Saturday, February 21, 2009

Olive oil: Getting deeper...

First of all, I want to thank all of you who read my previous post about olive oil, and left your feedback. Today, I would like to talk less about scientific data, and more about practical stuff.

One of these is the different types of olive oil. I am sure we have all heard of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and most of us are already sick of the term, and the frequency with which it is used. But what is it actually? Well, olive oil is produced by picking the olives directly from the tree, taking them to the mill and crushing them with big stones into mash. Then, the mass is placed into a machine press, and oil and vegetable water seep out. After they are collected, the oil is separated from the water via centrifuge or decantation. As you can see, no heat or chemicals are applied with the above method, and pressing is performed only once.

The olive oil produced this way is in the most natural, less processed form possible. This is the "extra virgin olive oil". It is considered to be the best, because all the good stuff the product has to offer are there, and there are no harmful stuff added. As you would expect, this premium type is also the most expensive one.

But what about other varieties? There is "virgin" olive oil (the second best option), which undergoes a second pressing (according to specific standards, extra virgin olive oil has to contain up to 0.8% free oleic acid - if it contains more, it is then considered "virgin"). Also, there is the "pure" type, which is basically refined olive oil, mixed with a small amount of extra virgin one. And finally, there is "light" olive oil, which is a totally vague classification. Nobody can be sure about its contents, because it is unregulated by certificate organizations and most probably contains olive oil, mixed with other, cheaper, more processed oils. But there is one thing you can be completely sure about: "Light" olive oil is not lighter in terms of caloric and fat content, in any way.

Ok, once you hopefully get your hands on some good olive oil, where can you keep it? Well, whatever you do, do not put it in the fridge! The best idea would be a dark, cool cupboard. If stored this way, it can keep well for up to two years. But again, in case you did put it in the refrigerator, there is no need to worry! It sure will look cloudy and of dubious quality at first, but once it comes to room temperature again, it is perfectly fine to use.

Based on the previous post, it is now easy to tell why olive oil is better than butter. Butter (and all dairy products) come from animals, thus contain saturated aka "bad for the heart" fats. Olive oil is a vegetable oil that contains unsaturated fats, aka "the good guys". But margarine comes from vegetables, so it is as good as olive oil, right?

Well, NO. Because, as I hinted the last time, there are not only "the good guys/fats" and "the bad guys/fats" on the block. Unfortunately, there are also the "very bad guys" around, and they use margarine as their weapon.

For decades we were told to use margarine instead of butter, because it was healthier. Well, scientists are not always right, and this was one big fat proof of the fact. Because margarine contains trans fats, which are anything but beneficiary. In fact, they can increase the risk of heart disease as much as 50%! Trans fats are also found in most processed foods, fast foods and snacks. Luckily for us consumers, underlining that one particular product contains trans fats is now compulsory for companies, so we can spot them more easily and avoid them, whenever possible.

So, what to do? The first and most often overlooked rule would be moderation. There is no need to panic, because there are no such things as "medical miracles", or "deadly hazards". The second best thing to do would be to substitute both margarine and butter with olive oil, whenever this is possible. Certainly, there are some examples when butter is irreplaceable, such as most desserts. We'll just keep making them the good, old way. As with everything, there is no need to go overboard.

Finally, what about other vegetable oils? Well, olive oil is indeed superior in terms of nutrition and integrity. However, we don't have to be biased and one-sided: As a rule. any oil is more beneficiary than butter. Those who are particularly healthy are coconut oil (a heavily and unfairly accused oil by the media in the 70s), avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil. A seemingly healthy, but suspicious type of oil is canola oil (it is also the subject of a future post).

Until next time, I hope you enjoy Athena's gift not only to Greeks, but to all mankind, as often as possible. Some quick and easy ways would be as a dressing for salads, when pureeing potatoes or beans, or when drizzling sauteed vegetables, just before serving.

Of course, I could always post some Greek recipes using olive oil, if you like... Have a nice weekend!


  1. Another great post! I have always been unsure of the "light" olive oil...and what that meant exactly. Now, I know...kind of! Recipes would be WONDERFUL! I'll be waiting! LOL!

  2. I usually buy the evoo, but kind of assumed that the light was probably better for you, it's good to know the difference. Thanks :)

  3. It makes me wonder if the EVOO we get here is anywhere near the quality in Greece. I usually buy bulk at COSTCO. I'm eager to read about canola as that is my "back up" oil when olive oil won't work in a recipe. Another great post!

  4. Love the info, I've had to study nutrition as a "hobby" and it's great to spread the truth and debunk myths. The best olive oil I ever had was extra virgin that a Greek friend brought me after a visit home. The flavor was intense and peppery...yum!

  5. Another great post, Gracey! I have to admit, I was never sure what "light" olive oil was. I can't wait to see what recipes you share with us!! I'm still hoping to try some of your drink recommendations.

  6. Thank you for your comments, everybody! I am glad you liked the post. I do have some Greek recipes in mind - I'll start posting later tonight or tomorrow. :)

  7. The olive oil is great not only for the health but for the the skin too, because have many antioxidants properties.Some investigations say that can improve the sexual life of peoples who consume olive oil. Only in the cases when the problem is very advanced is necesary to buy viagra but is good take care of us when we have the tools.