Olive oil

Olive oils have been a treasured addition to healthy cooking since ancient times. You're probably familiar with their crucial role in Mediterranean dishes like pizza, pasta, and salad. But did you know that olive oil can also be used for frying? It not only enhances the flavour but also contributes to traditional Italian cuisine through its high content of unsaturated fatty acids.

Olive oil

More than half of the olive trees grow in sunny countries with the optimal Mediterranean climate, within the olive tree line. The most famous olive-growing areas include Greece, Crete, Tunisia, Jordan, Spain, and Italy. A healthy and high-quality extra virgin olive oil is always cold-pressed.

Important Quality Grades

To help you recognize good olive oil from the label, there are various quality classes.

"The truth lies in the oil, the deception in the label."

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The highest quality olive oil, extra virgin, is pressed directly from the olive using a mechanical process. The content of free fatty acids must not exceed 0.8 g per 100 g of oil, and some gourmet oils even significantly undercut this value. The taste is influenced not only by the variety of olive used, which is comparable to grape varieties in wine, but also by the timing of the harvest and the gentle handling of the olives. Rapid and gentle processing is advantageous for good taste. The pressing should take place within a few hours, but no later than 24 hours. The harvest time is usually from October to March when the green olive shows hints of a purple discoloration. Due to the variety of flavors in extra virgin olive oil, it is advisable to try different oils. Some oils are better suited for salads, others are perfect for marinating and frying. Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is obtained at a maximum of 27°C.

Virgin Olive Oil

Cold-pressed virgin olive oil is obtained using a hydraulic press or modern centrifuge presses. The pressure must not build up too quickly to keep the temperature below 27°C. This oil is mechanically extracted directly from the olive and is unrefined.

Ordinary olive oil is a refined edible oil made from olives. Through special treatment, secondary plant compounds are filtered out and broken down, causing it to lose flavor and healthy ingredients, but allowing it to withstand higher temperatures when frying.

Olive Oil Taste

In the European Union, the taste of olive oil is categorized into mild, medium, and intense oil. All should have a fresh, grassy taste, and you might also detect herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Mild oil has a nice soft note, medium oil can contain many additional flavors such as almond, chili, tomato, or eggplant. Intense oil tends to be slightly bitter and tastes most distinctly of olives.

Olive Oil for Frying

Oils and fats have a smoke point when heated. This is the temperature range where the oil or fat in the pan starts to smoke. You should not exceed this temperature. The smoke point is determined by the oil used and its degree of refinement. For refined edible oil, the following heat specifications apply:

  • Sunflower oil: 220°C (refined), 100°C (cold-pressed)
  • Olive oil: 180°C (refined), 130–160°C (cold-pressed)
  • Rapeseed oil: 220°C (refined), 130 – 170°C (cold-pressed)

Olive Trees and Varieties

Olive trees are not frost-hardy but can withstand heat and drought well. They are also grown in South Africa, America, and Australia. Olive trees can live for a very long time; some on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem are over 1000 years old.

A single olive tree yields about 20 kg of olives, from which 4 liters of oil can be pressed. The olives of the "Oliva bianca" tree are characterized by a strong, rustic taste and are harvested late. The fruits of the partly over one hundred-year-old Mignola olive tree are among the rarer olive varieties. They are somewhat delicate and require 100% manual labor during harvest. These olives should be cold-pressed within ten hours after harvest to ensure the high quality of the oil.

The oil from Ottobratica olives is highly valued and recognizable by its golden color. It is not exactly cheap, but the investment is worthwhile due to the exquisite taste. It makes sense to maintain an excellent oil collection alongside a good wine collection, to enjoy the diversity of flavors.

Olive Harvest

The time of harvest, alongside the variety, has the greatest influence on the taste of the oil. Olives can be harvested green and unripe, at the beginning of ripeness, or as ripe, black olives. The riper the olive, the milder and sweeter the oil pressed from it. A hint of ripeness can be an amber-golden color.

If you buy oil for 10 euros from a producer, you can assume that the olive farmer has spent about 7.50 euros on the labor-intensive harvest. Even today, olives are predominantly hand-picked in the groves, although harvesting machines are increasingly being used in recent years.

A common method is to lay a fine net under the olive tree. With wooden poles or electrically driven shaking poles, the olives are shaken from the tree and fall with leaves onto the net. In the oil mill, compressed air ensures that the leaves are separated from the olives. The acidity level with this harvesting method is usually a bit higher in the Chondrolies olives.

Storage and Shelf Life

Olive oil should ideally be stored at temperatures between 15 and 22 degrees Celsius and protected from direct light. It can be stored for up to two years if properly stored. The oil should be consumed promptly, as valuable ingredients can be lost if stored too long. A good tip is to use the oil within three months to enjoy the full flavor and health benefits.

Health Aspects

Olive oil is known for its health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart diseases, strokes, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. It contains monounsaturated fatty acids, polyphenols, and oleic acid, which have anti-inflammatory effects and lower cholesterol levels. Studies show that regular use of olive oil in the diet can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attack and offers many health benefits as part of a Mediterranean diet.

With this detailed information and tips, you can be sure that you are making the right choice when buying and using olive oil. This maximizes not only the enjoyment but also the health benefits of this valuable oil.