Nectar of the gods (olive oil 101)
Reader Donna Gibson wrote last week asking for guidance on buying olive oil. It's a subject I've written about before and one we covered a few times on various Anna & Kristina shows. But in recent years olive oil has been revealed to be an industry riddled with imposters, misleading labeling and confusion. So here's a refresher on how to choose a good one and how to use it properly in your cooking.
In his new book, Real Food Fake Food, author Larry Olmsted writes that most people have probably never tasted real, unadulterated, fresh extra virgin olive oil. Indeed, so much of what’s available for sale is way, way past its prime and may have even been cut with lesser quality oil.
When you taste the real thing, you know it. It stings the back of your throat. It tastes green and it brings food to life. It’s obvious why it has been an integral part of Mediterranean culture since the Roman Empire.
The thing about olive oil is that if you want the good stuff, it’s got to be fresh. That means the fruit is pressed within a few hours of harvest. Just one of the many hurdles for producers is how to bottle it to preserve that freshness. That’s why you should never, ever pay a premium price the stuff in a clear glass bottle. Know for certain if you do, it’s gone bad. Olive oil does not like the light. Dark glass, tin or stainless steel will protect it best.
Even more then light olive oil also doesn’t like heat or air, so don’t store it next to your stove. And buy it in small quantities. Once you crack the seal, use it. It’s not meant to last for many months (or years).
If you decide to buck up for the good stuff, don’t cook with it. Extra virgin olive oil burns at a lower temperature then many other less expensive oils. Premium, fresh extra virgin olive oil is meant to be consumed as a sauce itself. Drizzle it over fish with a squeeze of lemon. Same goes for steak. And salad, cheese and bread of course. I love premium olive oil over grapefruit! Check the bottle for an expiry date and authenticity certifications. (There are different bodies that award this, depending on the country of origin.) If there is no expiry date, you’re not buying the best.
For sauces, use mid priced “light” or “pure” olive oil that, again, comes in dark glass, stainless or tin. Or I use grapeseed oil for a lot of my cooking, which has a higher burn temperature and a very mild flavour. For me olive oil is increasingly saved just for drizzling at the end.
Many people buy olive oil for the health benefits. Indeed, if you’re getting the real thing it has been shown to act as an antioxidant and ward off some cancers. It’s the best of the good fats and may even slow the aging of the heart. But these health benefits don’t apply if you’re consuming rancid or adulterated oil. This is one product where I firmly believe in only buying the best!