Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Which Olive Oil?

We have all heard that is good for you, and a healthy choice for use in salad dressings and cooking in general, but the variety available in supermarkets and specialty food stores nowadays can be quite overwhelming. So what are all the different types of oil, and which should you choose?

Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Portugal, California and Israel all produce superb olive oils, some green and some golden yellow. Young green olives produce green oils such as the ones found in Tuscany, and mature olives produce a golden, buttery flavored oil, like many of those found in southern Italy. There is also a growing trend which subjects olive oil to sophisticated classification with a ticket indicating its origins similar to the DOC classification of many wines. Despite many people thinking that Italy is the largest producer of olive oil, Spain is, in fact, the world's largest producer, most of which comes from huge olive plantations in Andalusia.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is the most flavorful, and expensive, of olive oil. It is obtained from olives without the use of heat or chemicals, or other extractants. Even though extra virgin olive oil is similarly labeled, the flavor between different brands and different regions still varies greatly. For example, Spanish extra virgin olive oil is generally characterized by a fruity, aromatic quality, whereas the Italian oil has a more pungent flavor, and Portuguese oil has a more intense aroma and flavor. The full quality of its flavor and texture is best appreciated raw, which is why it is recommended for salads and uncooked sauces. Supermarket extra-virgin oil is often relatively inexpensive, and it is worth trying a few to find one with a flavor that you like.

Virgin Olive Oil
This oil is less green and more yellowish in color, is runnier and can be used more generously. It is ideal for
, mayonnaise and for general cooking purposes, but not for frying, as the flavor is still too strong.

'Pure' Olive Oil
Successive heated pressings of the olives produce oils which are more or less refined and blended, and can be used in all types of cooking. If the oil is of good quality, the flavor will still be distinctive, but bland enough to be used in frying. If you use olive oil frequently in your cooking, why not try one of the oils labeled "light or extra light"? These are ideal for frying and roasting, and do not overwhelm the dish with a strong olive oil flavor. Typically, they are composed of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils, often from more than one country.

Olive oil does not improve with age. If there is a harvesting date on the oil, it should be no older than a year for the best quality, and it should be kept at room temperature in a sealed container. If it is refrigerated, however, white clouds will appear, but will disappear again when the oil is brought back to room temperature, without in any way altering the flavor of the oil.

There is no right or wrong choice with olive oil, it simply depends on which flavor you prefer.

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