October 15, 2014

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil - A Simple Guide


So you think you know olive oil?

Extra virgin olive oil is one of the essential elements of the Mediterranean Diet. The truth is that when most people think “Mediterranean Diet” they are naturally drawn to the countries of the Mediterranean region. The reality about this diet though is the fact that it refers to the nutritional habits as well as lifestyle of two particular regions where this diet originated centuries ago...these regions are Southern Italy and most specifically the island of Sicily and Crete. When you think of Mediterranean Diet you don’t think Spanish jamón or pasta dishes or even the popular Greek lamb. The base of this healthy and well balanced diet consists of extra virgin olive oil, an integral part of this diet, legumes, fish, grains, seeds, fruits, vegetables, nuts, natural herbs and spices. It is no accident that all of the above food categories are natural medicine for your heart and body in general. Hippocrates’ phrase “Let food be your medicine” is no accident. Nowadays, we have scientific proof of the benefits of certain food categories and their curing attributes. Unfortunately, with the popularity of the Mediterranean Diet on the rise, and the popularity of the benefits of extra virgin olive oil, companies supplying olive oils found a way to market their products as essential, even those that are far inferior and harmful to your health and intelligence.

Here is a simple guide to help you avoid falling victim to extra virgin olive oil impostors.

Hint #1
Real olive oil (including extra virgin olive oil) will always have a note of peppery finish. This is due to the antioxidants that olive oil contains and although not all olive oils are the same due to the different varieties of olives used for their production, more or less the peppery finish will be there. If you are brave enough you should try olive oils plain, without dipping bread or other foods whenever it is offered by the seller, to determine aroma and flavor, much like you do with wine tastings. Whether a connoisseur or amateur, bad smell and taste will always be revealed so don’t be hard on your self or hesitate because you feel you don’t know enough.
Hint #2
Olive oils have a shelf life or 18 to 24 months depending on their variety and method of storage. Always refer to the expiration dates when purchasing olive oil especially finishing and gourmet extra virgin olive oils since you are paying for superior quality. Even an exceptional EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) will taste different fresh rather than 18 months later. 
Hint #3
Always study the label! The name of the brand does not mean anything. “Lakonia” for example, is used all the time in olive oil labels because the area of Lakonia in the Peloponnese peninsula is known for its superior quality production of extra virgin olive oil, so companies are using it to entice consumers to purchase it, even if the oil is a pomace (you can read about pomace production and what it means to your health in one of the following paragraphs).

Grades of Olive Oil 

The following is an olive oil grade classification according to the IOOC (International Olive Oil Council). The US does not acknowledge these grades nor require that labeling adhere to the definitions as standardized by the IOOC.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Produced by the first cold pressing process of the olive fruit (either by traditional methods or centrifuge) yielding olive oil with less than 0.8% acidity.

Virgin Olive Oil 

Produced by cold press methods as in the case of EVOO, however, the quality of olives used during this phase are of inferior quality in comparison to the ones used in the production of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The acidity of Virgin Olive Oils is less than 3%. If the acidity were to exceed the 3.5% range then the oil would be unfit for human consumption unless additional methods of refinement were used.

Refined Olive Oil (AKA best EVOO impostor)

Olive oil with less than 0.3% acidity but with no taste as it has been refined. This type of olive oil is often mixed with higher quality EVOO to add some aroma to it and pass as the “real thing”. Hence why over 70% of Greek EVOO is exported to other countries to be used as an additive to refined olive oils to fake the consumer’s experience and pass inferior olive oils as extra virgin.

 Pure Olive Oil 

This grade of olive oil is marketed as such and it is produced from a second cold pressing or the chemical extraction of the olive mash.

Pomace Oil

This is the olive oil grade we would suggest you avoid at all cost!  This oil is derived once the mechanical extraction of olive oil is complete and less than 8% of the oil remains. If you have not guessed it yet the left over oil is in the form of pulp or “pomace”. You will find pomace at the super market labeled as “olive oil” and yes, consumers are delighted by the charming price so they do purchase to use in their cooking. Pomace is certainly not medicine for your heart, and depending on its particular method of production can cause harm to you health as it can penetrate through the body cells and damage them.

Light Olive Oil

If you thought of a low calorie olive oil, think again. This grade of olive oil contains the same amount of calories but under no circumstances should be consumed unless it has been chemically processed in which case we would suggest you leave it alone...

Next time you find yourself at the grocery aisle looking at olive oils, use this simple guide to help you make an intelligent decision. Do you have insight or experiences you wish to share regarding your favorite olive oils, or frustrations with what you find in the market? Use the comments box below and share with us.

To shop our premium selection of Extra Virgin Olive Oils click HERE


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