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Olive Oil Cookery

Timeless Nutrition Tips...

Olive oils have vintages just as wines do. Learn more about olive oil cookery to get healthier fats in your diet.

Other countries in the Mediterranean region that grow olives include France, Portugal, Greece, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt and of course, Italy. Growers in California produce wonderful olive oils, also.

Olive Oil Cookery

Types of Olive Oil

Each region and each grower produce olive oils with unique character and appeal owing to soil, climate and type of olive. On the consumers' end, the character changes depending on the ingredients with which it is pairs up.

With so many olive oils on supermarket shelves for olive oil cookery, a good and curious cook might want to compare various types. In addition, good olive oil cookery tries to identify their characteristics in order to decide which olive oils are best for cooking, salads, drizzling on dishes or dunking with bread.

As you sniff and taste various olive oils, expect a wide range of fragrances and flavors. Four general taste categories cover the flavors of most olive oils.

Anatomy of Oil

  • Oils are liquid fats (as opposed to solid fats, such as butter or shortening), so 100 percent of any oil's calories come from fat.
  • Oils are derived from plant sources -- nuts (such as walnuts), seeds (such as sesame seeds), plants (such as rapeseed), and fruits (such as olives or avocados).
  • Many oils are low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Olive Oil Cookery Flavors

  • Mild and buttery: These are subtle oils, good for mild dishes such as a simple fish or salad dressing. They tend to be light golden-green.
  • Fruity and spicy: You can smell the herbs in these green oils. They are delicious with cooked vegetables and seafood and are easy to love.
  • Fruity and peppery: These will get your attention with a long peppery finish. Their assertive flavors are good companions for sandwich fillings, drizzled on garlicky dishes such as pastas, or grilled meats. They are often dark green-gold in color.
  • Full bodied and earthy: Like a big wine, these are big olive oils. Rich mouth-feel with a full flavor characterizes the golden oils.

Choosing the Right Olive Oil for Baking

For mildly flavored cakes, use a cold pressed olive oil that is graded extra-light (also called extra light tasting). Bertolli, Filippo Berrio and Carapelli are three imported Italian brands that are widely available.

Extra virgin olive oil is ideal for baking because it is bland-tasting and free of aroma. It can be used as an all-purpose substitute for other vegetable oils in all baking and cooking.

A delicately flavored olive oil can be used with stronger flavored cakes, such as spice, chocolate or pumpkin. The slightly perfumed Bertolli Classico is a good choice.

Cold pressed extra-virgin oil, with its more robust olive taste and aroma, is not recommended for cakes.

Storing Olive Oil

Always smell and taste olive oil before deciding whether to use it. Oils are volatile and can lose their flavors and go rancid when exposed too long to heat, moisture, air or light. Rancid fat not only spoils the taste of baked goods, but it is unhealthy to ingest.

Store olive oil in an opaque container in a cool, dark place. You also an refrigerate it if you wish. The oil may become cloudy when it is cold, but it will clarify as it warms to room temperature.

Comparing Fat: All oils are 100 percent fat, and all oils contain 14 grams of fat and 120 calories per tablespoon. But olive oil delivers a bonus: It contains more monounsaturated fat (77 percent) than any other fat or oil.

In many studies, monounsaturated fat has been shown to lower the levels of LDLs (low-density lipoproteins, the bad fats) in blood serum cholesterol without decreasing the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs, the good fats). In contrast, canola oil contains 62-percent monounsaturated fat, peanut oil has 49-percent, butter has 30-percent, corn oil has 25-percent and safflower oil has 13-percent.

Nutritional Note

An antioxidant in extra-virgin olive oil can protect against brain-cell damage, according to a recent study. Plus, women who eat a Mediterranean diet, often rich in olive oil, seem to reduce their risk of dying (from any cause) by 20 percent.

Favored Oils

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil has a rich range of flavors, from pungent and bold to smooth and buttery. In the United States, the term "extra virgin" generally means a minimally processed oil. In Europe, olive oils labeled extra virgin must meet strict classifications.

Extra virgin oil is robust in flavor. As with wine, the characteristics of an individual oil depend on the olive varietal and where it is grown. Many high-end and imported extra virgin oil states on the bottle where the olives came from and the kind or kinds that were used to produce that particular oil (often a blend).

Extra virgin olive oil ranges in color from pale golden to deep emerald and has a pronounced fruity -- sometimes peppery -- taste. Because the flavor of extra virgin oil can diminish with heat, it is often used to finish a dish, drizzled over pasta, or whisked into a vinaigrette.

Regular Olive Oil
Also called "pure" or "light" olive oil, which are simply marketing tags and not an indication of nutritional qualities, this olive oil is a blend of refined olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. It costs less and has a mild flavor. Use it when you want to preserve the flavors of the food rather than impart the character of the oil to it. Works well in saute's and fries.

Canola Oil
Derived from a strain of rapeseed in Canada in the 1970's that yields oil with lower acidity than traditional rapeseed, this oil's name is an amalgam of the words "Canada" and "Oil". Canola oil continues to be a major export crop for its namesake country. It is high in both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and very low in saturated fat. Its neutral flavor makes it a good choice when you do not want to detract from the flavors of the food.

Sesame Oil
This oil is pressed from crushed sesame seeds. The lighter-colored oil comes from raw seeds and possesses a mild, neutral taste. The darker oil comes from toasted seeds and has a rich, nutty flavor. Use it in salads, noodles dishes and stir-fries.

Walnut Oil
Unrefined walnut oil tastes just like the nut from which it comes. It is rich and flavorful (especially if made from toasted walnuts) and perfect as a finishing drizzle on salads, rice, pasta or even desserts like tarte tatin or rice pudding.

Hazelnut Oil
Hazelnut oil is highly flavorful oil usually imported from France. Pressed from toasted hazelnuts, it's used sparingly to enrich dressings and to add flavor to savory and sweet dishes. Paired with zesty lemon juice and sugar, it blends the distinct and delicate flavors.

Olive Oil Quencher

Dab a pea-size amount of extra virgin olive oil on your lips to hydrate a parched pucker; or use it on rough patches (think elbows and heels), as needed.

Did You Know: Olive Oil Aids Detox

Olive Oil helps cleanse and protect the arteries from plaque build-up while lowering LDL cholesterol (often referred to as the harmful cholesterol) without lowering HDL cholesterol. Olive oil also helps lower blood pressure and regulates blood sugar by cleansing the arteries.

Summertime Treats

Olive Oil Milkshake: Blend 1 pint vanilla ice cream, 1/4 cup milk and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Top with flaky sea salt.

Olive Oil Almond Milkshake: Blend 1 pint vanilla ice cream, 1/4 cup almond milk and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Top with toasted almonds.