4 Reasons to Love Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It’s no surprise that good quality extra virgin olive oil is universally beloved; it imparts incredible depth of flavour, whether used raw or in cooking. But olive oil boasts some pretty impressive health benefits, too. Here are my top 4 reasons why I love extra virgin olive oil:
1. OLIVES…FRESHLY PRESSED
Did you know that olive oil is essentially a fruit juice? When olives are pressed at the peak of freshness (as opposed to when they’re overripe and yield a greater amount of lower quality oil), they produce an oil that is a healthy source of monounsaturated fat with unparalleled flavour. This type of vegetable-based fat has been extensively studied as a key element of the Mediterranean diet, and plays a role in lowering bad cholesterol, reducing inflammation and helping to regulate blood sugar.
But you wouldn’t drink a 3 year old glass of orange juice to get your morning vitamin C, would you? The problem with buying olive oil at the supermarket (in addition to widespread olive oil fraud), is that there is no way of knowing just how old it is. Not only has it been languishing for months or years before even making it into your cupboard, but olive oil producers frequently blend older oils with newer ones to achieve consistent yields and flavour profiles from batch to batch. Avoid this problem by buying your olive oil from a source that knows the crush date, and brings in fresh product with every harvest (every 6 months – a harvest for each hemisphere).
2. LET’S GET COOKING
When speaking to people about olive oil, the question I’m asked most frequently is whether or not you can safely cook with it. It’s common folk wisdom that olive oil is good for you, but only if you use it raw. The source of this concern has to do with the smoke point of oils: the level of heat at which the chemical bonds in an oil begin to break down (or oxidize) and it begins to smoke. At this point, the oil becomes less healthy, and desirable flavour characteristics are replaced by unpleasant scorching.
The assumption that olive oil has a lower smoke point than other oils is missing a key factor: the quality of the oil matters. Whereas a mediocre olive oil may have a lower smoke point than corn or safflower oil, a good quality extra virgin olive oil may have a higher smoke point. What to look for? A fresh extra virgin olive oil with a high polyphenol count. These antioxidants not only promote health, but they strengthen monounsaturated bond chains, making them more resistant to heat. So start cooking!
3. PASS THE VEGGIES, PLEASE!
I’m always trying to get more vegetables into my family’s diet. My secret weapon? Olive oil! Whether it’s drizzling some olive oil over fresh tomatoes and basil, or sauteing leafy greens with a pinch of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, olive oil can transform veggies into the star of the plate. And using flavour-infused olive oil kicks things up a notch – try sauteing spinach or kale in lemon olive oil. Delicious! I also like to toss diced root vegetables or broccoli in Tuscan herb olive oil before roasting; that way I can enjoy the flavour of fresh herbs without all the chopping. Make a restaurant quality salad dressing by mixing equal parts flavoured olive oil and balsamic vinegar (check out some of my favourite recipes); you’ll never use bottled dressing again. Butter infused olive oil is fantastic in mashed potatoes, or drizzled over green beans or grilled asparagus. And Chipotle olive oil adds a touch of heat to corn on the cob. The possibilities are as enticing as they are endless; so eat your veggies!
4. THAT FULL FEELING
The wonderful bi-product of eating more veggies prepared with olive oil is that you end up eating less of everything else. Olive oil not only adds richness and mouthfeel to dishes; it makes foods more satisfying. Whereas fat used to be seen as the enemy (who else ate too many tasteless chicken breasts and salads with fat-free dressing in the 90s?), we now know that this healthy nutrient is a useful tool in creating balanced, enjoyable meals. When I’m preparing a meal, olive oil often finds its way into every element – dressing raw greens, blended into a hearty legume dip, on roasted or grilled veggies, in a grain salad, as a marinade for lean protein. Olive oil makes eating natural, wholesome ingredients a pleasure. Enjoy!