: pouring olive oil, essayshark.com; Tuscan terrace, villalegineprale.com

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