But we don't always give our olive oil the respect and care it deserves. After all, we should respect an oil that I've witnessed with my own eyes still coming from trees hundreds and even thousands of years old. Olives are a gift from the gods... a gift of Mother Nature herself. They are a link to our past and a healthy path to our future.
Here are some ways you can give respect to your olive oil...
- First of all, not all olive oil deserves your respect. Many oils sold in supermarkets are a mix of oils. Some sold as "olive oil" may be a blend of olive and other oils, like canola, soybean or sunflower.
- Don't even bother buying "light", "pure" or "virgin". These are always blends or highly processed and lack the benefits of Extra Virgin in terms of flavor and health benefits. Buy only Extra Virgin Olive Oil... and even then, check the label to make sure the bottle actually contains 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Don't be cheated! Many large corporations are misleading consumers by their labeling and others (the Italian Mafia) are perpetuating outright fraud. Read more about olive oils, what to look for, how it is made and how to avoid the fake stuff in my article, HERE.
- Extra-virgin olive oil is higher in polyphenols, low in saturated fat and contains antioxidants, all helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. Phony olive oil blends aren't just a deception, they are a crime against public health.
- If you want to fry using olive oil, you might be doing what I used to do--frying in "light olive oil" and saving the Extra Virgin Olive Oil for use directly in recipes. Extra Virgin has a lower smoke point, meaning it's not the best for frying, but here's a trick: Use half Extra Virgin for that olive oil flavor and then add half canola oil to raise the smoke point, which will make your fried foods crispier. Canola has no taste of its own so won't ruin your recipes.
- With quality oils, whether domestic or imported, look for a “pressing date” on the label. Sometimes it’s called the “harvest date.” This tells you how fresh the olive oil is. If it’s beyond six months, pass it by. Nutrients (and flavor) in olive oil start to deteriorate six months after pressing.
- The "pressing date" or "harvest date" is not the same as the "best used by” date that you will see on supermarket brands of olive oil. Mass producers of supermarket varieties of olive oil will put "best used dates" as long as two years past the date of the actual pressing of the oil. This is simply to prevent people from allowing their oil to go rancid if they store it for too long at home.
- If you invest in expensive, high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oils, don't buy more than you can use within six months. An olive oil producer I spoke to in Tuscany told me that one year is the absolute limit olive oil will remain "fresh" (and that's only if it's stored properly... more on that in a second).
- Consider buying Unfiltered, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is the type of oil I saw and tasted in Italy that really impressed me. It tends to look cloudy because the particulates produced in the first, cold pressing are left in--tremendous, complex flavors, along with added health components. Use unfiltered oils directly on foods, salads, drizzled on bruschetta, cheese, etc. Some argue that removing the small particles (by either filtering or centrifuge) extend the life of the oil in storage. If you buy only what you need for short periods of time, this isn't an issue.
- Never buy olive oil in clear bottles! Light causes olive oil to lose flavor and freshness. Buy only in very dark green or brown bottles, or better yet... buy your Extra Virgin olive oil in cans.
- If you find a place where you can taste the oil before you by, please do so. As when selecting a wine, your palate might tell you that one oil is more bitter and another a bit fruitier or sweeter. For instance, I'm not a fan of bitter oils... I tend to buy fruitier types. Look for olive oils in local open air markets where they will allow you to taste first, or from specialty olive oil shops that will sell olive oil dispensed from the spigots of their shiny, stainless steel tanks called fusti. These oils can be expensive, but at least you know you are getting the taste that you want.
- Try shopping for high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oils online. Even Amazon has many artisan oils on their site. Or Google for them and see what pops up. I'll put some links at the end of this article.
- Store your oil properly! If you use a lot of olive oil, buy it in tins only. Buy large tins if you use a lot (we go through about a gallon every 3-4 months or so). Store your oil in a dark place, especially if you buy it in bottles (never buy clear bottles!). Don't keep small, expensive bottles of Extra Virgin on your counter--keep them in your cupboards, away from light. Oxygen is also an enemy of olive oil, so as your larger container gets less full, you might consider transferring the remaining oil into smaller containers. To store a larger amount, think about investing in your own fusti (stainless dispenser tank) for your pantry, dispensing oil into small olive oil carafes for daily use.