Healthy can actually be easy. Forget other diets, as the magic of olive oil does it all – and tastes better. The Mediterranean diet is recognised to be one of the healthiest in the world, and olive oil is a fundamental element of it. Not all olive oils are created equal. If you decide to pay a premium for an olive oil of the highest quality, then you should know how to choose it, store it and how to use it. We took a deep dive into the world of olive oil and interviewed Chef Federico Pinzi. Growing up on an olive farm in Italy’s beautiful Tuscany, it runs through his veins.
Olive oil for cooking and for your skin
Olive Oil is a very versatile product, which can be used in many dishes. You probably use it in salads, dips and pastas. However, you can also use it for most cooking purposes. Its high smoke point (210° C for the extra virgin olive oil) makes it suitable for frying as well as raw condiment in dishes to compliment an intense aroma and flavor.
“I use olive oil in many recipes. What I like most is to use olive oil as a raw condiment and enjoy its raw aroma. I especially like to spread olive oil on top over a fresh Bruschetta. It is the simplest dish ever, yet it does wonders to my plate.” – Chef Federico Pinzi
Apart from food, olive oil has some marvelous beauty benefits. It is great for your skin, it is light and easily absorbed. Therefore it is widely used for body massages for both adults and new born babies. Olive oil makes skin supple and smooth. It also can be used for chapped or cracked heels and on hands, instead of expensive hand creams. When massaged into your hair and left for half an hour before shampooing or even overnight, it also improves the health of your hair. A few drops of olive oil can be used instead of serum or moistening products for hair sheen and manageability. Olive oil also helps hair and nail to grow and can also be used on eye lashes in small quantities. Applied on the face, pure olive oil helps to keep the skin soft and reduces the effect of dryness and aging.
It seems that olive oils benefits are inexhaustible…
Health benefits of olive oil
When it comes to health benefits, Chef Federico says that olive oil is exceptionally good, as it has a high content of vitamin E, polyphenol and other natural antioxidant that are the oil’s own natural preservatives. Polyphenols are an important class of antioxidants in olive oil. This antioxidant fights the so called “free radical” organisms capable of activating forms of cancer and other diseases. It also reduces the bad cholesterol circulating in the blood, which means that it helps to reduce the risks of coronary heart diseases. Furthermore, olive oil is also good for anti inflammatory in our body. In summary, you have a product that has a great taste and is healthy at the same time.
If that wasn’t good enough, experts found that olive oil has even more substances that make it a super healthy source of good fat.
- Olive oil is high in MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids), which is the best kind of fatty acids to have. MUFA reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body and increases good cholesterol (HDL). All these are contributory factors in cardiovascular problems, like heart disease, stroke and vascular diseases.
- It is rich in polyphenols, like chlorophyll and carotenoids, which reduce the potential number of illnesses and help meet the body’s nutritional needs.
- It contains oleocanthal that has an anti-inflammatory effect and also may reduce the chance of cancer.
- Olive oil is 75% oleic acid, which is an Omega 9 fatty acid, making it heart healthy. Oleic acid reduces blood pressure and bad cholesterol. No other oil comes close to this figure.
- It also has Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids, Vitamin E and Vitamin K.
Additionally, olive oil consumption helps to maintain the health of the bones, cognitive decline, hypertension and digestive health.
Let’s get geeky with scientific research on olive oils
Switching to olive oil is not just a dietary fad. A few scientific studies prove that this oil probably has more health benefits, than we had imagined previously. For example:
- Maria-Isabel Covas at the Parc de Recerca Biomèdica de Barcelona in Spain has published a study in the paper Pharmacological Research that described how olive oil consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis. What’s else? People in the Mediterranean region have a lower incidence of cardiovascular death, even though they had other coronary heart disease risk factors.
- A study conducted by the University of Bordeaux showed that people, who used olive oil for cooking or for salads, had a 41% lower risk of having a stroke, when compared to their counterparts, who did not consume olive oil.
Types of olive oil coming from the Mediterranean region
Olive oil comes from the fruit of olive trees. These trees are native to the Mediterranean region, though olives are now also grown in South America (Chile), California, Mexico and Australia. The olive is naturally rich in oil and some smaller varieties have as much as 20-25% of oil.
“My olive oil production is a small farm located in the area of southern Tuscany, in Maremma. It is famous for its high quality oils. The oil production in Maremma is a common family business passed from one generation to another. I remember my grandparents taking care of the olive grove and now it passed down to my parents. Olive oil takes a lot of dedication, but it is also very rewarding, as you get an amazing product.” – Chef Federico Pinzi
Different types of olive oil:
1. Extra virgin olive oil undergoes minimal processing. The cold pressed variety has the most nutritional value. Most good quality extra virgin oil is processed at a lower temperature.
2. Virgin olive oil is milder in taste than extra virgin and is unrefined oil. It is similar to extra virgin oil, but has a slightly higher acidity level. Therefore, it is somewhat lower in nutritive value.
3. Pure olive oil is a mixture of refined and virgin olive oil. This oil is made from the first press of olives and will not have the same quantity of antioxidants that extra virgin oil has, but it is still rich in MUFA.
4. Olive pomace oil is the residue after the regular olive oil has been extracted. Afterwards it is treated with chemicals and other substances to extract some more oil, which goes by the name of olive pomace oil. It is usually blended with virgin olive oil for taste and flavour, but lacks the nutritional value of virgin oils and is only suitable for commercial use and high heat cooking.
5. Light olive oil is virtually tasteless, as it is heavily refined and considered the lowest grade of olive oils. It can be used for cooking and baking, in which you don’t want the characteristic flavour and taste of olive oil. It may even be blended with cheaper oils, such as soybean or canola oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is the most expensive out of oil.
Extra virgin olive oil
Since extra virgin olive oil is unrefined or only slightly refined and therefore more flavorful. Olive oil from Spain, which is the largest producer of olive oil, is nutty, fruity and has a beautiful golden color. The oil from Italy is greener and can even reach dark green with a grassy herbal flavour. Olive oil from Greece is highly aromatic and flavourful and usually green. French olive oil is pale in colour and delicate with a mild flavour. Olive oil coming from California is very light in colour and flavour. Various brands of olive oil have additionally their own taste and aroma, comparable to wine. The best extra virgin olive oils are those that come from a single farm – those can be called estate olive oils.
Tips from Italian chef on how to choose olive oil
Here are a few tips from Chef Federico Pinzi to help you select a better olive oil:
- Check if the label states whether the olives were pressed within 48 hours.
- There are two different types of presses – an industrial and a so-called traditional cold pressing. It is a mechanical pressing, defined by European parameters and does not heat the olives during the production process. This method produces less quantity of oil, but gives a considerable increase in quality of the oil.
- Bitter is better! Taste the oil. If it is is bitter, than it has a higher level of polyphenols, which is a good thing (see the section of this article on the Health benefits of olive oil?)
Since olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, is expensive with a short shelf life, it is best to buy a little at a time. Store it in dark air-tight bottles as well as in a cool and dark place to prevent oxidation and rancidity.
Whichever kind of olive oil you may use, remember that it contains the healthiest fats, monounsaturated fat and you can consider it a substitute for other fats/oils containing olive oil. Once you experience the goodness of olive oil, you won’t go back.