Olive Oil 101: How It’s Extracted and Why It’s a Healthy Choice
Olive oil is one of the most common cooking oils and has been used for thousands of years. But what is it exactly?
Olive oil is a liquid fat obtained by pressing olives. It’s used in cooking and baking, as well as in salad dressings and dips. It’s also used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. It’s a fruit juice obtained from the fruit of the olive tree.
In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about olive oil, including its uses, types, and health benefits.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What You Need to Know About Olive Oil
- 2 The Fascinating History of Olive Oil
- 3 Discovering the World of Olive Oil Varieties
- 4 Exploring the Versatility of Olive Oil
- 5 The Art of Extracting Liquid Gold: How Olive Oil is Made
- 6 Is Olive Oil Really That Healthy?
- 7 Conclusion
What You Need to Know About Olive Oil
Olive oil is a type of oil obtained by pressing the fruit of the Olea tree, commonly found in the Mediterranean region. It is a traditional ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine and is commonly used for cooking, frying, baking, and salad dressings. Olive oil is a liquid fat and is often compared to vegetable oil, but it has a higher quality and is rich in compounds such as polyphenols and antioxidants.
Types of Olive Oil
There are different types of olive oil, and the quality and taste can vary depending on the type. The most commonly found types of olive oil are:
- Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO): This is the highest quality olive oil, obtained by extracting the oil from the fruit without using heat or chemicals. It has a rich flavor and is commonly used for salad dressings and dipping bread.
- Virgin olive oil: This is also obtained by extracting the oil from the fruit without using heat or chemicals, but it has a lower quality and a milder flavor than EVOO.
- Olive oil: This is a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil, which is obtained by refining virgin olive oil. It has a neutral flavor and is commonly used for cooking and frying.
- Light olive oil: This is a type of olive oil that has been heavily refined and has a milder flavor than other types of olive oil. It is commonly used for baking and frying.
The Myth of Smoke Point
There is a common myth that olive oil should not be used for cooking at high temperatures because it has a low smoke point. However, recent studies have proven this to be a rumor. Researchers at the University of Barcelona confirmed that EVOO retains its healthy antioxidants even when exposed to high temperatures, and that it actually has a higher oxidative stability than other fats. The smoke point of olive oil is simply a short-term factor that refers to the temperature at which it starts to smoke and produce harmful compounds. As long as the oil is not exposed to temperatures higher than 375°F for a long period of time, it is safe to cook with.
The Importance of Quality
When it comes to olive oil, quality matters. Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest quality and has the most health benefits, including a decrease in the risk of heart disease and cancer. However, not all EVOO is created equal. Some lower quality EVOO may have been extracted using heat or chemicals, which can decrease the amount of antioxidants and nutrients in the oil. It is important to look for high-quality EVOO that has been cold-pressed and has a rich flavor.
The Fascinating History of Olive Oil
Olive oil has a rich and ancient history that dates back thousands of years. It is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean region, where it was first discovered by ancient civilizations. The ancient Greeks and Romans were known to have used olive oil for religious ceremonies, as well as for cooking and as a body oil. The production of olive oil began in the ancient era, and it played a significant role in the daily lives of people in the Mediterranean region. The ancient Greeks even referred to it as “liquid gold.”
The Role of Olive Oil in Modern Times
Today, olive oil is a key item on the table in many households around the world. It is produced in multiple varieties and styles, each having its own unique taste and quality points. Olive oil is commonly used for cooking, but it is also utilized in a vast array of dishes, from typical Mediterranean dishes to new and innovative recipes. It is a versatile item that requires little practice to use and can be sold at different price points depending on its quality.
The Different Varieties of Olive Oil
There are many different varieties of olive oil, each having its own unique taste and uses. The most common types of olive oil include:
- Extra virgin olive oil: This is the highest quality olive oil, having the most natural flavor and aroma. It is made by cold-pressing the olives, and it is commonly used for salads, dips, and dressings.
- Virgin olive oil: This is also made by cold-pressing the olives, but it has a slightly lower quality than extra virgin olive oil. It is commonly used for cooking.
- Pure olive oil: This is a mixture of extra virgin and virgin olive oil, and it is commonly used for cooking.
- Olive pomace oil: This is made by using solvents to extract the oil from the remaining pulp and pits after the initial pressing. It is commonly used for cooking and has a lower quality than the other types of olive oil.
The Function of Olive Oil in Storage and Bringing Out Flavors
Olive oil has a key function in bringing out the flavors of dishes, and it is often used to marinate meats and vegetables. It is also used for storage, as it can prevent the growth of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms. Olive oil was even used in ancient times to preserve food, and it continues to be used for this purpose today.
The Importance of Olive Oil in Local Traditions
Olive oil is an important part of local traditions in many parts of the world. In the Mediterranean region, it is a staple in many dishes and is served with natural cuts of meat and vegetables. In the western world, it is often used in combination with other oils and fats to create a mixture that is ideal for cooking. Despite the different uses and traditions, olive oil remains a highly essential item in many households around the world.
Discovering the World of Olive Oil Varieties
Olive oil production is a year-round process that begins with the harvest of the olives. Thousands of olive groves around the world produce olive oil, with each region having its own unique flavor and aroma. Here are some of the olive oil varieties from around the world:
- Italy: Italy is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, with a record of 464,000 tons in 2020. The olive oil produced in Italy is described as light and fruity, with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
- Spain: Spain is the second-largest producer of olive oil in the world, with a tally of 1.5 million tons in 2020. Spanish olive oil is excellent for cooking and has a fruity flavor.
- Greece: Greece is the third-largest producer of olive oil in the world, with a yield of 300,000 tons in 2020. Greek olive oil is known for its rich flavor and is perfect for salads and dressings.
- Turkey: Turkey is one of the largest producers of olive oil in the world, with officials predicting an export of 100,000 tons in 2021. Turkish olive oil is expected to have a good yield this year, despite the heat and drought in the southern regions.
- France: France is a new olive oil producer, with production underway in the south of the country. The goal is to establish organic olive oil farms and revive abandoned groves.
Exploring the Ancient Olive Oil Production
Olive oil production has been around for thousands of years, with the oldest record dating back to 6000 BC in the Middle East. Today, visitors can find olive oil groves in regions such as Montenegro and Mirovica, where they can taste early oils and help with the harvest as volunteers. The trend towards organic and virgin olive oil suggests that the grim predictions of a fall in production may be reversed.
Exploring the Versatility of Olive Oil
Olive oil is a perfect companion for a variety of dishes, from traditional Mediterranean recipes to elevated cuisine. Its rich, fruity flavor and light texture make it a popular choice for dressing salads, sautéing meats and vegetables, and drizzling over finished dishes for a robust finish.
Choosing the Right Olive Oil
There are many types of olive oil available, each with its own unique flavor and purpose. Here are some common varieties and their best uses:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil- perfect for dressings, finishing dishes, and dipping bread
- Virgin Olive Oil- a lighter flavor than extra virgin, great for sautéing and roasting
- Light Olive Oil- a milder flavor than virgin, ideal for cooking at high temperatures
Pairing Olive Oil with Food
Olive oil is a popular choice for cooking and finishing a variety of dishes, from meats to vegetables to pulses. Here are some common pairings:
- Red meats- robust olive oils like Moraiolo and Picual
- Pork and duck- fruity olive oils like Mission and California
- Chicken- light olive oils like Arbequina and Koroneiki
- Lamb- peppery olive oils like Coratina and Frantoio
- Vegetables- fruity or robust olive oils depending on the flavor of the vegetable
- Legumes- elevated olive oils like Moraiolo and Picual to bolster the flavor of cooked pulses like lentils and broad beans
- Root vegetables- robust olive oils like Mesquite and Coratina to enhance the flavor of roasted root vegetables
- Soups- a drizzle of fruity olive oil like Arbequina or Koroneiki to lock in flavor and add a crisp finish
Preserving Olives with Olive Oil
Olive oil was originally used to preserve olives, which were salted and stored in jars with a layer of olive oil on top. This method is still used today and creates a delicious snack or addition to salads and other dishes.
The Art of Extracting Liquid Gold: How Olive Oil is Made
Extracting olive oil is a meticulous process that requires precision and patience. The process involves several steps, including:
- Harvesting: Olives are harvested from the trees and collected in baskets or nets.
- Cleaning: The olives are cleaned to remove any dirt or debris.
- Crushing: The olives are crushed to create a paste. Traditionally, this was done using large stone mills, but now modern machinery is used.
- Malaxation: The paste is then mixed to allow the oil droplets to combine into larger ones.
- Separation: The oil is separated from the paste using a press or centrifuge.
The Science Behind Olive Oil Extraction
The oil in olives is stored in tiny sacs called vacuoles, which are located in the mesocarp, the fleshy part of the olive. To extract the oil, the cell walls in the mesocarp need to be broken down, and the oil droplets need to combine into larger ones. This is done by:
- Crushing the olives to break down the cell walls and release the oil.
- Mixing the paste to allow the oil droplets to combine into larger ones.
- Separating the oil from the paste using a press or centrifuge.
The oil in olives is made up of tiny droplets of lipo-protein, which are surrounded by a membrane. During the extraction process, enzymes in the olive paste break down the membrane, allowing the oil droplets to combine into larger ones.
Is Olive Oil Really That Healthy?
When it comes to heart health, olive oil is a superstar. Studies have shown that regular consumption of olive oil, particularly the extra-virgin variety, can lower the risk of heart disease. This is because olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can help lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries. Adding olive oil to your diet can also help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation in the body.
The Research Behind Olive Oil’s Health Benefits
Despite the many potential health benefits of olive oil, some people are still skeptical about its health claims. However, a growing body of research confirms that olive oil is indeed a healthy choice for people looking to improve their diet and overall health. Some of the key findings from recent studies include:
- A study from Harvard Medical School found that people who consumed more olive oil had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who consumed less.
- Another study from Howard University found that adding olive oil to a diet high in red meat can help reduce the negative health effects associated with the meat’s high saturated fat content.
- Research from the Mediterranean region, where olive oil is a staple of the diet, has found that regular consumption of olive oil is linked to a lower risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
How to Incorporate Olive Oil into Your Diet
If you’re looking to reap the health benefits of olive oil, there are plenty of ways to incorporate it into your diet. Some tips include:
- Use olive oil as a substitute for butter or other fatty oils in cooking and baking
- Drizzle olive oil over salads or roasted vegetables for a healthy and flavorful addition
- Use olive oil as a dip for bread or crackers
- Add a little bit of olive oil to your morning smoothie for an extra boost of healthy fats
So there you have it, the answer to the question “What is olive oil?” is a vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree. It’s used in cooking, baking, and salad dressings, and has a rich flavor and aroma. It’s a healthy fat and a staple in the mediterranean diet. So don’t be afraid to use it! Just make sure it’s extra virgin olive oil!
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.