A Note on Olive Oil

Olive Oil

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BEWARE if you’re using anything other than EXTRA VIRGIN.

I’ve heard about the scandalous behaviour of some olive oil makers around the world packaging lots of different oils and labeling them EXTRA VIRGIN. Well they should be ashamed and we, as consumers, should be more aware when it comes to buying food products, which we use every day.

When I lived in Florence I was able to try some of the best olive oils on the planet. Tuscany is constantly either winning ‘best olive oil in the world’ or in the top three year after year, so the benchmark has been set by the Tuscans. One the the most basic gifts you can give yourself is to pour a little EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil onto  stewed or steaming vegetables, soups, breads etc.

Some basic guidelines:

You must never heat an olive oil excessively, certainly never bring it to smoking point. If you do, toss is out and start again. When you overheat the oil you’ll undo all the good work of nature and labour of the olive oil maker.

Olive oil is best within the first year of pressing although most labels will indicate a 2year expiration period. When buying oil, just make sure you can consume it within the following 6 to 9 months.

Keep it in a dark, cool cupboard. If it’s in a clear bottle, you can wrap the bottle in aluminium foil to keep the oil from exposure to light.

Keep a lid on it at all times to reduce the contact with air.

Best case scenario is to buy it 4 or 5 litre / 1 to 1,3 gallons tin. Keep the tin in a cool dark cupboard, and pour into a small dark glass bottle as you need it.

I also would suggest supporting your local growers and olive oil makers. Australia and the USA make great quality olive oils, they usually cost more than the Spanish or Italian oils but are also a quality product. European oils that make it to the States or Australia are normally made by giant olive oil producers where quantity is more important than quality. Local oils travel less and don’t have to endure variations in climatic conditions suffered during exportation.  Go for the local whenever you can.

Below is some info on lableling of olive oil according to extraction methods.

Basically; there are 3 common types of extraction methods when it comes to oil.

Mechanically Extracted:

This is the simple pressing of the fruit. EXTRA VIRGIN means it comes from this pressing. You will sometimes notice that a label may say ‘COLD PRESSED’, this simply means it’s the first pressing and no heat has been applied. Temperature during this process cannot exceed 26 degrees c / 79 degrees F. This process has little denaturing effect on the properties of the oil, so as long as the olive is picked, processed and mechanically pressed in the prescribed manner, and that the acidity level is within that allowed, this can be labeled EXTRA VIRGIN. If you ever put these oils next to an inferior oil, you will notice just how much richer in colour (Gold or Green) they are. They are usually fruity, grassy or herbaceous in aroma. Gift of the Gods

Heat Extracted:

With all the olive flesh and pulp left over from the process above, there is still plenty of oil still to be had. The most effective extraction method here is to apply heat in order to allow the flesh to exude itself of the oil. While in the mechanical process (described above), temperatures are not allowed to exceed 26 degrees C/79 degrees F, heat extraction temperatures are elevated enough to unfortunately denature lots of the beneficial properties of olive oil. Labels of this kind of oil will usually read ‘PURE OLIVE OIL’ or ‘OLIVE OIL’, which of course is not a  lie, but labelling it Extra Virgin would be a lie and illegal. I always stay away from these ones. They are void of essential character you want in an olive oil.

Chemically Extracted:

There’s still a little more oily substance to be extracted from all this flesh & pulp, which by now has moved onto it’s third processing plant. Here the use of oil dispersion chemicals, including solvents are applied to pulp and the remaining pail yellow oil is obtained. This is the sort of oil you will see promoted as EXTRA LIGHT. This is marketing BS and you should know it. It’s certainly light on chararcter and flavour.  It’s also the oil which is used, after hydogenation, in olive oil margarines. I suggest brushing EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil on your bread if you want to avoid butter. This product has none of the antioxidant properties of the Extra Virgin and can tranform some of the pricipal benefactors, of the oil, into carcinogens. Stay away from these oils. They are in no way healthy for you, and will not resemble oilve oil in the slightest. If you have any in your cupboards, I suggest moving it to the garage and use it for your squeaky door hinges.