Olive Oil: A New Rush for Gold

by Ashley Talmadge

Olives were among the first cultivated crops. Olive oil production dates back thousands of years, used not only as a culinary accoutrement, but also as medicine and lamp fuel. The Greek poet, Homer, famously referred to olive oil as “liquid gold.”

North America’s relationship with olives began in the late 1700’s, however, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that farmers developed an interest in the olive as a cash crop.

Why extra virgin?

How healthy is it?

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is made by crushing olives and extracting the juice. Experts agree that only an EVOO confers the health benefits associated with olive oil.

EVOO contains the “good” (monosaturated) fatty acids, as well as naturally occurring polyphenols. Naturopath Dr. Christina Caselli, ND says consumption of olive oil “lowers insulin levels, lowers blood pressure, and reduces overall cholesterol levels.”  New studies suggest specific phenols may prevent Alzheimer’s disease and destroy cancer cells. Applying olive oil to the skin can be beneficial as well. Caselli says it “can be used as a carrier for essential oils to be used topically.”  

Finding your gold.

Lab tests have revealed that more than two-thirds of store-bought oils imported by the U.S. and labeled as EVOO fail to meet International Olive Council standards.

Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age. To make sure your olive oil is fresh look for:

Dark glass bottle or tin container.

Exposure to heat and light degrades the oil.

Harvest date.

Olive oil becomes rancid over time, so buy the most recently bottled oil.

Quality seal certification.

EVOOs bearing a sticker from one of several programs—e.g. North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA), or California Olive Oil Council (COOC)—meet specific taste and chemical standards.

Price point.

“If it sounds too good to be true…” Most experts agree that you cannot buy good EVOO for less than $10/liter.

Cook’s companion, hot or cold.

Contrary to a widespread myth, good EVOO is quite stable under high heat conditions. It can be used for frying, sautéing, and baking at 410 degrees F or more with tasty, nutritious results. 

Choosing an oil? Keep in mind:

Go bitter for better health. experts say that, due to the high phenol content, the healthiest EVOOs often have a bitter or peppery quality.

One olive is not like another.

Chef Brett LaMott, Chef at Maddalena’s  in Dunmuir, California says each oil has a “terroir”—it “tastes like the soil where it grows.” Olives of the same variety may have very distinct flavors, depending on where they’re grown.      

Different dishes, different oils. Pair a robust oil with a strong spicy dish, a delicate oil with a light dish.

Another healthy and delicious tip?

LaMott suggests replacing other fats with olive oil. “It’s far better than putting butter on your bread. Just dip your bread in olive oil.”

Locally, Sofo’s Foods on Monroe Street features an amazing selection of olive oils and Balsamic vinegars. One hundred and eighty six choices are available.

Sofo’s Foods – 5400 Monroe Street, www.shopsofos.com – 419-882-8555

Ashley Talmadge is a freelance writer and mother of two boys. Though not foodie, she tries to stock her kitchen with tasty nutritious ingredients. Her articles have appeared in dozens of publications across the U.S. and Canada.

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