Olive oil is essential to Italian cuisine, so how do you select a good one?
Good quality and fresh ingredients form an integral part of Italian cooking, often determining the success of a dish.
Italian cooks have a good knowledge of ingredients and are very particular in selecting the best quality for flavour and nutritional value.
Selecting a good quality olive oil is just as important. (Click here for An evening of Italian olive oil tasting)
Cooking with olive oil
The best quality olive oil is usually served ‘raw’, adding a wonderful peppery or fruity layer of flavour. Simply drizzle over soups, bruschetta, pasta, vegetables, grilled meats or fish.
Use it to make sauce bases, cook meats and fish and even to make bread and prepare desserts.
Olive oil can also be used for frying. It has a smoke point of 210℃/410℉, which means it is suitable for home use.
Why extra virgin olive oil is good for you
Extra virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats (a healthy dietary fat), with high levels of antioxidants, and anti inflammatory properties. Researchers claim that olive oil can help reduce harmful cholesterol (lowering the risk of heart disease), and can help stabilise blood sugar levels. There is also the suggestion from the University of Florence, that olive oil might help improve cognitive functioning.
How to select a good quality olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade and is extracted without the use of solvents or refining methods. It has a superior flavour, with not more than 0.8% free acidity. (Virgin oil has a slightly higher acidity at 2%, while Pure olive oil, which is a refined oil, is higher at 3.3%.)
There are many different types of extra virgin olive oil depending on the cultivar, the age of the olive at harvest, the altitude, when it is harvested and how it is pressed.
Colour is not a good indicator of quality in olive oil. Various olive cultivars produce good quality oils which are anywhere from yellow to a deep green.
Using modern technology combined with important traditions in methods of cultivation, Italy produces some of the world’s best olive oil. However, it is thought around half of what is labeled as extra virgin olive oil, is in fact spurious.
Disregard the ‘Imported from’ or ‘Bottled in Italy’ products. Some of these extra virgin olive oils are prepared using chemicals, and many are diluted with cheaper vegetable oils. They will not have the same nutritional value or delicious taste as those which have passed certification.
Look instead for the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographic Origin) labels. These labels protect against imitation, and ensure that the olive oil is produced according to strict guidelines, certifying a high standard of production and excellence of product.
Also, be prepared to spend slightly more for good bottle of olive oil. It is absolutely worth it for a superior tasting oil and high nutritional content!
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