Olive oil is just about as as prevalent as drinking water in the Mediterranean. It's basically used in every meal! This tasty golden nectar made from olives is the central reason to why we associate the people of this region of the world with amazing longevity, ample health, and gorgeous, vital skin and hair.
Using olive oil in our own homes is absolutely a Good Decision, as it truly does offer us incredible health benefits. However, it is also essential that we know how to purchase, store and use olive oil correctly.
Before we give you those tips and tricks, let's start off with the reasons why this is a must-have ingredient in every kitchen, or medicine cabinet!
The Health Benefits of Olive Oil
High in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), olive oil will help to decrease inflammation and even lower your risk of heart disease. A study done with citizens of Spain, by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that consumption of olive oil is associated with a decreased risk of overall mortality as well as a reduction of deaths due to cardiovascular disease [I].
MUFA's may also aid in lowering your cholesterol and assist with blood clotting, as well as help to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes. If that's not enough reason to include this oil in your diet, olive oil can also aid in the treatment of ulcers and gastritis, and lower the incidence of gallstones [II].
Chemical-Free Skin Care
The antioxidants within olive oil not only support your heart, but also your skin and hair. Fight the signs of aging by applying the oil topically on your skin, especially when dry weather creeps in. Unlike store-bought lotions, pure olive oil contains more than 80% oleic acid. This substance has the ability to actually penetrate the skin which will help to reduce wrinkles and improve skin texture. Plus, its free of damaging chemicals like phthalates and parabens that the majority of commercial skin care creams contain. For those with coarse, dry hair, olive oil can also double as a deep-treatment conditioner for intense moisture and sheen. Just remember that a little goes a long way!
The Many Faces of Olive Oil
Most of us aren't always aware of what it is that we're actually purchasing at the supermarket, especially when it comes to the quality of olive oil. Here are the differences between the types you will see in a store:
Extra Virgin— This is your best choice, as it is the least processed and comes from the first pressing of the olives. Therefore, it contains the highest amount of phenols and vitamin E. Chemicals and high heat are not allowed in the production of extra-virgin olive oil and no further refining occurs after the pressing process. Anytime you see the combined words, "unrefined," "expeller-pressed" and "extra virgin", you have struck gold!
Virgin— This type is very similar to extra virgin, being that it is extracted from the first press and does not contain any refined oil. However this type is slightly more acidic and slightly less flavorful.
Pure— Don't let the name trick you because this stuff's not the real deal. This type is typically a blend of virgin oil and refined oil. It's vitamin E and nutrient content is much lower.
Light or Extra Light— These are the most processed olive oils and retain little to no nutrition. Consumers are also fooled by this label, thinking that this type is lower in calories, when in reality they are not. They are mainly just lighter in color because of the high refinement. Buying this variety is not a Good Decision!
It's really helpful to remember the levels of this list because the least refined an olive oil is, the more flavor and nutrients it will have. The refined versions are also often mixed with other types of cheap oils like soybean or cottonseed. Bad news!
I challenge you to taste the difference. If you happen to have a local producer and can sample a singular estate-grown, extra virgin variety, you won't even know what hit you! They're not only a deeply rich color, but can also taste like the olive plant is literally contained inside the bottle— it's super bold, earthy and has this vibrant tang to you. Really incredible stuff!
Storing Your Oil
It's a good idea to only buy as much as you can use within six months, being that it is sensitive to heat, light and air. All of these factors can cause the oil to lose nutrients and oxidize, making it turn rancid. To be safe, only purchase olive oil in a dark green glass bottle and store it at room temperature in a dark cupboard.
Olive oil can be heated up to 350 degrees which makes it suitable for lightly sautéeing or baking at low to medium temperatures. When exposed to high temperatures, the oil will lose its health properties and can burn quite easily. If if starts to smoke, you know the heat is turned up too high. Choose coconut oil or ghee for higher heat cooking.
Don't be afraid to use olive oil in all types of dishes though! You can drizzle a few tablespoons over cauliflower, carrots, asparagus or potatoes before you roast them in the oven, or use it as a finishing oil to add flavor at the last moment. It is also perfect for use as a dressing on salads, combined with a squeeze of lemon. Remember that with all oils, a little goes a long way!
So tell us, what is your favorite use for olive oil? If you are of Eastern European descent, do you have any special family recipes that make use of this all-star food?
[I] Buckland, Genevieve, et al. "Olive oil intake and the mortality within the Spanish population". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 30 2012. Web. July. 2016. <http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2012/05/29/ajcn.111.024216>.
[II] Lupiáñez-Pérez, et al. "Effectiveness of olive oil for the prevention of pressure ulcers caused in immobilized patients within the scope of primary health care: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial." Trials. 2013 Oct 23;14:348. doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-14-348. Web. July. 2016. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24152576>.