Extra Virgin Olive Oil Facts

Has the same bottle of olive oil been in your pantry for a year and a half? Why aren’t you using it more often?

Do you choose olive oils based on what the label looks like, or which country it comes from? Extra virgin olive oil is a lot like wine tasting, it takes time, practice and any country or producer can have a bad year. An easy way to tell good quality extra virgin olive oil from the cheap ones is put it in the fridge for a couple hours. A good quality EVOO will go cloudy and thicken up. I cheap quality EVOO will look exactly the same as it did at room temperature.

Most of us have heard about the healthful properties in extra virgin olive oil and if you haven’t heard it tastes darn good on a crusty piece of bread! It has become much more prevalent in North American cuisine than it once was.

Shopping Tips

It’s always a good sign when a label says the olives have been cold pressed. This means no heat was applied during the crushing process, which avoids changes in the olive’s chemistry and avoids defects. The California Olive Oil Council, which evaluates oils for its extra virgin status, says the oil must have been extracted mechanically from the olive, the most hygienic method, without chemicals or heat.

Exposure to light, heat, or oxygen can cause rancidity. Look for extra virgin olive oil in dark glass bottle that shields it from light and avoid plastic containers. Remember to store it in a cool, dark place at home; or wrap the bottle in aluminum foil to shield it from further sunlight.

Many people think green olive oil must be richer in flavour than yellow olive oil. In fact, the colour of the oil indicates nothing. It’s all about the way the oil tastes in your mouth and light-colour oils can be high quality as well.

“Light” or “diet” extra virgin olive oil does not exist. A light colour does not mean the olive oil is lower in calories and anything that says “light” has almost surely been chemically treated to minimize strong smells and tastes indicative of inferior oil, as well as adjusted for colour and acidity.

Well-made extra virgin olive oil will never be dirt cheap. If an “extra virgin” olive oil is much more affordable than the other ones on the shelf, that’s a red flag. Artisanship takes time and money and high-quality olive oil producers have certain costs to cover before they can even start to make a profit.

So why choose a California olive oil over a European one?

Of course, there’s room for all types of olive oils in your pantry, but there are some good reasons to choose California producers, and here’s why:

  • The California Olive Oil Council‘s evaluation criteria are stricter than those of the International Olive Oil Council and call for a 0.5% oleic acid (monounsaturated fat) content to the IOOC’s 0.8%. (The lower the fatty acid content, the lower the chance of rancidity)
  • There are some Spanish and Italian “extra virgin” oils that have widespread distribution in North American supermarkets and with one taste you will clearly notice a lower quality, even an amateur palate could tell, indicating a flawed certification process.
  • A recent investigation found that many large Italian producers were purchasing and falsely labeling oil from other Mediterranean countries as their own. According to a 2007 article about the investigation in The New Yorker, only 40% of Italian olive oil sold as “extra virgin” actually meets the requirements.
  • Then there is the issue of cultural preference. There are pictures and reports of Tunisian producer’s estate where olives were left to mould in a bag for a month because they said their consumers actually prefer a musty olive oil taste.


 

Common Questions

Aren’t all extra virgin olive oils more or less the same?

No not at all. There are the variations in fruit intensity (delicate, medium, robust) and themislabelledproducts. If the label says “extra virgin olive oil”, which is the highest quality, you can’t always believe it to be true until you have done some research. There is a lot of inferior oil that top-quality label placed on it. Extra virgin olive oil should have no defects–no bad smell, no bad taste, and it needs to be balanced with a certain amount of pungency, or spiciness, in the throat.

So how do I differentiate between fruit intensities?

Unfortunately, this is not an easy thing to do, and it takes practice. Try to think of it as a spice that can be added to food. Start out by buying a brand, like Cooking Essence, and then experiment with it. Food pairings are very subjective–you might like delicate oil on a salad, or even a citrus oil. And it’s amazing how oil’sflavour can change when combined with certain foods. Maybe you’ll find you only like one kind of intensity and then you know more about what to look for at the store.

There are three general categories of olive oils: delicate, medium, and robust “fruit,” or flavour. Unfortunately, producers do not tend to indicate on the label which category their oil falls into, especially since intensities can vary from year to year. However, if the label identifies which olives were used to make the oil, that is agood start.

  • Delicate oil (made from arbequina, leccino, sevillano, taggiasca) is usually a nice garnish for fish, for example. You wouldn’t want to drown out a delicate white fish with an overpowering oil.
  • Medium-intensity oil (ascolana, manzanillo, mission) can go well in a salad dressing or with grilled vegetables and poultry.
  • Robust oil (arbosana, frantoio, picholine) can be drizzled over steak with a spritz of lemon.
  • Then there is the issue of cultural preference. There are pictures and reports of Tunisian producer’s estate where olives were left to mould in a bag for a month because they said their consumers actually prefer a musty olive oil taste.

 

Is there a big difference between cooked and uncooked olive oil?

Uncooked olive oil is healthier than cooked olive oil (a chemical change occurs at its smoking point, when it essentially begins to consume itself through burning). Plus, raw oil maintains its great pure flavour, while heat and other ingredients can change the flavour of cooked oil. Use a minimum amount for cooking and then garnish the dish with oil from the bottle just before serving.

What’s the deal with unfiltered olive oil?

Unfiltered olive oil, which is exactly that, tends to have a slight cloudiness to it. It has marginally higher polyphenol (antioxidant) content and a slightly longer shelf life.

Can I use olive oil that is not extra virgin?

You can, but why would you? Ask any decent Mediterranean chef and they will tell you an extra virgin olive oil is the only olive oil to cook with because it has the least taste defects and it’s ultimately better for you. It’s potent antioxidants; monounsaturated fats that help prevent heart disease.

What about flavoured oils (citrus, truffle)?

Many flavoured oils have the same issue as extra virgin olive oils in terms of evaluating quality. One can use citrus flavoured oils, like Cooking Essence Meyer Lemon, Lime, Blood Orange, Tangerine or Citrus Habanero. Just think how a tangerine olive oil could enhance a duck entrée, or meyer lemon olive oil could accent fish. Cooking Essence White Truffle Infused Olive Oil is a great way to add truffle flavour without having to shell out for the real thing. And fresh truffles are only available a couple times a year. It is important, however, to choose a trusted brand when it comes to flavoured oils and butters, as they can be enhanced chemically.

Should I use extra virgin olive oil for frying?

It depends what you’re frying, but generally the answer is “yes.” Most alternative and inferior oils have been treated chemically to strip obvious defects and produce a neutral flavour. Extra virgin olive oil has a great taste that will most likely complement whatever you’re frying. You want to set the oil temperature at 360-365˚ with a maximum of 380˚. After frying you can filter the cooled oil through a coffee filter and use it 2-3 more times for frying only.

 

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