What Makes Olive Oil Extra Virgin

What is olive oil?  Why are there different kinds?  You may have asked yourself this when a recipe calls for extra virgin, pure, or light olive oil. Or when you are at the grocery store and walk down the aisle and see a variety of olive oils on display.   Does one taste better?  Which one is the healthiest option?  Is olive oil considered healthy?  You might be surprised about the answer to the last question. 

First let’s look at the different kinds of olive oil and best suggested uses for each.  Light olive oil does not mean low fat, as you would assume.  The light is referring to the color and flavor.  It is usually a blend of extra virgin and another oil like canola.  It has a higher smoking point than extra virgin oil, but still offers some level of the olive flavor.  Pure olive oil is usually a mixture of extra virgin and virgin olive oil that has been graded low in quality, and has been through a heated refining process to improve its flavor.

How is olive oil made?  My hopes of explaining this procedure is that you will understand why olive oil is a little more heavy on the pocket book. The process of harvesting olives is one of labor and love.  When the olives are ripe for the taking they fall from the trees and only a small amount is gathered insuring freshness and quality.  The farmers rake the olives into a net taking care not to contaminate them with any disease borne soil that may have bore into the ground.   The olives are then milled into a paste and then are ready to be pressed. 

Here is what classifies the oil to be extra virgin.  Extra virgin olive oil is the first pressing of the olives, or also know as cold pressing.  Meaning that no heat is used to extract the juice from the olive.   As the olives are pressed, little droplets begin to form and adhere to one another making bigger droplets and at this stage the “juice” or oil collected will sit and rest, separating it self from the water, and allowing the oil to rise to the top. 

There is an actual grading process olive oil must go through to be classified as “extra virgin”.  The acidity can not exceed 0.8%, and must be from the first pressing with no heat involved, as stated above.  You may have seen these terms on the labels of extra virgin olive oil.  While some extra virgin olive oils are rich in color and offer a fruity, nutty after tone, others will be pale and will have an herbal grassy flavor.  It just depends where they are grown.

The oil is best stored out of sunlight and not to exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit, for it will oxidize and become rancid.

Extra virgin olive oil actually is considered a “healthy food”.  It contains omega 3 fatty acids proven to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and help fight certain cancers.   The extra virgin variety is mostly used for salad dressings or a light drizzle over prepared foods, cooking with the oil is not recommend for it has a low smoking point.

So the next time you stroll down the oil section of the grocery store grab yourself a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil, taking note of the brand and where is was grown, discover which brand and origin best suits your palate, and incorporate this super food into your diet. 

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