I bet if you asked 100 people to name their go-to kitchen staples, olive oil would top the list. Once revered by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, olive oil is still a kitchen favorite, adding flavor to meals without sacrificing nutrition value.
Maximize your health. Learn how to buy the best olive oils on the market.
Photo By Christian Jung/Fotolia
Although olive oil is high in fat, the main types of fat found in it are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are considered healthy dietary fats. Consuming a small amount of a healthy unsaturated fat such as olive oil before a meal will actually help you digest your food more slowly. MUFAs also help lower total cholesterol levels and normalize blood clotting. But even healthier fats are high in calories, so always use in moderation.
The problem with olive oil, however, is that because so few taste offensive you may be buying a bottle that isn’t as healthful as scientific studies claim it is. That’s because you may be buying the wrong variety. To maximize your health, learn how to choose the best olive oil so that you are stocking your pantry with the very best for your family.
REFINED OLIVE OIL doesn’t have much nutritional value because of the many industrial processes that it has been through, which tamper with its flavor, odor and color. This odorless and tasteless olive oil is the least expensive and best used for frying. Side note: When extra-virgin olive oil is added to refined oil you get a product called pure olive oil, or just olive oil.
VIRGIN OLIVE OIL is a more intermediate quality of oil. It contains a fair amount of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants, but is not considered as healthful as the following variety.
EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL. Organic, unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the most desirable variety to purchase because it is the purest and most delicately flavored of all the varieties. When studies triumph the success of Mediterranean diets or tout olive oil’s many benefits, they are referring to an olive oil in its purest form, i.e. extra virgin. EVOO, which means it has been made from crushed olives and is not refined in any way by chemical solvents or high heat, is rich in polyphenols and more costly than other varieties. Do not use this as a frying oil. Instead, savor its flavors in pasta sauces, finishing sauces, soups, drizzles and dipping oils.
Because extra-virgin olive oil is so much more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but also costly and time-consuming to produce, EVOO fraud has become a widespread problem. In fact, many bottles labeled extra-virgin olive oil on supermarket shelves have been adulterated and shouldn’t be classified as such, says New Yorker contributor Tom Mueller. To avoid becoming a victim of this deceit, follow these general olive oil shopping tips.
+ Choose an olive oil that comes in a glass bottle, as those tend to be of better quality.
+ Read the label. High-quality olive oils will say where and when they were pressed, whereas low-quality may label it as “estate bottled.” You should also look for a packaging date, as this information will be available from higher-quality companies.
+ You should also check the back label for a fine print that sites the source of the olive oil if you want a variety that was actually produced in a specific country (such as Spain, Greece or Italy).
+ Be wary of overly green olive oils. Although its green color could come from the olives, it could also come from the leaves that were pressed with them.
+ Also be wary of an olive oil that is extremely light or extremely yellow in color. The former could mean it is tasteless, while the latter could mean it is very old.
+ For fresh olive oil, check the label for a harvest date and use it within a year from that date. (If a harvest date isn’t available, the use-by date is usually two years after the oil was made.)
+ Seals and medals are an added bonus. European olive oils may have a Designated Origin seal, indicating that it was produced in a particular region; and the California Olive Oil Council awards a seal to oils that meet a set of quality standards in the United States.
+ Extra light olive oil may be low in calories, but it is also highly refined with virtually no flavor or color. If you’re worried about calories, use a better quality oil but in moderation.
+ It’s not always possible, but if you can, taste your olive oil before you buy it. See our list for how your olive oil should taste.
What are some of your favorite EVOO's? Tell us in the comment's section below!
Gina DeBacker is the assistant editor at Mother Earth Living. She considers olive oil one of the biggest staples in her kitchen.