Updated: May 18, 2021
Virgin, extra virgin, light, cold pressed, first cold pressed, organic. It's in skincare, soap, can cure diaper rash, is used in prophylactics to prevent you from having a baby, and is even in lubricants to make baby makin' more fun...so what is the dill with olive oil?
I am obsessed with olive oil. Specifically, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, EVOO, as Rachel Ray coined it. I just read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, by Tom Mueller. Mr. Mueller really dives deep into the history of olive oil, which dates back to the Greek Gods. I'll spare you the history lesson, of which there are many here, but the reason this book resonated with me was because of the farmers, experts, and olive oil sommeliers, he interviews and befriends. Listening to their passionate descriptions of how their blood, sweat and tears harvested and pressed quality olive oil and the tragedy of low grade oil becoming the norm, tugged at my heart strings. Anyone speaking passionately about their work really gets me, especially if it has to do with food/beverage. I am ready to pack up my family, move to Italy and start harvesting olives to help their cause! Good bye city life! Who needs the internet!? Sipping olive oil with farmers and learning about hard work in the olive groves of Italy sounds appealing in this chaotic world of mass shootings and corruption...but that's another post.
Speaking of corruption...fraudulent olive oil is a huge racket, and guess who the number one chump is...? You guessed it, Americans. (the EU is close behind) Most American's haven't had the opportunity to try the really good stuff because there is so much refined oil mixed into it posing as real olive oil. In Italy, they call this subpar oil, Lampante, which means, ‘lamp oil.’ Gross, right? In the book, Flavio Zaramella, a Milanese expert olive oil taster brought forth a "supermarket quality" oil for tasting, and says, “Extra virgin? What’s this oil got to do with virginity? This is a whore.” Zaramella was one of my favorite characters in the book. He was humorous, passionate and knowledgeable. He was terminally ill with stomach cancer, but his passion for olive oil was fierce and he was devoted to unveiling the corrupt practices of the olive oil industry.
Zarmella also explained the health benefits in EVOO that are largely unrealized because "we" are so afraid of oils and fats. It seems EVOO can do anything. It's like the real life Windex from My Big Fat Greek Wedding! It serves as an anti-inflammatory, can protect against diabetes and insulin resistance, reduce high blood pressure and heart problems, prevent gallstones and protect against osteoporosis as well as aid in the digestive process. The cheap stuff is nothing but refined lamp oil and those health benefits are burned right out. Such sadness. I also learned from "Extra Virginity", that "the quality of the olive fruit is is of fundamental importance to the quality of the oil. You need prime olives to make extra virgin olive oil - but you can make industry standard seed oil from low grade seeds." Interesting, huh?
So this is where I get bougie. Buy GOOD olive oil. Not just to support the passionate hard working olive farmers but also to support the rich history of olives and the health benefits of pure EVOO. Your food will taste better and will provide health benefits the other oils cannot. Here are some tips for on finding the best EVOO.
Only buy oil labeled extra-virgin. Extra-virgin olive oil is where it is at. It's the gold standard of olive oil. EVOO is highly regulated by the International OIive Oil Council and is unrefined and never treated with chemicals or heat.
Bottles labeled as “Olive Oil” or “Light Olive Oil” are refined oils that have been treated with heat which strip away odor and flavor. These oils will not add the flavor you're looking for with olive oil, especially if you're using your oil in raw cooking. If you're looking for a neutral oil without flavor, pick up an intentionally flavorless oil like grapeseed instead.
Read the label. The finest producers always put the harvest date on their oils. The use-by-date is usually 18 months from bottling, rather than harvest, so keep your eye on the harvest date.
Also look for the country of origin. All oil sources must be listed, and likely says it's a “Product of Italy", which might just mean it was bottled there. So look on the back label and you'll find the initials of the country of origin of the olives themselves: IT for Italy, FR for France, GR for Greece, etc.
Stay away from the light. Light and heat are great enemies of olive oil and the oil inside a clear bottle will probably have lost its flavor and aroma before it's taken from the shelf. So look for EVOO in dark glass bottles or opaque tins and store your oil in a cool, dark place. Keeping a small refillable olive oil dispenser near the stove for quick access is a great idea! That way you can fill the small jar while keeping your main stash of oil out of the light and the heat.
Use your oil! This is not wine...oil does not improve with age. The fresher the better! The bold bitter and fruity flavors are treasured by connoisseurs because they indicate high quality and are evidence of healthy polyphenols! But if your oil is rancid, it's been in your cupboard too long...toss it and reup your stash.
Purchase from trusted retailers. Can you drop $50 on a bottle of high quality olive oil? Sure can, but you don't have to. There are several online retailers that offer good quality oils that really range in price.
Olive Oil Lovers offers a tasting kit where you can try several types and pick out your favs: https://oliveoillovers.com/lp/tasting-kit/ It's a fun way to figure out what you're into! Then you can take those flavor profiles to the store! If we can ever have parties again, I suggest an oil tasting party!
Some of my favorite reputable retailers are:
I've mentioned raw cooking a few times, and by that I mean using oil in dishes where you are not cooking with it. Like dressings, pesto or dipping bread. I use a different olive oil for that purpose. I like strong fruity pungent notes for finishing oils and less so for the oils I'm cooking with. You really, really want a great olive oil for raw cooking.
Here are some of my favs:
Pianogrillo Extra Virgin Olive Oil https://www.gustiamo.com/organic-pianogrillo-extra-virgin-olive-oil-2/ . This olive oil is a great multipurpose oil for cooking and raw meals. It has a strong fruity nose and a smooth finish.
Alziari Olive Oil. While this OO is bottled in Nice, France, Alziaris also source olives from Spain and Italy from growers they've worked with for decades. Their olives are pressed within 24 hours of picking. They are highly trusted olierie with a great reputation and tasty results. https://www.zingermans.com/Product/alziari-olive-oil/O-ALZ
Let me know what you think! Go buy some great olive oil to elevate your plate and eatUP!
Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, by Tom Mueller.
Flavio Zaramella: Featured in Extra Virginity.
Association 3E: Featured in Extra Virginity.
Corporazione Mastri Oleari: profiled in Extra Virginity.
Organic Organic Facts. 11 Surprising Olive Oil Benefits.
Clinical Trials. Olive Oil for Breast Cancer Prevention in Women at High Risk for Breast Cancer (Olive Oil). 18 February 2016. Verified September 2016 by Tejal Patel, MD, The Methodist Hospital System.
California Olive Ranch. 6 February 2017. A healthy pantry: What makes extra virgin olive oil so good for us.
Olive Oil Times. Special Report: Olive Oil Health Benefits.
Gallbladder Cleanses With Olive Oil and Lemon. 18 August 2015. Hopki
Olive Oil Source: An excellent and diverse array of resources covering many aspects of olive oil chemistry, tasting, and production.
CalAthena: by, Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne
Australian Olive Association: The trade association of the Australian olive oil industry
ONAOO: the National Organization of Olive Oil Tasters