Has been the most important beauty & culinary ingredient for the Mediterranean people since ancient times. Homer called it "Liquid Gold" and Hippocrates "The Great Healer". It is considered the healthiest fat in the world, containing unique antioxidants, fatty acids and vitamins offering countless health benefits, it is the basic component of the Mediterranean Diet and accompanies us every day throughout our lives.
But, how well do we actually know it?
Understanding Olive Oil
What is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is the oil that comes from the processing of olive fruits.
Every olive oil produced in the mill is called Virgin until it is categorized through physicochemical and organoleptic analysis (smell and taste). Virgin olive oils are obtained from the olive fruit, exclusively by mechanical methods or other natural treatments and under conditions that do not cause alterations in their natural composition. Virgin olive oil has not undergone any treatment other than washing, crushing, malaxing, centrifugation and filtration.
Which are the quality categories of Olive Oil?
Olive oil is available in the market in categories and we should read the label carefully when we are going to buy.
Categories of Edible Olive Oils (Regulation 2568/91 EU)
Extra virgin olive oil: its content of free fatty acids (acidity), does not exceed 0.8 g per 100 g (0.8%), has no organoleptic defects and has a detectable fruity.
Virgin olive oil: Olive oil whose acidity does not exceed 2.0%, has a small organoleptic defect (below 3.5, on a scale from 1 to 10) and a detectable fruity.
Olive oil - consisting of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils.
This oil is obtained by mixing refined olive oil (which has gone into industry and through processing has been neutralized, deodorized, discolored) and virgin olive oils, the acidity of which does not exceed 1.0%.
This oil is obtained by mixing refined pomace oil and virgin olive oils, the acidity of which does not exceed 1,0%.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the best olive oil for consumption. It has the highest nutritional value and gives greater taste pleasure since it retains all its aromas.
What is a High Phenolic EVOO and why it is good for our health?
High Phenolic Olive Oils are those Olive Oils that contain a high percentage of phenolic compounds and are directly related to the health benefits of olive oil. According to the EU Health Claim Labeling Regulation (432/2012), the claim may be used only for olive oil which contains at least 5mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives (e.g. oleuropein complex and tyrosol) per 20g of olive oil. The beneficial effect for the consumers is obtained with a daily intake of 20g of olive oil (2-3tbs). This daily intake of high phenolic olive oil contributes to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress. UC Davis, Harvard University, and many other research centers in the world embrace this idea and have backed it up with many kinds of research over the last ten years.
High Phenolic Olive Oils have been found to help:
· lower blood pressure
· protect the arteries from damage
· lower bad cholesterol
· reduce the risk for type II diabetes
· prevent many types of cancer
· prevent strokes
· fight premature aging
· decrease the risk for depression and dementia
· slow the progression of Alzheimer’s up to 40%
· reduce inflammations in the body
What are the phenolic compounds?
These are the organic compounds that are the by-products of plant synthesis and are known as phytochemicals. Phenols are regarded for their health-promoting properties and are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, beverages (coffee, tea, and wine), fats (olive oil) as well as in spices. However, there are phenolic compounds unique to olive oil that only occur during the crushing & malaxing process. There are 36 known phenolic compounds in olive oil. The two most widely researched for their health-protective benefits are Oleocanthal and Oleacein which are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The presence of Oleocanthal is indicated by the peppery effect on the back of the throat sometimes causing a cough reflex. Oleacein is known for the bitterness on the tongue. For people accustomed to purchasing olive oils from the supermarket (e.x. refined olive oil), these characteristics of pepperiness and bitterness are often mistaken as a defect in olive oil.
Phenolic content varies according to soil condition and weather patterns, olive variety, time of harvest (fruit ripening stage - the greener the olives the higher the phenolic content), milling procedures, etc. For example, bio-diversity within the olive grove adds to the richness of the soil and the nutrition available to the olive fruit. Rains, drought, or winds have a greater or lesser impact on phenolic content and the amount of olive oil produced depending on when they occur during olive fruit maturation.
If you are purchasing a high phenolic olive oil for its health benefits, you should treat it as a food supplement, you have to consume it daily and preferably raw on your foods and salads. If you want to cook or fry with olive oil you can use a more affordable Extra Virgin Olive Oil and keep your high phenolic EVOO for your daily self-care ritual!
It is recommended to use it quickly, before the Best Before date. Once it is opened it is critical to take care of it to minimize the loss of the phenolic content and preserve the integrity of its health benefits.
Light, heat, air (oxygen), and time are the enemies of any olive oil. Storing olive oil in a cool (15-18°C, 57-64°F) dark place will prolong its qualities of extra virginity and high phenolic content.
That means to store it in small tinted bottles 250–1000ml out of the light in a cool place and don’t leave it by the stove or window while cooking.
Close the bottle well after every use. Phenolic compounds will simply do away from an open bottle within a short period of time. Keep in mind that high phenolic EVOO’s cost more than the majority of olive oils found in the market due to special cultivation, harvest, and milling processes that raise the labor cost.
Is the color of the Olive Oil a quality criterion?
The color of olive oil is not a quality criterion. It ranges from tones of golden yellow to emerald deep green and depends to a large extent on the variety, the degree of ripeness of the fruit at harvest and whether the leaves have been processed together with the olives. Olive oil may have a very nice attractive green color but it may also have a sensory defect and high acidity so it is not considered an extra virgin. Expert olive oil tasters always taste in tinted glasses (blue or red) so that they do not see the color and have any bias.
What is the acidity of Olive Oil?
The acidity of the olive oil shows the condition of the olive fruit from which the olive oil was produced. It is a chemical parameter that measures the free fatty acids found in olive oil. These fatty acids are "released" only when the olive fruit is damaged or attacked (eg olive fly, gloeosporium). If the olives are healthy, fresh and milled immediately after harvest, the fatty acid chains do not break and the acidity remains low (0.1-0.3%). The production of free fatty acids is due to the lipolytic action of the enzyme lipase, which is found in olive fruit. This action takes place mainly before the extraction of olive oil and therefore the acidity changes very shortly after its extraction from the olive fruit. The acidity of olive oil can be detected only with chemical analysis and not with tasting. It is not the most important quality criterion because it is possible for an olive oil with low acidity to have a serious organoleptic defect. In that case, this olive oil cannot be characterized as Extra Virgin.
Is unfiltered Olive Oil better?
Unfiltered is the olive oil that after its final separation (in the oil mill) does not go through the filtering phase. This means it retains moisture and solid residues. Over time, sediment will form inside the storage container. The fermentation of this sediment gives the well-known organoleptic defect called muddy sediment. The sediment and moisture together degrade the quality of olive oil. Unfiltered olive oil may have a higher percentage of phenolic compounds than filtered (depending on how it is filtered) but it is more sensitive to oxidation and fermentation resulting in its quality deterioration very quickly and shorter shelf life. It should be consumed within a month of its production.
How do the aromas of Olive Oil come about?
Aromas such as green olives, freshly cut grass, apple, banana, artichoke, oregano, etc. are found in many extra virgin olive oils. Many people think that these aromas are additives or endogenous to the olive fruit or that they have to do with the plants that grow around the olive tree. In fact, these aromas are volatile compounds produced by the activity of olive fruit enzymes during the extraction process of olive oil (eg. 3-hexenal gives the aroma of apple or hexanal the aroma of green leaf) and have to do with the variety, the ripening stage of the fruit, the climatic conditions of the specific year, the availability of water, the type of fertilization and the milling practices (mainly crushing and malaxing).
The positive attributes of Olive Oil
There are three positive attributes of olive oil. Fruity, Bitter and Pungent/Spicy.
Fruity: is the set of olfactory senses - characteristics of olive oils, which depends mainly on the variety of the olive and comes from healthy and fresh olives, ripe or unripe. It is perceived by smell and / or by the retronasal area.
It can be unripe fruity or ripe fruity. This attribute is the most important in the organoleptic analysis because if it is not perceived, the tested olive oil will not be classified as extra virgin or virgin.
More simply, the fruity of olive oil is its aroma, the aroma of the fruit of the olive. An experienced taster, in addition to determining its intensity, will also recognize in it the characteristic aromas of each variety. For example, freshly cut grass, tomato or tomato leaf, artichoke, citrus fruits, apple, banana, almond, various aromas of herbs or spices, etc.
Bitter: the characteristic taste of olive oil obtained from green olives or from olives that begin to change their color and which is perceived by the taste buds of the back of the tongue. It can be enjoyable or not, depending on the intensity. However, in any case, is it not considered a defect and is a result of the action of phenolic compounds present in olive oil.
Pungent/Spicy: intense kinesthetic sensation, characteristic of oils produced at the beginning of the harvesting season, mainly from green olives, which can be perceived throughout the oral cavity, especially high in the throat as a burn. It spreads throughout the oral cavity and is eliminated a few seconds after the tasting. Sometimes it can cause coughing or tears in the eyes. We should not confuse this feeling with that of the rancid olive oil where the burning is felt lower in the neck (chest), it is very annoying and is maintained for a much longer time (bad aftertaste). The spicy also depends on the presence of phenolic compounds. Its intensity decreases during the ripening of both the fruit and the olive oil.
Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil suitable for deep and stir-frying?
Due to its high content of antioxidants, monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E, olive oil retains its composition at high temperatures and does not degrade easily creating harmful by-products. The most suitable frying temperature is 180 °C (356°F) where the food is cooked without burning. Extra virgin olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be used up to 4 - 5 times if the temperature does not exceed 220 °C (428°F). We should always remove the remaining fried food and store it in a glass container. If you do not have a fryer with an adjustable temperature, you will need a thermometer to check the temperature before placing the food in the pan and during frying. In contrast to extra virgin olive oil, the polyunsaturated fatty acids of seed oils, are very vulnerable to high temperatures, decompose and allow the creation of free radicals and by-products harmful to health from the first frying. If your pocket does not allow you to do all your cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil because it costs a little more, then you can take advantage of the different categories of olive oil. You can consume Raw Extra Virgin Olive Oil by sprinkling your salads and meals. You can cook and fry with Virgin Olive Oil, and you can also fry with Olive Oil (consisting of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils).
How to store Olive Oil?
The fresher the olive oil, the better. Olive oil has five major enemies that undermine its quality and preservation: Oxygen (air), light, high temperature, time and packaging material that comes into contact with the product (e.g. plastic). Therefore, store in tinted glass bottles or stainless steel containers, away from the stove, and sunlight, in a dark and cool place (12-18 ° C and away from detergents!) Consume it in a short time. The shelf life of olive oil is 12-18 months from the date of packaging and concerns sealed bottles, when the bottle is opened the olive oil should be consumed within 2-3 months at most. If you buy a 17-liter tin (which is not recommended and is normally prohibited) make sure to transfer the olive oil to smaller bottles with the characteristics we mentioned. Because olive oil is so sensitive to oxidation (light, air, high temperature) when we go out to eat we never add olive oil to our salad from the classic oil and vinegar we can find on the table (normally it is forbidden and should not be on any restaurant table) and ask the waiter for olive oil in individual packaging or a non-refillable bottle. If there is a charge, do not hesitate to pay it. We are used to paying for water and not for olive oil, whose complex production process and high nutritional value make it more valuable anyway.
How can I taste the Olive Oil I buy at home?
Even if you have not attended a tasting seminar, you can start at home and smell and taste the olive oil before adding it to the food. Try the olive oil you just bought in the following way:
Follow the olive oil tasting steps to better appreciate all the aromas and flavors.
POUR 15ml of olive oil in a small glass ( a brandy glass is better) and cover with your other hand.
WARM the glass with your palm for a few minutes.
SWIRL the oil around to coat the sides of the glass to release its aromas and uncover the glass.
SMELL inhaling briefly and deeply, trying to capture the different sensations.
SLURP a mouthful of oil and don’t swallow it immediately. Keep it in your mouth for a few seconds and inhale noisily from the sides of your mouth (to do so, put your tongue behind your front teeth and suck air from the sides of your mouth). Drawing air in heightens the flavor. Then breathe out through your nose.
SWALLOW while concentrating on the flavor. Consider whether you perceive pungency as it goes down your throat and whether it makes you cough a bit.
THINK ABOUT all the sensations you have felt. The fruitiness, bitterness, pungency, different aromas, and flavors. Write down your observations, and then compare them with the other olive oils.
CLEANSE your palate between olive oils with a thin slice of Granny Smith apple or a piece of plain bread. Drink some water.