Extra virgin olive oil has long proved to be more than a staple, fascinating people around the globe, even those who’ve never been traditionally olive oil consumers. More countries discover this new cult, while Mediterranean countries rediscover their national treasure.
Why the whole world loves olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil recently claimed the fame of great wines and “demanded” to be treated as one. Indeed, EVOO has progressively created its own loyal crowd of connoisseurs and aficionados, while at the same time, aspiring olive oil producers “fight” internationally for world-class accolades.
Just like wine, olive oil comes from the press of the fruit and can express the unique terroir of the land, differing from year to year. We will talk more on the health benefits it has, like the antioxidant polyphenols it shares with wine. So, no wonder why many wine makers started producing their own olive oil, inspired by its long-praised gifts. Their tribute to “the eternal duo” of the Mediterranean diet.
How to tell a good olive oil from a bad one
Does this sound familiar? You are right in front of the shelf packed with bottles of extra virgin olive oil and even though you read carefully all the labels for more than half an hour, you still don’t know which one to buy.
During our evening food walk we visit our deli for an olive oil tasting in Athens that offers the best Greek olive oil brands to unravel the mysteries of our “liquid gold”.
So, what exactly is extra virgin olive oil?
* Extra virgin olive oil is the oil extracted from olives, using only mechanical means and has acidity less than 0,8%. Vegetable oils, on the other hand, are processed chemically to lower their acidity. Maybe you’ve seen them referred to as refined oils. Sounds classy, but it means exactly the opposite > purified. Purified? (horrified voice) From…? Time to google.
* In order to classify an olive oil as EVOO, it must meet certain criteria that have to do with its aroma and taste (colour is not a sign of quality in olive oil). We call them organoleptic characteristics (perceived by our senses). This means your olive oil must be fruity, pungent and bitter. Which attribute you’d prefer to have in your olive oil, is a matter of personal taste. (Paradoxically, if you cough while tasting, this is a sign of excellent quality!).
What your olive oil shouldn’t be is rancid. Which takes us to…
* The enemies of extra virgin olive oil:
- Keep away from the top shelf of the super market aisle. That’s the place with closer contact to strong lighting.
- No plastic container. Treat your olive oil with respect. Buy the ones in dark, glass containers.
- Store your olive oil away from your stove.
- Once you open your bottle, final countdown begins. Your olive oil cannot keep its virginity forever. Use it the soonest you can, there’s endless ways to include it in your diet. If you still don’t manage to use it that often, buy smaller bottles than a big one that stays open for longer.
(If you use olive oil like a Greek, a half lt bottle is enough for one Greek salad only – or two 🙂
* Instead, look for:
- Cold pressed olive oil extracted below 27°C, allowing more aromas and antioxidants to be preserved.
- Early harvest olive oil, that keeps all the nutrients and full flavour – use raw on top of salads.
- Harvest and expiry date written on the bottle.
Why is good for you
Unfortunately-or not, our blog posts are not a bookstore to fit all the bibliography and scientific researches written on the endless health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
But we will name a few, according to the University of California, Davis , the world-renowned leaders in olive oil research and education. Replacing saturated and/or trans fats with monounsaturated fats, can lower the risk of heart disease, cholesterol, types of cancer, obesity, even Alzheimer’s. Extra virgin olive oil that is labelled high phenolic > has more than 250 mg of polyphenols- can carry a health claim and even been sold at a pharmacy like medicines.
Our Greek mums and grandmas knew better, way before any scientist, when they chased us with a spoonful of olive oil every morning.
Greek extra virgin olive oil
You could say that the whole country is an olive grove with more than 130 million olive trees producing 350,000 tons of oil, 85% of each being EVOO, which makes Greeks the biggest consumers of extra virgin olive oil in the world.
The reason why? Firstly we make olive oil for ourselves and we want no less than the best stuff. The rest of it is gifted or sold to friends and family. Every winter, when new olive oil is produced, phone calls start to family and friends, asking how was this year’s harvest, if there’s any oil left to be given and so on. A lot of it is sold in bulk to Italy that bottles and distributes oil, as the expert country in olive oil marketing worldwide. Just to give you an idea, in 2019 Italy miraculously exported twice the amount it produced. Ma-donna!
Our liquid gold is indeed all we know. We cook, we fry, we bake, in lieu of butter or other oils. Just do an experiment when in Greece and ask if people use canola oil in Greek cuisine. They will surely give you the look “What are you talking about? We live in the Land of Sacred Olive Oil”, plus, make you feel like an alien, coming from the “Galaxy of Unworthy Oils”. For us, not all oils are created equal. That’s why Greeks never believed the myth “Do not fry with olive oil”. According to UC Davis researches: “olive oil has a sufficient smoke point for most cooking applications, including sautéing and deep-frying”.
Other than that, you cannot imagine the taste of the fries we grew up with, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with oregano and feta*. For sure, if you get yourself some premium Greek extra virgin olive oil, don’t waste it in frying. Buy some warm, sourdough bread, drizzle your precious juice on top with sprinkles of fleur de sel and aromatic, dried oregano. Close your eyes and enjoy one of nature’s best offerings!
* Sometimes households and restaurants use sunflower oil as an alternative, mainly due to lower cost, or if they want a more neutral taste.
Olive oil tasting in Greece
Our tip to any Mediterranean diet lovers is, when you visit Greece for your vacation, look for opportunities to taste and learn about top quality extra virgin olive oil, eg Crete produces some of the best olive oil in the country, along with the Peloponnese, – where also the famous Kalamata olives originally come from. We insist on that, as many food companies try to cash in on the EVOO health hype and supply the market with bad quality olive oil, taking advantage of the fact that not all consumers know how great olive oil tastes like.
Knowledge is power. Use it!
Need help to arrange an olive oil experience in Greece? Contact us.