Olive Oil

Winter 2009 CSANews Issue 73  |  Posted date : Dec 12, 2009.Back to list

Olive oil is good for our health. It is the only oil that can be consumed fresh from the fruit. It is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants that heal the body. Its list of health benefits is astounding. "Pure virgin olive oil" benefits our bodies by:
  • Reducing LDL cholesterol
  • Reducing arterial occlusion
  • Reducing angina and myocardial infarction
  • Reducing blood glucose and triglyceride levels
  • Increasing bile secretion for improved digestion and aiding in liver detoxification
  • Increasing vitamins A, D and E absorption
  • Healing sores
  • Reducing gallstones
  • Improving membrane development, cell formation and cell differentiation
Through research and an interview with an Italian olive oil guru, I was astounded to discover that the Italian extra virgin olive oil sitting in my cupboard was, in fact, a fake.  Yes, a fake!

I was told that there is more Italian olive oil distributed throughout the world than there are olive trees growing in Italy! How is this possible?

An article by Tom Mueller in the August 13, 2007 issue of The New Yorker alleges that olive oil regulations, specifically in Italy, are lax at best. Some olive oil experts claim that the industry has become corrupt. In this story, the author claimed that "major Italian shippers routinely adulterate olive oil and that only about 40% of olive oil sold as "extra virgin" actually meets the specification."

The Italian government mandated new labelling for companies selling olive oil. It stated that every bottle of Italian olive oil must declare the farm and press on which it was produced, along with an ingredients list. In February 2008, however, The European Union officials took issue with this new law, stating that under EU rules, such labelling should be voluntary rather than compulsory. Today, under EU rules, olive oil may be sold as Italian even if it only contains a small amount of Italian oil.

So, the question arises…how do we, as consumers, know what we are buying?

How can we rule out the fakes and buy legitimate Italian olive oil?

Here is a list of items to look for on the Italian olive oil label:
  1. Look for the family's name on the bottle.
  2. The product should be "made in Italy," NOT imported from or bottled in Italy.
  3. The address of the estate should be present on the bottle as well. 
  4. There should be a Lot # on the bottle, too. Every pure bottle that leaves Italy (sealed) is given a lot number.
  5. Most importantly, look at the nutritional chart on the label. If the label does not say 75% monounsaturated fat, then there's a very good chance that the olive oil is not pure. 
It's also important to note that when it comes to Italy, the term 'cold pressed' is outdated. The cold-pressed method is as outdated today as the typewriter.

Authentic Italian olive oils are produced through centrifugation, a process that uses centrifugal force to separate the oil from the fruit. And because of centrifugation, the colour of the oil is also not an indication of its quality. Green olive oil is not necessarily superior in quality to ones that are shades of yellow.

So forgo the term 'cold pressed' and don't worry about the oil's colour. Follow the five steps listed above to confidently choose your olive oils.

Besides possessing many benefits for our internal bodies, pure Italian extra virgin and virgin olive oils are also believed to be the best thing for one's skin and for aiding in the prevention of skin cancer. Olive oil is a natural sunscreen. Here is the test: Rub a thin coat of olive oil on the back of your hand. If the oil sits on your skin and remains greasy, it's probably impure, blended with other byproducts. Pure olive oil absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving a soft, velvety, non-greasy texture.

Pure olive oil is also believed to reduce wrinkles. Mix a little oil with some freshly squeezed lemon juice and rub it directly onto your face at bedtime.

To improve the condition of your hair, after shampooing, mix some olive oil, lemon juice, an egg yolk and a little bit of beer together. Rub this mixture into your hair and leave it on for five minutes. Rinse.

The olive oil experts (who must train as diligently as wine growers) say that you should not put anything on your skin that you would not put into your mouth. Everything that goes onto the skin is absorbed by your blood system.  So, olive oil is the most effective and safest product for the skin, for aging, for sun protection and for aiding in the prevention of skin cancer.

When it comes to pairing wine with dishes containing olive oil, consider viscosity. Viscosity is a term used to describe the thickness of a substance or ingredient. Even light extra virgin olive oils have decent viscosity. The more oily the dish, the greater the alcohol content you'll want in the matching wine. High alcohol contributes to a wine's viscosity. Pesto, for example, works with Chardonnays ranging in alcohol content from 13.5 to 15%. (Sugar and glycerine also contribute to viscosity. That's why icewine can be so thick, even if its alcohol content is only 12.5%.)

Olive oil is much like wine when it comes to storage. Keep your olive oil tightly sealed and out of the sun. Put it in a cool, dark place. 

Don't be shy about cooking with olive oil either. Use strong-tasting oils for frying fish or combining with other strong flavours. Mellow-tasting ones can be incorporated into your baked goods. The heat point is 410 F for olive oil. Save your highest-quality oils to drizzle over salads, to combine with quality balsamic vinegar to serve as a bread dipper, or to use in the creation of fresh herb pestos.

Here is a soup recipe using quality olive oil in the 'finishing' elements of the soup. The idea is to allow that fabulous taste of olive oil to come through in the flavours of the soup.

Butternut Squash Soup with Toasted Pumpkin and Mint Pesto

Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Makes 1 cup
Serves 4 bowls of soup
1 cup fresh mint (from garden, preferably)
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (as desired)
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds*
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated black pepper (as desired)
In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients.  Puree until chunky.

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 4
3 lb. butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
½ tsp. finely chopped fresh jalapeño, including seeds
Pinch ground cumin
1.5 cups chicken broth 
Water as needed (for thinning) 
½ tsp. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh mint leaves (for garnish)

Put squash, cut sides down, in shallow baking pans sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Roast for 1 ¼ hours or until soft. Let cool. Scoop out seeds. Discard. Scoop out flesh and place in a food processor or blender. Puree with jalapeño and cumin. Add chicken broth as needed to bring soup to desired thinness.

Transfer mixture into a large pot. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes. Add more stock, if needed for desired thinness. Add lemon juice. Simmer for 10 minutes or until heated through. Remove from heat. Fold about ½ cup of pesto into soup just before serving.  Serve soup into hot bowls, top with dollop of pesto, drizzle with olive oil. Serve with toast, if desired. 

Wine Suggestion: Pair with off-dry Riesling. 
The hint of sweetness in this wine will nicely offset the gentle heat from the jalapeño, all the while harmonizing with the natural sweetness from the squash.