3/25/13

Special: How to Select Olive Oil



Last week we touched on the benefits of eating a Mediterranean Diet including cutting your risk for a stroke. One of the key steps to maintaining a healthy Mediterranean Diet is including olive oil. In case you haven't been down the olive oil aisle in a while, the choices are endless. Do you choose expeller, cold or first pressed, virgin or extra virgin, regular or light, clear bottle or dark? Here's an easy guide to selecting an olive oil.

Pure or light oil means that chemicals have been used to get every last ounce of the oil from the olive. This is considered a refined oil and most of the beneficial nutrients have been destroyed. Light is in reference to the flavor, aroma and color of the olive oil and has nothing to do with calories or fat content.

"Virgin" vs "Extra Virgin" vs "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" vs "100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil" -
  • "Virgin"
  • "Extra Virgin" can be as little as 10% extra virgin olive oil and merely blended with light or pure olive oil.
  • "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" is understood to be cold pressed and first pressed. This means you don't need find those words additionally stated on the label. However, in the US first cold pressed will be stated (to help add to the price of the olive oil).
  • "100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil" is the least refined and best kind of olive oil.
Cold pressed and First Pressed vs Expeller Pressed

Dark bottles vs clear bottles - Light (from the sun, grocery store lights, lights in your kitchen) is the enemy to olive oils, making it become more rancid. If you purchase olive oil in a clear bottle, transfer it to a dark bottle.

Storing Olive Oil - Avoid storing the olive oil in cabinets above the refrigerator or stove and definitely don't keep in the refrigerator. Aim for a cool, dark location. Exposure to light, heat or excess cold can destroy some of the most beneficial nutrients in olive oil. If you store olive oil too long, you will smell a rancid aroma when you open the bottle. This should be disposed of. Avoid buying olive oil in such large bottles that you cannot use it in a 12 month time frame. Research from Spain (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry) found antioxidants and phyotnutrients dropped dramatically over a 1 year time frame even when conditions were controlled. 

Cooking with Olive oils - Typically you will want to use Extra Virgin Olive Oils when cooking with low temperature because it has a low smoke point. If you use too high of heat, you will see that the oil starts smoking - this is bad. It destroys much of the health benefits of the olive oil and will smell and probably taste rancid. Some people will use olive oil for pan frying, just watch for smoke.

Location - Olive oil connoisseurs will insist the best olive oils come from Italy, Spain or Greece. However, California soil, which is ideal for wine, also happens to be ideal for olive trees. And, most olive trees in California are descendants of the Spanish trees planted hundreds of years ago. So, if you are open to the idea, explore some of the great California olive oils. California also uses a strict criteria that not all states use.


Olive trees - be sure to teach your kids how olives are grown!
 

Color of Olive Oil - Good quality olive oil can come in a variety of colors, from emerald green to golden yellow.

Healthier Olive Oil? - If you are buying olive oil for the health benefits, choose extra virgin olive oil. Lighter olive oils have less of the heart healthy benefits because of the heat and chemicals used to refine it.

Early vs Late Harvest - Oils from an early harvest are produced from the green olives and result in herby, bitter or peppery flavors. Oils from a late harvest are typically milder and exhibit more fruit flavors.

So now that you know how to select an outstanding Olive Oil, get to Market Street, pick out your favorite one and start living the Mediterranean life.

Catch the blog, next Monday as we provide a one week meal plan for the Mediterranean Diet.



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