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Olive oil is known to be the healthiest oil, and essential to Italian cuisine. However, with so many fake extra virgin olive oils on the market, how do you select the real thing?
Good quality and fresh ingredients are an important part of Italian cooking, and often determine the success of a dish. So Italian cooks usually 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 equally important. (Read 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 drizzled over soups, bruschetta, pasta, vegetables, grilled meats or fish.
It is also used 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
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.
Good quality olive oil can be found at reputable stores who are mindful of sourcing their products. These stores often offer the option to taste the oil before you buy.
One needs to be slightly more discerning while shopping elsewhere, so these tips should help:
Look for ‘extra virgin olive oil’ on the label
Do not select anything labelled as ‘pure’, ‘virgin’, or just ‘olive oil’. Also, disregard the ‘Imported from’ or ‘Bottled in Italy’ products.
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade and is extracted without the use of solvents or refining methods. It has a smooth and superior flavour, with less than 0.8% acidity. Virgin olive oil has a higher acidity at 2%, while Pure olive oil (which is a refined oil), has an even higher acidity higher at 3.3%.
However, this tip alone is not sufficient.
Many oils labelled as extra virgin are prepared using chemicals, and diluted with cheaper vegetable oils. These do not have the same nutritional value or delicious taste as those which have passed certification.
Colour is not a good indicator of quality in olive oil
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.
Various olive cultivars produce good quality oils which can vary anywhere from yellow to a deep green.
Look for a harvest date, variety of olive pressed and an estate name.
A good quality oil will have the marks PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographic Origin). These labels prove certification, protecting against imitation, and ensure that the olive oil is produced according to strict guidelines, certifying a high standard of production and an excellence of product.
What extra virgin olive oil should taste like
If the opportunity arises, do taste before you buy. A good olive oil should have a wonderful fresh aroma and taste fruity, pungent, bitter or nutty- depending on the cultivar.
Be prepared to spend slightly more for good bottle of olive oil
Avoid the cheap stuff as it is most likely a mix of cheap oils. A good quality olive oil will cost more – it is absolutely worth it for a superior tasting oil and high nutritional content!
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