Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean Diet. You will find it in almost every Mediterranean Diet recipe. It can be difficult to get a good quality olive oil here in the states. Here are some tips for buying and cooking with olive oil.
1. Make sure you are getting a real extra virgin olive oil. Tom Mueller, in his book “Extra Virginity, The Sublime and Scandalous World of Extra Virginity”, discovered that over 70 % of extra virgin olive oil sent to the America was not extra virgin at all.
2. It is important that it has a “burn” to it. Studies have shown that high quality, fresh extra virgin olive oil which leaves a peppery sensation in the back of the throat after consumption is an anti-inflammatory that mimics the effect of ibuprofen. The easiest way to test for this important quality is to swallow about a half teaspoon of olive oil and see if you feel a “burn” in the back of your throat. It usually takes 10 to 15 seconds to feel the “burn”. The stronger the sensation, the stronger the healthy effect.
3. Use olive oil both raw and for cooking. You may lose some of the health qualities of olive oil when cooking with it so it is important that you have some raw (as salad dressings and bread dipping for example).
4. Do not cook olive oil at high temperatures. The smoking point of olive oil is lower than some other oils. You can fry with olive oil on a medium heat, but you don’t want to deep fat fry or use olive oil in a wok. You don’t want your oil to ever smoke, because it not only destroys some of the healthy properties, but can actually make it bad for you. If you are sauteing vegetables in olive oil you will get some steam rising. This is different than “smoking”. The more you cook with olive oil the easier it will be for you to tell the difference between steaming and smoking.
5. The fresher the better. Some of the health qualities of a really good extra virgin olive oil such as “the burn” are based on how fresh the oil is. It is hard to know how fresh oil is. You can check the date, but also if you have a good Mediterranean food store in your area that you trust you can ask when the oil was made.
6. Store in a cool, dark place. You don’t want your olive oil to be in the sun as this can degrade some of the nutrients over time. Your olive oil by the stove should be in a dark bottle or tin and not be kept too close to the stove as the heat radiating from the stove can cause a similar damage as that done by the sun.