A tasting at a local shop turns up some irresistible olive oils.
Author: Karen T. Bartlett
I used to think I knew a lot about olives and their precious oil—like, for instance, olive oil is a fruit juice, because olives are fruits, not vegetables. Fruit or not, I know that one never, ever wants to pluck an olive right off the tree and pop it into one’s mouth. I learned this the day I saw a beautiful tree by the side of the road loaded with gorgeous green olives. So, I plucked, I popped and I munched down. My mouth didn’t come unscrewed for about 16 hours.
Sometimes, learning by experience is painful. Especially when time, money and health are concerned. So here, compliments of Marie Heiland, are some more olive oil facts worth knowing:
Aged wine is good. Aged vinegar is good. Aged olive oil is very bad.
The quicker olive oil gets from harvest to the press, and from the press to the bottle and into the consumer’s hands, the more flavor and health benefits it has.
“We buy our oils from two hemispheres: from Southern hemisphere countries when it’s pressing time there, and Northern hemisphere countries the other half of the year.”
You can’t smoke it.
The minute you warm olive oil, it loses its best pharmaceutical benefits, like the well-documented “good” cholesterol that helps prevent heart disease. It also loses much of the taste. Marie says: “If it starts to smoke, it’s ruined. Throw it out.”
Forget about first cold pressed.Blasphemy? No. “Extra virgin” oil is cold pressed. The second and subsequent pressings are heat and chemical-extracted. There’s no “second” cold press. But “first cold press” still seems to impress buyers, so many labelers still use the term.
Enemies No. 1–5.
Olive oil’s biggest enemies, Marie says, are air, heat, light, moisture and time. The process of oxidation (rancidity) starts at the moment of extraction. So buy the freshest you can find, keep it in a cool, dark place and don’t hoard it. The refrigerator is a terrible place to keep olive oil, as cooling causes condensation.
“Pure” is not pure.
A bottle not labeled “Extra Virgin” means that it’s cut with heat-refined olive oil—which destroys the antioxidant power—or another kind of oil, like canola. “You may as well just buy Crisco,” Marie says. “If it’s labeled ‘pure,’ it implies that there are no other types of oil. If it’s labeled ‘light,’ it implies that it’s lower in calories. There’s no such thing as a low-calorie olive oil. Both are deceptions.”
“Product of Italy” isn’t necessarily a product of Italy.
The label identifies the country of bottling, not the location of the orchards. Italy is a huge importer, but Spain, Turkey and Greece are by far the biggest growers of olive oils.
More label secrets.
Even the date printed on the label can be deceiving. Because there are no rules, that date could be the date of labeling. The harvest and pressing could have taken place months—or a year—earlier. The olives could have been grown in one country, pressed in another, and sent to large factories in a third country for bottling. “Super-fresh olive oil means it was pressed within hours of picking, not kept in warehouses.”
Green? Yes and no.
Many people believe that a good olive oil has to be green in color, Marie says, when in fact, it ranges from almost clear to a rich gold. “Color doesn’t indicate quality or affect taste. This is one reason we put our oils in dark bottles. The other reason is that the dark glass protects the delicate oil from destruction by light.”
In olive oil lingo, the word “green” describes not color, but taste. If your bargain oil looks very green, chances are the hue comes from chlorophyll additives