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A Touch of Extra Virgin Please

Posted Nov 12 2009 10:04pm

Olive Oil Ahh, lifestyles… what does that mean?  Living in Crete and eating a healthy amount of wild greens like purslane everyday or just going there for vacation?  Eating the revered fruit, the olive, and using its oil after the first press or eating any fried item?

The America Heart Association recommends a diet high in monounsaturated fat and low in saturated fat (7% or less of your caloric intake) because this diet helps decrease LDL (the bad cholesterol) without reducing the good cholesterol, HDL.  Olive oil is coveted for it’s monounsaturated fat and is one of the main ingredients of the Mediterranean Diet.  A serving of olive oil, 1 tablespoon, is made up of  77% monounsaturated fat, making it one of nature’s greatest natural resource of monounsaturated fat.   Like other oils, olive oil also has saturated fat (14%) but is less then what is found in other fats, such as butter and palm kernel oil.

We know olive oil is good for us but what type olive oil should one buy?   We have so many choices…extra virgin, virgin, light, lite, pure, or refined.  I often hear questions like:  Which type of olive oil would be lower in calories?  Which one can I use for frying, baking, and drizzling?

If you see the terms, “light, lite, pure, or refined” it does not mean that a serving of this olive oil is lower in calories.  The terminology instead is referring to the treatment of the olives to make the oil and indicates that chemicals and heat have been used to treat the olives.  These oils as a result typically don’t have a heavy aroma but they have less beneficial phytochemicals like polyphenols and antioxidants, like vitamin E, found in olive oil.  

Extra virgin oil refers to the first press oil of the crushed olive and it does have a stronger taste.  According to olive oil aficionados and the Italian government it tastes better too.  Since extra virgin olive oil has not been chemically or heat treated it has a higher content of polyphenols and other nutrients.   The only voluntary guidelines to ensure the quality of extra virgin oil in the US is currently through the California Olive Oil Council, COOC (a non-profit) which has a Seal of Quality stamp indicating it is certified extra virgin olive oil and laboratory tested following COOC’s guidelines.

I suppose taste and aroma are preferences but there is that piece of more phytochemicals and antioxidants in extra virgin oil.  I know the die-hard Neapolitan 2 Amy’s Pizzeria in the Washington DC area was formally recognized by the Italian government for it’s use of “legally permitted” ingredients, including extra virgin olive oil, to create an authentic Neapolitan pizza in the US.  Needless to say, the type of olive oil used is serious business to many.

Grilled Asparagus with Olive OilAlthough I am not obsessed with the nuances of extra virgin olive oil I have found some that really do enhance my food, even the likes of simple scrambled eggs .  Are you ready to explore different varieties of extra-virgin olive oils with COOC seal of approval from on-line places like We Olive ?   Start with the smaller olive oil bottles because you really don’t want to keep your fine extra virgin olive oil alone on the shelf.  Better use and savor then barely use and save.

Try the simple 2 Amys peeled and sliced orange, red onion, olives and chives salad drizzled with a touch of extra virgin olive oil of choice and perhaps top with shavings of dry Jack cheese.  Tired?  Whip out extra virgin olive oil and use it as a simple dip for roasted asparagus or drizzled over a baked potato instead of sour cream or butter and add a dash of freshly ground black pepper.

Life is about variety and balance and that that holds true for any equipped pantry.  Having a combination olive oil (one that is simply a blend of extra virgin and regular olive oil) or a straight olive oil does work for sautéing or frying since it does have a higher smoke point (410º F) than virgin or extra virgin oils.  It is a better choice (and usually cheaper) for the occasional deep frying.  Falafels anyone?

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