Olive oil, a rich and fruity oil for cooking, made from the fruits of olive tree by pressing. It can be used in many different ways, from salad dressings, marinades and shallow frying, and rather like bottles of wine, you will find many different qualities of oil in the shops.
But why is olive oil good for you and what health benefits can olive oil offer?
For centuries, olive oil has been a major constituent of Mediterranean cooking, and since people living in that part of the world enjoy some of the lowest levels of heart disease anywhere, there is clearly a link between olive oil and good health.
On the face of it, olive oil is full of fat, so surely it is bad for us? But no, despite the fact that olive oil contains lots of fat, unlike some other types of oil, olive oil contains good fats—fats known as monounsaturated fatty acids.
MUFAs are the opposite of unhealthy trans fats and saturated fats and can help to lower your risk of developing coronary heart disease.
How can using olive oil lower my risk of heart disease?
Olive oil helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels, which in turn reduces your risk of developing heart disease and strokes.
The monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil can also help those with type 2 diabetes because they stabilize insulin and blood sugar levels.
Scientific studies have indicated that regular consumption of olive oil can also help to prevent colon cancer.
Does the quality of olive oil make a difference?
There are lots of different grades of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the most expensive and the best quality.
Extra virgin olive oil contains the most nutrients as it is less refined than lighter oils; light olive oils are a lesser grade of oil made by mixing extra virgin olive oil with refined olive oil.
Sometimes cheaper types of olive oil are blended from olive oil and vegetable oil, so always make sure you read the label carefully to ensure you are buying pure olive oil and not a substitute.
How can I use olive oil in my cooking?
Olive oil can be used for many different types of cooking, but you may wish to vary which oil you use according to what you are doing.
Extra virgin olive oil is typically used neat or for making salad dressings. Extra virgin oil has a stronger and more defined flavor, which makes it perfect for using plain on pasta or as a dressing for meat, vegetables, or salad.
More refined types of olive oil are great for frying, although olive oil is not suitable for deep frying because high heat alters the chemical composition of the oil and taints the flavor.
However, as long as you avoid turning up the heat too high, olive oil is perfect for shallow frying vegetables or meat, whether for a pasta dish or some other kind of Mediterranean flavored meal.
Olive oil is great for adding some flavor to plain vegetables. Chop up a selection of different vegetables, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, onion, carrots and parsnips, heat up some olive oil in an oven proof dish, and then add the vegetables. Baste them in the hot oil, season to taste, and cook until soft.
Any kind of vegetables are delicious when sautéed in olive oil.
Dip them in hot oil and quickly fry them with some seasoning and then serve up warm with a bit of cooked chicken or bacon.
Olive oil greatly enhances the flavor of most foods, so if you wish to improve the flavor of a bit of wilting salad toss it in olive oil, season, add a bit of lemon or lime, and serve immediately.
Make salad dressings with olive oil
Olive oil is incredibly versatile and is often used to make tasty salad dressings, and unlike dressings containing mayonnaise, olive oil salad dressings are actually good for you.
To make a simple olive oil dressing, mix olive oil with balsamic vinegar and seasoning. This is the perfect light salad dressing, but if you wish to add some extra spicy flavor, you can throw in some chili pepper or mustard seeds.
Flavored olive oil is very popular and a quick glance around kitchen stores will soon show you how pretty jars of olive oil filled with extra herbs and spices can look.
It is easy to make your own flavored olive oil. All you need are some small jars you can seal.
Sterilize them and then fill them up with fresh extra virgin olive oil, add some flavorings such as chili peppers, basil, oregano, garlic, and anything else you think will enhance the flavor of the oil.
The longer you leave the oil, the stronger the flavor will be.
Create authentic Italian flavors using olive oil
Olive oil is traditionally used in many Italian dishes, from pizza to pasta, so if you want an authentic Italian flavor to your food, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on your pizza.
Or make authentic Italian bruschetta by toasting olive oil soaked bread under the grill. For extra flavor, spread some tomato puree on bread, drizzle olive oil and melt some mozzarella cheese on to it.
Focaccia bread is another Italian favorite that utilizes the flavor of olive oil. Instead of incorporating butter or margarine into your bread recipes, use olive oil instead and take advantage of a delicious flavor combined with lots of great health benefits.
How should I store olive oil?
Olive oil will keep for a long time, but only if you store it correctly. Never place bottles of olive oil where they will get too warm or be affected by sunlight.
Like all other types of cooking oil, olive oil will quickly turn rancid if kept in a warm, light place, so in order to keep your olive oil in an optimum condition it is best kept in a dark, cool place such as a pantry or cupboard.