Health-conscious gourmets, nutritionists and scientists praise the benefits of olive oil, which is considered by many to be “the queen among oils,” as it intensifies the flavor of any dish while promoting health. It is important to understand the quality differences and grading of olive oil. Much as the production of great wines depends on the type of grape, growing conditions, harvesting methods and production techniques. Much in the same way the quality and flavor of olive oil depends upon the type of tree, constituency of soil, climate conditions, harvesting methods and pressing techniques.
Greece, where the olive tree originated, boasts the highest per capita consumption of olive oil in the world, with the average person consuming 23 liters per year. Seventy-three percent of olive oil produced in Greece is consumed within the country. Eight-hundred million olive trees grow throughout the world, 600 million of them in Mediterranean nations. Each mature tree yields about 300 kilograms of olives, enough for 65 liters of oil. Most Mediterranean countries, including Israel, Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria and Syria, export little olive oil. Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece are the largest exporters. Still, olive oil comprises only 5 percent of total vegetable-oil consumption throughout the world.
Generally, French olive oil has a light taste, because the French growing regions are less sunny than those further south. Spain and Portugal produce oils that are yellow and heavy. Spain is the world leader in olive-oil production, much of which is exported. Greek olive oils have a pronounced green color and a medium weight. Price-wise, they offer the best value. Italian oils have the greatest variety of flavors and colors, tending more toward green than yellow. The best oils in the world are organically grown on private estates, hand-picked and carefully processed. Of course, these oils are highly priced, seldom exported and hard to find in North America.
Instead, you will find a large variety of excellent olive oils produced in California by small farms. Many Californian olive oil producers have decided to grow organic olives, according to California law. Your health food store will know who these suppliers are and will be able to bring you quality oils from this area.
The expression “cold-pressed” to describe oil production comes, not surprisingly, from the fact that the oil is produced without heat being applied externally or generated internally. When I traveled in Israel, I witnessed a centuries-old method of olive-oil production first hand. The ripe olives are hand-picked or shaken off the trees and gathered into nets. They are then taken to a mill where the pits are removed and the olives are crushed into a paste. The paste is thickly spread onto fibrous mats, which are stacked up in layers in a press. The pressure applied is not too great in order to avoid heat from building up. The oil that comes out of the press is a dark reddish-green. In earlier days, this oil was stored in large containers until the sediment settled. These days, the sediment is cleared out with a centrifuge.
So many choices
The first pressing produces an olive oil of perfect flavor and aroma with a light yellow to green color. If the acidity is not more than 1 percent, it is graded as extra virgin olive oil. The second pressing, where more pressure is applied, still produces an oil of perfect flavor, aroma, and color, but with an acidity of 1.5-3.3 percent. This oil is graded as virgin olive oil.
Once heat is applied, the resulting oil is slightly less flavorful and has an acidity of more than 3.3 percent. This is called pure olive oil. The remaining mash is subjected to a chemical extraction method with hexane or butane and produces oil that must be refined. It is light in color and bland in taste, and is most often labeled olive oil, light olive oil, or even olive oil-extra light.
For health and taste, it makes sense to purchase the best quality. Unrefined virgin olive oil contains traces of many minerals, among them magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Health Benefits of Unrefined Virgin Olive Oil
- Prevents heart and circulatory diseases.
- Prevents hypertension and increases blood fluidity
- Increases good (HDL) cholesterol and decrease bad (LDL) cholesterol
- Provides protection against cholesterol deposit
- Lowers glycemic index of foods and prevents obesity
- Supplies antioxidants, protects from free radicals, and helps prevent cancer
- Emollient effect protects against ulcers
- Stimulates bile secretion, promotes gall flow, and reduces risk of gallstones
- Strengthens liver functions and aids in fat metabolism
- Stimulates digestion, aids in passage of food, and prevents constipation
- Feeds the brain and nervous system
- Builds strong bones and prevents osteoporosis
- Soothes joint pain and acts as an anti-arthritic agent.
- Soothes skin irritations and acts as anti-inflammatoryagent
- Improves healing by acting as an antibacterial agent and disinfectant
Reprinted from Good Fats and Oils by Siegfried Gursche (Summertown, Tennessee: Books Alive, 2014) pp 21-24, www.bookpubco.com
Great tasting, healthy olive oil is used in many of our recipes. Try our Pomegranate, Orange and Spinach salad and receive the benefits of this superfood while receiving all the goodness of greens and fruits!