It’s all about the oil, olive oil, that is! Anyone who’s familiar with celebrity chef Rachel Ray recalls her extensive use of EVOO. For the uninitiated, that means “extra virgin olive oil.” Uhhh, virgin? Yes, Virginia (oh look, I think I made an unintentional pun) — meaning that it’s not been processed. An interesting use of the term, but that’s for another post. LOL! So, if you’ve watched the Food Network or merely perused the oil section of your local supermarket, you’ve noticed there’s a huge number of choices of olive oil. Inexpensive, virgin, extra virgin, light, extra light, and those that cost so much that you’re wondering “what the heck?”
Dear reader and blog follower, I’m here to help you figure out what the deal is with all the oils. And I did grow up with Crisco and Wesson oil. God Love Florence Henderson (RIP, Mrs. Brady) and her “Wessonality” ad jingle. But now I’m a changed woman (although I do still swear by Crisco for some recipes…)
But that was then and this is now – vegetable oils (typically highly processed with a chemical solvent) are not the best choice. Olive oil consumption in the US has increased a impressive 56% between 2009 and 2017. That’s a lot of oil! So, when a recipe calls for olive oil or you just want a simple drizzle over your salad greens or tomatoes and mozzarella, what kind of oil should you buy? Does it really matter?
Olive Oil Choices – Bitter is a feature, not a bug…
Olives are a fruit and the fruit is crushed to extract the oil (a total over simplification, but you get the drift). An extra virgin olive oil is made just by crushing and extracting — no solvents, no refining or heating. It is the highest quality. A “good” olive oil is fruity, a bit bitter on the tongue and is also pungent (that peppery feel in the back of your throat that causes you to think you may need to cough). Beat with me as the above doesn’t sound really good in writing… Much like wine, with respect to grapes, the taste of olive oil is influenced by the olives used. Different regions (Italy, Spain, Greece) will have slightly different tastes.
Refined olive oil uses a refining process to remove what some consider are the “unpleasant” aspects of olive oil (bitterness and pungency). It is typically marketed as “pure,” “light,” or just “olive oil.” The refining process may use solvents. That said, many believe that the health benefits (monounsaturated oil, contains antioxidents, etc…) from even a refined olive oil outweigh the negatives and make it altogether better than using vegetable oil.
When to Use What
When you heat extra virgin olive oil it loses most of its flavor. As a result, don’t waste your money by using a costly or more costly olive oil when you plan to saute in it or heat it for a recipe. Regular olive oil will do just fine. However, when using to dip, dress a salad, drizzle over tomatoes and mozzarella, or when Ina Garten tells you to, use a “good” (aka Extra Virgin) oil. There are literally hundreds of choices here. Pick the one that’s within your budget. Want to really taste the difference? I recommend finding a gourmet food shop and asking to let then taste the oil. I’ve also seen great oils at farmer’s markets where you can talk oil and taste their wares. And if you’re really interested in developing your olive oil palatte, check out this site. There’s even an olive oil sommelier course.
And don’t forget — once you open that bottle, it will start to oxidize and lose its flavor. Use within a few months and then pitch it. Rancid olive oil is the pits!