All About Olive Oil
Olive oil is the oil extracted from the fruit of the olive trees. Olive oil is an important part of the staple diet of the people in the Mediterranean region, where olive trees are abundant. When the green olives ripen, they turn violet-red/black and are ready for oil extraction. The olives are mixed with water and crushed into a paste. From this paste the oil is extracted using mechanical pressure. There are three major types of olive oil:
1. Extra virgin olive oil: This is the purest form of olive oil extracted from the freshly plucked olives and cold pressed within 24 hours. No synthetic chemicals are used and the oil is free from any solvents. Extra virgin olive oil is of the highest quality and has a lot of vitamins and nutrients, therefore it is the costliest grade of olive oil.
2. Virgin olive oil: After the first pressing, the paste is pressed again and the resultant oil is virgin olive oil which has a slightly higher acidity.
3. Olive-Pomace oil: When all the oil is extracted from the olive paste using mechanical means, the resultant pomace (left overs) are treated with chemicals and solvents and this oil is known as Olive-Pomace oil. It is the cheapest grade of olive oil.
Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil contains a lot of mon-staturated fats (good gats), OMEGA-3 fatty acids, lots of Vitamin E and many other nutrients good for your health. Some of the major health benefits include:
1. Olive oil keeps your heart in shape by lowering the cholestrol levels and reduces the chances of strokes.
2. Olive oil helps in reducing the blood pressure.
3. Olive oil helps to reduce cancer.
4. It is good for your skin and hair.
5. It helps reduce weight.
6. It helps fight osteoporosis and arthritis.
To enjoy these health benefits, one has to make sure he is buying the right grade of extra virgin olive oil. Beware of cheap imitations. Fresh extra virgin olive oil has a sightly pungent odour and is peppery in taste. It does not taste smooth, and you can almost feel its peppery taste on the back of your throat. Also, buy olive oil which is stored in dark glass bottles as both light and oxygen degrade the quality of the oil.
Olive oil for Indian cooking
Most of the Indian cooking involves deep-frying and high heat cooking (tadkas). Extra virgin olive oil, though highly recommened for cooking purposes, has a lower smoke point when compared to refined or chemically treated oils.
Smoke point: This is the temperature when the oil, when heated, starts to smoke. The smoke comes from the breakdown of the oil into fatty acids and glycerol. After the oil hits the smoke point, the nutrients and flavour of the oil starts to degrade. Therefore it is recommend not to heat the oil above its smoke point. For high heat Indian cooking, most people use refined oils which are chemically treated to have a higher smoke point. As a thumb rule, if you heat any oil and it starts to smoke, then you should not use that oil at all. Pour fresh oil and heat it again but keep it below the smoke point.
Even though extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, chefs around the world use it for high heat cooking because the benefits overweigh the breakdown of the oil and the loss of the flavours. The reason is because olive oil is more resistant to heat degradation than other oils like the sunflower oil. It is recommended that you quickly saute or fry in order to preserve all the goodness and flavour of the extra virgin oil. A lot of people suggest using Olive-Pomace oil for Indian cooking, but that is not good for health and you are much better off using sunflower or peanut oil instead. Recently EU (European Union) ordered a ban on all exports of Pomace oil because it was suspected to contain certain carcinogens. Pomace oil can badly affect your health so stay away from it.
So extra virgin olive oil is a must in your kitchen. Even though its costlier than refined oils, but olive oil comes with major health benefits which far outweigh its cost. Always store the olive oil in a cool dark place and make it a habit to replace your normal cooking oil with olive oil.