Olive oil can be pretty pricey depending on the brand, but nothing beats this full-flavored cooking oil that imparts that delicious Mediterranean aroma. In fact, this delicacy was called "liquid gold" by Homer, the poet. Not only does olive oil taste amazing, but it's also great for your health. Unlike safflower, peanut, or vegetable oil, it actually helps lower LDL cholesterol (the "bad" kind) in your blood. While it is high in fat and calories, it also provides essential antioxidants called phenols, which reduce the risk of some cancers (breast and colon especially) and heart disease.
# Most "Italian" olive oils don't even use Italian olives. In fact, they mostly use olives that come from Spain's south eastern region of Andalucia.
# For pure Italian olive oil look for the label that says "100% Italian olives." Click here for information about the "Olive Oil Scandal."
# High cost does not mean higher quality -- you have to taste it.
** If you like to dip bread into olive oil as an appetizer, or for pouring on salads, choose a higher-grade extra virgin olive oil.
** Usually this means that it's more expensive, but it will also have a better flavor, which anyone can appreciate when eating olive oil in this fashion.
** If you only use olive oil for cooking, the grade is less important because it will blend with the other flavors that you are cooking with.
** Lower-grade olive oil will save you more money in the long run, if it is primarily for cooking purposes.
** Virgin or less than virgin is usually fine.
** However, if the oil is one of the main flavors of the dish, you will want to go with a higher grade. Gourmets will insist on extra virgin oil for all uses including cooking -- although they may use a cheaper extra virgin for cooking than for finishing dishes.
* '''Choose the strength carefully.'''
** For robust meaty pastas and anything spicy, a stronger flavored olive oil is best because it will match the other strong flavors in the dish.
** For dipping bread, choose something slightly lighter, fruiter and more mild. Also try a flavored olive oil, which is quite tasty for dipping and drizzling on salads.
* '''Buy more than one bottle.'''
** Try a few different brands, grades, and strengths of olive oil.
** Smell and taste them side by side to see which is more pungent, fruity, etc.
** Olive oil is like wine, varying in body, flavor, and color. Each one will work differently when you use it for different things.
*** For an excellent Web site that discusses the tasting of olive oils, from the aroma to terms, to classifications and more, please visit the Olive Oil Source.
Deciphering Olive Oil Jargon
Here is an explanation, in plain speak, of the terminology that you will typically see on a bottle of olive oil. If you are interested in learning more about olive oil, including production statistics, methods, and more, please visit the excellent Web site, OliveOil.com.
* '''Grade '''
** Extra Virgin -- neither heat nor chemicals are used in the processing, which gives extra virgin its "pure" name. It is the most expensive type, but often the best tasting and quite thick. Do not use this heavy type olive oil in an oil mister, because it will eventually clog the spray.
** Virgin -- like extra virgin except that virgin olive oil can be flawed by higher acidity.
** Pure - this has been slightly refined with a better oil.
** Light and extra light -- highly refined with very little color or flavor. This does not mean "lite" in calories or fat.
** Pomace -- this is low-grade oil is extracted from leftover olive paste from the masher, mostly the pits and skins. The best use of pomace oil is frying.
* '''Shelf Life'''
** Olive oil lasts for about a year. If stored in a hot room, it will not last long at all. Generally, the fresher the better.
** Once a bottle has been opened it needs to be stored in a cool, dark place in an airtight seal.
** Do not store it next to the stovetop.
** Only use olive oil pourers with a seal or stopper unless you plan to use the oil in the pourer quickly.
** If an olive oil smells or tastes stale, then it should not be used. It's a good idea to smell the oil in the bottle every time you intend to use it. At first, the "off" smell of a stale/rancid bottle will be subtle. At that stage, the oil won't hurt you, but you'll want to know as your food will not taste as good. This advice applies to most cooking oils. Nut oils have a very short shelf life and should be kept in the refrigerator.
** Color is determined by when the olives were harvested.
** While you might think darker means richer, that is not always the case.
** The greener the olive oil, the less ripe the olives. Greener means a more bitter, pungent, sometimes peppery flavor, but it is in no way a negative quality.
** Beware of deceptively colored bottles.
* '''Cold press'''
** The first cold press is usually used when referring to extra virgin and virgin olive oils.
** Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is expected to be of higher quality, but there are always exceptions to the rule.
* '''Acidity '''
** This is measured as a percentage. Often, because olive oil is manufactured in Europe, you will see the period replaced by a comma. For example: 0,5% instead of 0.5%.
** The lower the acidity percentage, the better the oil.
** This holds true especially for extra virgin olive oil, since it has not been adultered by adding other oils to it that may affect the acidity levels.C
* '''Country of Origin'''
** Many great olives oils are from Italy of course. However, Spanish olive oil is excellent, although it has a different taste and style. Greek oil is also available, and California olive oil is getting better all the time.