Olive oil … one of the most misunderstood ingredients in almost every kitchen. From a robust unflavored olive oil to one infused with the flavor of chipotle, lemon or garlic, there are so many delicious things you can do with them outside of a salad dressing.
For thousands of years, people in the Mediterranean region used it not only in cooking, but also for making soap, household goods and even for skin care. In modern times, olive oil has been both revered and ridiculed. Revered for its numerous health benefits, such as cardiovascular health, inflammation, weight control and recently cancer and Alzheimer’s prevention. Ridiculed because it has limited uses in the kitchen.
Except it doesn’t. Olive oil is one of the most versatile ingredients you can have on hand and is great for marinades, sautéing and even baking. Unfortunately, so many of the facts we’ve grown up knowing about olive oil discredit its benefits and are truly myths or old wives’ tales.
myth: All olive oils are made the same way.
false. A well-made extra-virgin olive oil is made from hand-picked olives that are then crushed two to four hours later. Lower-quality brands wait for the olives to naturally drop from the branches, which begins the decaying process. Olives are then transported to the crushing facility, where they will be crushed days or weeks later. At that point, the oil is considered lamp oil that is not fit for human consumption and has to be processed and bleached in order to be edible.
myth: You should never cook with extra-virgin olive oil.
false. A well-made extra-virgin olive oil will have a high smoke point and is ideal for all purpose cooking. Although, much of what is sold in the grocery stores will have a lower smoke point.
myth: Olive oil cannot be used for frying.
false. Olive oil is great for frying and has a smoke point that can hold up to heat when cooking at high temperatures, according to the International Olive Council.
myth: You shouldn’t pay much attention to the container your olive oil is in.
false. Olive oil should always be purchased in stainless steel or tinted glass bottles. Light, heat and oxygen destroy olive oil. Extended exposure to light can deteriorate the quantity and quality of the antioxidants found in olive oil.
myth: The greener the olive oil, the better the quality.
false. Color has little to do with quality. Green oils are pretty to look at and sometimes may suggest that the oil was made from greener olives, but that’s about it.
myth: Olive oil, like wine, often gets better with age.
false. Olive oil is always healthier and more flavorful when it is consumed fresh. Olive oil benefits and quality decreases with time. It’s important to remember olive oil is a perishable food. All bottled oil will go rancid eventually, but when properly handled, sealed and stored in a cool dark place, olive oil will be ‘'good’' for 18-24 months from the date it was harvested. If your bottle is older than two years, consider starting with a fresh one.
myth: When an olive oil is bitter and burns the back of your throat, it usually means the oil has gone bad.
false. Generally, the more bitterness and pepper in an olive oil, the greater the health benefits. Pungency is also a sign of freshness and coincides with the amount of phenols in the olive oil. This healthy burn diminishes as the oil oxidizes.
myth: Where an olive oil is from is the most important consideration when picking an olive oil.
false. You can make wonderful and terrible olive oil almost anywhere. The country of origin matters, but it is not the most important piece of information to look for. For this reason it’s harvested twice a year, once from each hemisphere. Our northern oils come from Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Tunisia and California. Our southern oils come from Australia, Chile and South Africa. This ensures that the oil is as fresh as possible.
myth: It is important to check the “Best By Date” before purchasing an olive oil.
false. The “Best By Date” tells the consumer nothing about the actual age of the olive oil. Most reputable producers will provide the harvest date on the bottle. This is the date to look for.
myth: All bottles labeled extra-virgin olive oil are actually extra-virgin olive oil.
false. Recent studies have shown that the majority of what is being labeled as extra-virgin olive oil isn’t true to label and is actually lesser quality olive oil.
myth: California has become one of the largest producers of olive oil in the world.
false. California accounts for less than 0.5% of the total world production of olive oil.
myth: Many Americans prefer the flavor of rancid/oxidized olive oil to fresh olive oil.
true. Most Americans have never tasted freshly pressed olive oil and are unfamiliar with the stronger flavor profile. This is why many people gravitate toward the flavor profile of rancid or oxidized oil. “Pure,” “Light” and “Extra Light” olive oils are comprised of mostly chemically refined olive oils. However, as is the case with many other products, once you taste the real thing and discover the health benefits, it’s difficult to go back.
myth: Olive oil is best stored in the refrigerator.
false. We recommend storing olive oil in a cool, dark place. When you refrigerate olive oil, you risk producing condensation on the inside of the bottle, accelerating the rancidity process. Also, repeatedly changing the temperature of the oil may harm the oil itself. The optimal storage temperature for olive oil is 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.