Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a special higher quality type olive oil and most people believe it is very healthy. It is one of the oldest food items we know. Already 8000 years ago people in the Middle East starting producing it. Only then it was not called ‘extra virgin’. And not only they used it for food. People used it and are still using it in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps, and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps, and it has additional uses in some religions.
It is also one of the most expensive foods in the world. The most expensive olive oil in the world today is called Lambda and Speiron Co. in Greece produces it. They package the oil by hand in a 500 ml bottle. It will cost you 11.000 euro. However, the last time I looked at their website was down. So go for the second most expensive olive oil: Manni from Italy, which will cost you about 50 euro/200 ml. We live in France in the middle of organic olive trees and vineyards. So we go for the local produce (up to 30 euros for 75 cl). Often you can buy both olive oil and wine at the wine domains here. We also help friends picking (in November) and get some bottles for free.
Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive oil
Olive Oil is a liquid fat they extract from olives (the fruit of Olea europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. Extra virgin olive oil should have no more than 0.8% free acidity and it has favorable flavor characteristics.
Extra-virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil and the highest-quality olive oil you can buy. There are very specific standards that the oil has to meet to receive the label “extra-virgin.” Because of the production method, extra-virgin olive oil retains more true olive taste, and has a lower level of oleic acid than other olive oil varieties. It also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.
Olive Oil Production
Today, Spain is the largest producer of olive oil by volume. Italy and Greece are second and third. However, per capita national consumption is highest in Greece. Then Spain, Italy, and Tunisia. Consumption in South Asia, North America and northern Europe is far less, but rising steadily.
The composition of olive oil varies with the cultivar, altitude, time of harvest and extraction process. It consists mainly of oleic acid (up to 83%), with smaller amounts of other fatty acids including linoleic acid (up to 21%) and palmitic acid (up to 20%).
Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means. Green olives usually produce more bitter oil, and overripe olives can produce oil that is rancid. So for good extra virgin olive oil it is important to make sure the olives are perfectly ripe.
The process is generally as follows:
- Large millstones (traditional method) or steel drums (modern method) grind the olives into paste.
- If ground with mill stones, the olive paste generally stays under the stones for 30 to 40 minutes.
- In modern steel drum mills the grinding process takes about 20 minutes. The oil produced by only physical (mechanical) means as described above is called virgin oil. Extra virgin olive oil is virgin olive oil that satisfies specific high chemical and organoleptic criteria (low free acidity, no or very little organoleptic defects). A higher grade extra virgin olive oil is mostly dependent on favourable weather conditions.
- Producers filter the produced oil to eliminate remaining solid particles that may reduce the shelf life of the product. Labels may indicate the fact that the oil has not been filtered, suggesting a different taste. Fresh unfiltered olive oil usually has a slightly cloudy appearance, and is therefore sometimes called cloudy olive oil. This form of olive oil was popular only among olive oil small scale producers but is now becoming “trendy”, in line with consumer’s demand for products that are ‘authentic’.
Most people agree that extra virgin olive oil is incredibly healthy. Part of the Mediterranean diet, this traditional oil has been a dietary staple for some of the world’s healthiest populations.
Studies show that the fatty acids and antioxidants in olive oil can offer some powerful health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease. By extracting it using natural methods and standardized for purity and certain sensory qualities like taste and smell.
Olive oil that is truly extra virgin has a distinct taste and is high in phenolic antioxidants, which is the main reason why it’s so beneficial.
Modern olive oil is made by crushing olives and separating the oil from the pulp in a centrifuge. Extra virgin olive oil is 100% natural and high in antioxidants.Source: Healthline
An article in Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology says the modern olive tree most likely originated in ancient Persia and Mesopotamia spreading towards Syria and Israel in the Mediterranean Basin. Some scholars have argued that olive cultivation originated with the Ancient Egyptians.
Archaeological evidence shows that by 6000 BC (which is 8000 years ago) people were turning olives into olive oil. there is evidence that in 4500 BC a now-submerged prehistoric settlement south of Haifa produced olive oil.
Olive oil has long been a common ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine, including ancient Greek and Roman cuisine. Neolithic people as early as the 8th millennium BC started collecting wild olives in Asia Minor.
Besides food, olive oil people use it for religious rituals, medicines, as a fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care application.
The Spartans and other Greeks used oil to rub themselves while exercising in the gymnasia. From its beginnings early in the 7th century BC, the cosmetic use of olive oil quickly spread to all of the Hellenic city states, together with athletes training in the nude, and lasted close to a thousand years despite its great expense. The Greeks also used it for ant-conception (!).
Later, as the Greeks were establishing colonies in other parts of the Mediterranean, olive farming was introduced to places like Spain and other places throughout the Roman Empire.
Europeans introduced olive trees to the Americas in the 16th century AD when cultivation began in areas that enjoyed a climate similar to the Mediterranean such as Chile, Argentina and California.
Symbolism and mythology
The olive tree has historically been a symbol of peace between nations. In Greek mythology it has played a religious and social role. Especially concerning the name of the city of Athens. Named after the goddess Athena because people held her gift of an olive tree as more precious than rival Poseidon’s gift of a salt spring.
Use and Recipes
Olive oil is an important cooking oil in countries surrounding the Mediterranean, and it forms one of the three staple food plants of Mediterranean cuisine, the other two being wheat (as in pasta, bread, and couscous) and the grape, used as a dessert fruit and for wine.
We use extra virgin olive oil mostly as a salad dressing and as an ingredient in salad dressings. And use it with foods to be eaten cold or for sautéing. If uncompromised by heat, the flavor is stronger.
Choosing a cold-pressed olive oil can be similar to selecting a wine. The flavor of these oils varies considerably and a particular oil may be more suited for a particular dish.
Fresh oil, as available in an oil-producing region, tastes noticeably different from the older oils available elsewhere. In time, oils deteriorate and become stale. One-year-old oil may be still pleasant to the taste, but it is less fragrant than fresh oil. After the first year, olive oil is more suitable for cooking than serving raw.
The taste of the olive oil depends on the varietals to produce the oil. In addition the moment when the olives are harvested and ground is important. Less ripe olives give more bitter and spicy flavors – riper olives give a sweeter sensation in the oil).
Cooking with Olive Oil
When you heat extra virgin olive oil above 210–216 °C (410–421 °F), depending on its free fatty acid content, you will burn the unrefined particles within the oil. This leads to deteriorated taste. Also, most consumers do not like the pronounced taste of extra virgin olive oil for deep fried foods. Refined olive oils are better for deep frying because of the higher smoke point and milder flavour.