Origins & Information - (A-Z) Olive Oil

You often hear that olive oil has many beneficial and healthy traits but may be curious as to what they are. Why should you substitute the vegetable oil in the thing you're cooking with olive oil? Well let's first take a quick step back to where olive oil came from. Olives themselves have been cultivated for thousands of years in the Mediterranean basin. The oils from the fruit have been used for a variety of reasons that revolved around its "magical" properties including religious rites and for medicine. Currently olive oil is still being produced in large quantities and is regulated by the International Olive Council (IOC) based in Madrid except for in the US where the USDA does the regulations. You'll also often see that olive oil comes in different grades. These are based on acidity and purity as well as the process; for example, virgin oils indicate the lack of chemical treatment.

Common grades of olive oil
  • Extra-virgin - A virgin production which contains no more than 0.8% acidity, you'll find this type on salads or for dipping.
  • Virgin - The acidity is less than 2% in this virgin-only produced oil.
    Pure - This is a blend of refined and virgin production oil.
  • Olive oil - This is a blend of virgin and refined production oil with no more than 1.5% acidity.
  • Refined - Made from virgin olive oils that have been refined without changes to glyceridic structure, this has a free acidity level and is the saving process of 50+% of the oil produced in the Mediterranean area that makes the oils edible.

Olive oil is an interesting product because it is the only oil that can be consumed as is. In fact, you'll often find olive oil shooters at high end restaurants. It is produced through either physical or chemical means. Olives are ground to a fine paste via millstones or steel drums, and the juice/oil is drained from this during the process. Later on, the paste that remains is sent through a centrifuge to further extract juices/oils and to round off the process and get as much out of the fruits as possible, chemical solvents are added to the paste. Once they are bottled up and shipped out, it is important to make sure they are also stored properly at home. Air, heat, and light can spoil the oil so put yours in an airtight container and in moderate amounts. The ideal temperature to store is 57°F though 70°F is acceptable as well if stored in a dark area. Refrigeration would not be detrimental except for very expensive oils, and make sure that the containers in which you store the oil are not plastic! When cooking with it, you ought to leave the higher quality ones for straight consumption and lower qualities for frying/sauteeing.

The product has high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidative substances (77 percent monounsaturated fatty acids, 14 percent saturated fatty acids and 9 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids). These fats are actually considered healthy! Some research has shown that olive oil helps protect against heart disease, ulcers, gastritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, gallstones, Alzheimers, and colon cancer. Particularly, extra-virgin olive oil has higher levels of antioxidants because it has been processed less. Vitamins A, E, and K and oleic acid thrive in the oil, making it quite the attractive oil to have around. It is often used to moisturize skin and hair and is known to help with nail growth and strength.

This post is part of an A-Z series I am running for my blog category "Origins and Information" while I am in Vietnam with my family for July. Many of the posts in the series answer questions that were posed by friends/readers. If y'all enjoy the series, I will gladly run another in the future!