My father enjoyed kidding me when I was a youngster because I requested uncommon “foodie” ingredients like balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Well, in today’s grocery store, I see a dozen brands of balsamic and as many olive oils as cereal facings! That little girl may have been ahead of her time, but her new challenge is yours as well; if you’ve been confused and unsure about when to be frugal and when to spend some bucks on such treasures, read on:
A Regal Reputation
Olive oil is a pillar of the Mediterranean diet—which is rich in heart-healthy fiber and nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. This healthful eating lifestyle has rewarded those in Southern Italy and Greece with long life-expectancies. The liberal use of olive oil in their diet has been associated with benefits such as lower blood pressure and a lower risk for heart disease—not to mention healthy hair.
Although extra virgin olive oil is the best in quality, it’s not the best multi-purpose oil. This low acid “first press” oil is great drizzled on salads, pasta dishes and for bread dipping, but due to a low smoke point, it breaks down and burns in the presence of high heat. When cooking over high heat, use a refined or light olive oil (which is not lighter in calories), or make your own blend of olive and safflower or sunflower oils. A quality product is a must for table use, but commercial brands are just fine for kitchen applications.
Figuring Out Flavor
Taste does not always correlate to color when it comes to choosing your EVO (as we say in the biz). One may assume a green-tinted oil will be peppery while a golden will be mellow…but like wine, oil can cover a great range of flavor. Olives are grown all over the world and the same variety of olive will taste totally different in Spain, Argentina, and Australia due to the environment. Get to know which style you prefer before investing, and when you find a bottling you like, become brand loyal. Consult this olive oil tasting wheel to begin to pinpoint your palate preferences.
The Label Game
Another wine analogy: The more specific the label, the higher quality the product. Olive oil from Navarra, Spain implies an oil of pedigree, whereas a label identifying Spanish oil connotes an industrial grade. (And if you, like me, love Spanish products, check out my favorite Spanish wines.) When you see a declaration of country on a front label, look on the back label too. The olives may have been grown in different countries and were merely bottled in the stated country. Organic olive oil must adhere to strict harvesting and processing rules.
Protect Your Purchase
Dark bottles protect oil from sunlight, which along with heat, is oil’s nemesis. Check the expiration date on the bottle, and store in a cool location. I keep mine in a squeeze bottle to control my pour. During the summer I put the oil into the fridge in a covered container so I can scoop out a little at a time, prolonging the life of my very own life extender.
Tell us in the comments: What is your favorite way to use olive oil?