Oil 101: Olive

 

Olive oil has been used throughout the world for thousands of years. The olive tree itself is native to Mediterranean, and early peoples gathered wild olives as early as the 6,000 B.C; the cultivation of the olive tree is thought to have originated in Crete sometime around 2,500 B.C, and archeological evidence suggests that olive oil has been around for eons before that, prized by the ancient civilizations of Syria and Egypt.

Used in cooking, for religious rituals and medicine, as fuel for lamps and early soap making, olive oil is certainly an important part of our heritage and is now produced by  traditional countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain, as well as Africa, The U.S., South America, New Zealand and Australia, and consumed throughout the world. Indeed, olive oil is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in the households of the world.

Formed in 1959, the International Olive Council established grades of olive oils and set standards and definitions to help distinguish quality and maintain standards.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil Comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. Extra Virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries; the percentage is far higher in the Mediterranean countries (Greece: 80%, Italy: 45%, Spain 30%). It is used on salads, added at the table to soups and stews and for dipping.
  • Virgin olive oil Comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 1.5%, and is judged to have a good taste.
  • Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.
  • Olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined production oil, of no more than 2% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor.
  • Olive pomace oil is refined pomace olive oil often blended with some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but may not be described simply as olive oil. It has a more neutral flavor than pure or virgin olive oil, making it unfashionable among connoisseurs; however, it has the same fat composition as regular olive oil, giving it the same health benefits. It also has a high smoke point, and thus is widely used in restaurants as well as home cooking in some countries.
  • Lampante oil is olive oil not suitable as food; lampante comes from olive oil’s long-standing use in oil-burning lamps. Lampante oil is mostly used in the industrial market.
  • Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams (0.3%) and its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. This is obtained by refining virgin olive oils with a high acidity level and/or organoleptic defects that are eliminated after refining. Note that no solvents have been used to extract the oil, but it has been refined with the use of charcoal and other chemical and physical filters.

 

Though it is a well known adage that anything worth doing is worth doing well, it is also true that, wherever there is a quick buck to be made, someone will be trying to do just that. So it is not surprising that as technologies around the world have advanced, quick methods of extracting olive oil, and cheaper and less healthy varieties of are readily available. Indeed, unscrupulous marketers have been caught passing off inferior oils as olive oils, from rapeseed to Swedish Turnip oil, often adulterating them with chemicals, colourings or flavourings, and the plots and subterfuges surrounding olive oil can read like a Trevanian novel.

In March 2008, 400 Italian police officers conducted “Operation Golden Oil”, arresting 23 people and confiscating 85 farms after an investigation revealed a large-scale scheme to relabel oils from other Mediterranean nations as Italian. In April 2008, another operation impounded seven olive oil plants and arrested 40 people in nine provinces of northern and southern Italy for adding chlorophyll to sunflower and soybean oil, and selling it as extra virgin olive oil, both in Italy and abroad; 25,000 liters of the fake oil were seized and prevented from being exported.-Wickipedia

 

With all this cloak and daggering going on, it is a bit of a relief for us to find out that a dynamic new campaign is launching in North America that will take some of the worry or guesswork out of purchasing and using Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). Flavor Your Life  is funded by  the European Union, the Italian Department of Agriculture and Unaprol, the largest consortium of olive growers in Italy. The goal of the campaign is to educate North American consumers and retailers on the importance of product origin and the quality level of the oil they use daily.

The weather outside is frightful right now, and summer may seem like a long way off. But we have included a simple recipe here for anyone that wants to get a jump on some summer flavours.

Mediterranean Summer Salad With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Ingredients:

2 pieces of Buffalo Mozzarella cheese sliced

4 large tomatoes sliced

3 English cucumbers sliced

1 Tsp. Capers

1 Tsp. Lemon juice

Salt

Pepper

Fresh Basil leaves for garnish

4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preparation:

Wash and cut all the vegetables; then on a plate place the green vegetables, add the mozzarella in the middle, and then finally cover with the sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle with capers and basil, season with lemon juice, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, salt, a pinch of pepper.

 For further reading on how Canada is striving to ensure the quality of EVOO, read here

 

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