What You’re Eating
Press an olive, and you get one of the healthiest fats in the world. Yet olive oil accounts for just 3 per cent of world oil consumption and for about 10 per cent in North America, or about 1/2 litre per person per year. Compare that to Mediterranean countries like Italy (13 litres per person per year), Spain (15 litres), and Greece (26 litres). Given the amount of olive oil Greeks consume, it’s not surprising that Greece devotes some 60 per cent of its cultivated land to olive growing. Don’t just pluck one off a tree, though. Raw olives are incredibly bitter until processed (which often involves soaking them in a lye solution). Extra virgin is considered the Rolls Royce of olive oils for its low acidity.
The main benefit of olive oil, and there are many, is that it lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and raises “good” HDL cholesterol, thanks to its monounsaturated fats. Olive oil is also packed with antioxidants called phenols, which may protect artery walls from cholesterol buildup. Researchers even discovered recently that olive oil acts as an anti-inflammatory, which further protects your heart, and the rest of your body, too. Inflammation is strongly linked not only to heart disease but also to type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
Delicate extra-virgin olive oil is best used uncooked for salad dressings or dipping. Virgin olive oil is perfect for sautéing, so you’ll want to keep both on hand.
Three Clever Ideas
Best stored in the refrigerator, olive oil does solidify when chilled. A solution: Keep the bottle in the fridge, but fill a clean, pretty, dark wine bottle with 1 cup (250 ml) of oil. It’ll always be there when you need it.
Using flavored oils saves you from having to add seasoning to dishes. Make your own by adding dried herbs and seasonings to a bottle of oil. Start with different combinations in small bottles until you find a favorite.
To prevent over-pouring, don’t remove the safety seal from a new bottle. Instead, poke through the seal with the tip of a paring knife. To pour, squeeze or shake the oil into the pan or measuring spoon.