Olive Oil

With the public becoming more and more educated about food and quality of it, it is surprising that there is still a lot of confusion and misinformation regarding something as commonly used as olive oil. Here is The Aesthetic Post’s primer on buying and using olive oil:

First cultivated in ancient Syria, Olive trees were valued for their fruit, but above that, their versatile oil, which could be used for cooking, fuel, cosmetics, and even medicine. Olive oil is one of just two fruit oils that can be used without additional processing (avocado is the other).

Olive oil has a high concentration of valuable antioxidants, and is praised for its health benefits. The fact that it is rich is monounsaturated fats, notably oleic acid, is directly linked to heart health.

There are three countries that produce the majority of olive oil: Spain, Italy, and Greece, together, these countries produce more than 75% of the world’s olive oil supply. However, you can find excellent-quality oils that are produced elsewhere, from Australia to California.

Olive oil’s beauty lies in its versatility; it is an everyday staple that is beneficial to your health, but can also be a distinctive asset to a dish. The best chefs know that the key to using olive oil is having more than one type in the cupboard. A good start is having one oil (of a less delicate nature), specifically for cooking with; you can find great options in larger-sized tins, often labeled as “pure olive oil.” “Extra virgin” olive oil is not ideal for excess heat, and this will quickly destroy its delicate taste and fragrance. You’ll also need a highest-quality oil for finishing, and then, at your discretion, oils that lend themselves well to other applications.

The best way to learn about olive oil and the differences between regions and varietals is through tasting. Many food shops and specialty oil boutiques (if you live in the city) are happy to let you sample oils. Otherwise, experiment with oils on your own, or better yet, hold your own varietal tasting with friends. A few key components to olive oil tasting are:

Smell: The olive oil should smell clean and like olives, not chemical-laden, and perhaps with a suggestion of grassiness or apple.

Mouthfeel: A good olive oil is not greasy to the mouth, it has a clean mouthfeel, and should not stick around, heavily coating the mouth.

Taste: To properly taste olive oil, breathe air through the oil as you would when tasting wine. Several factors decide the taste and flavor nuances of olive oil, from olive varietal, to time of harvest. Some people prefer a fruitier olive oil, while others like an herbaceous presence. A metallic taste suggests that the oil may be rancid, obviously not a good thing.

Finish: Most olive oil connoisseurs prefer a “peppery” finish that is often present in finest-quality oils. This sensation is a sign of early harvest, but do keep in mind that this attribute (like the oil’s subtle flavors) fades with age.

When you’re purchasing olive oil, there are a few considerations you mustn’t forgo:

Packaging: The best storage container for olive oil is a dark glass bottle. Exposure to light and heat will destroy the oil, and clear containers should either be decanted or kept in a dark place. Typically, one should be apprehensive of plastic containers, but some very reputable estates have recently come up with eco-friendly, intelligent plastic packaging that is perfectly suited for shorter-term oil storage. If you’re lucky enough to live near a great food shop, refillable bottles may be an option.

Designations and Labeling: The International Olive Oil Council is responsible for setting the standards for olive oil grading and labeling, however, the IOOC’s regulations do not apply to the United States. An “extra virgin” designation on the label implies that the oil has been processed minimally, maintaining flavor and aroma. The terms “pure,” “light,” or just direct labeling as “olive oil” typically suggest that the oil is lower quality, and further processed. Though many of the very finest olive oils are not organic, an organic certification is generally a decent indicator of quality, and it is reassuring to know that the major percentage of olives used are not treated with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It is important to also note that simple statements such as “product of Italy” do not signify much other than the fact that the oil was packaged and exported from Italy, this could mean the olives were grown anywhere.

Color: Olive oil color is not always evident upon purchasing, however, it is good to know that olive oil quality should not be gauged by its color, as it can vary widely, depending on the type of olives used, and how immediately the oil was extracted. Additionally, questionable producers have been known to blend excess leaves with the fruit, imparting a rich green color.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when purchasing olive oil is that a middle-of-the-line oil will not suffice for all applications, and you’ll wind up wasting oil in cooking, and having inferior flavor for finishing.

Above, a few excellent oils, from left: Baja Precious Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $16; Enji Kunsei Smoked Olive Oil, $40; Frantoio Oleario Muraglia ‘Delicato,’ $48; Château D’Estoublon ‘Flacon Couture,’ $57

There are 1 comments on this article.

  1. There is a new smoked olive oil you can try, enFuso! Some zagat rated chefs in southern california have compared it to Enju Kunsei and say the base oil quality is better (100% California, COOC certified EVOO from the Capay Valley) and the smoke flavor is the richest with no bitterness. It is of course my olive oil – so you would have to taste for yourself for objectivity. But thought you would like to know about a great California option that is way more affordable.

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