olive oil

Olive oil is a staple pantry item. We use it for cooking, for making salad dressings, and even sometimes for our beauty regimens! But there may be things about this important ingredient that you’re still in the dark about.

The Grades of Olive Oil

Olive oil is available in several grades, from Extra-virgin (EVOO) to olive pomace oil.

The first is the most expensive and is generally deemed to be the best, but home cooks should be careful they’re using it for the right purposes! Extra-virgin olive oil is low in acid and has a fruity flavor and a green color. Extra-virgin olive oil should never be heated, as it destroys the flavor of the oil. In addition, EVOO has a very low smoke point, which makes it a poor choice for sautéeing. Instead, use your very best extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings and for seasoning soups and other hot dishes at the last minute. You can also use it as an oil for dipping or for marinating cheeses.

Virgin olive oil is similar to extra-virgin olive oil. It has a moderate acidity and a flavor near that of extra-virgin oil. It has a slightly higher smoke point, and it can therefore be used over lower heats.

Pure olive oil is generally a label used for refined oil blended with some virgin oil. These oils are appropriate for use in cooking, as are olive pomace oils. Olive pomace oils have a much more neutral flavor than other olive oils, but they have the same health benefits as other olive oils. Its high smoke point makes it an excellent choice for cooking.

Organic Olive Oil

Organic olive oil is oil made from organic olives. Because of the popularity of olive oil, every brand around, from Bertolli to Rachael Ray, is releasing an organic olive oil.

The principal problem with all of these oils is that, while the organic label is highly controlled, the virgin one is not. A recent study found that many oils sold as extra-virgin actually do not meet the standards for this label. We like to know what we’re eating! If you pay for a good extra-virgin olive oil, you should be sure that that’s what you’re getting. With that in mind, here are a few of our favorite olive oil brands that are honest about what goes on in the bottle.

  • Apollo Olive Oil – This company has several different oils, including the Mistral, which gets its influences from Provence. The oil has a full, round flavor.
  • McEvoy Ranch Organic – This ranch’s certified oils are inspired by the traditions of Tuscany. Six Italian varieties of olives are blended to create this full-boadied oil. It’s deeply green at harvest, and while the color mellows, the flavor remains fruity and robust, with hints of artichoke.
  • Lucero Olive Oils – This Tuscan brand’s Ascolano extra-virgin oil is an award-winner. This year alone, it’s been granted four prestigious awards for its fruity, almost tropical flavor, with hints of peach and mango and a peppery finish.
  • Abbae Queiles – This Spanish oil from Navarra has very low acidity. It’s made with Arbequina olives, which give it a very fruity, sweet flavor. It’s herby and slightly bitter, with a taste of fresh almonds.

What to Do With It?

Once you get your hands on a really good olive oil, it’s important to savor it! First, taste it, as you would a wine. Taste some plain, out of a spoon. Slowly let it coat your tongue. Your mouth will warm the oil, bringing out its natural flavors. Search for the undertones of flavor, and then pair the oil with dishes that bring these flavors out. Here are some of our favorite recipe ideas for bringing out the flavors of great extra-virgin oils:

You could even host an olive oil tasting, with several oils and bread for dipping. Everyone can take tasting notes and vote on their favorite at the end of the evening!

Image: Smabs Sputzer