Olive oil got a bad reputation in some resources out there because it has a lower smoke point than other types of oil, but as I will discuss below, this concern is nothing to worry about as long as you have a quality product and know what you are doing. Then there are articles about olive oil scams, especially in Italy, where olive oil is mixed with other oils such as canola to save money without declaring it on the bottle. One study claim that two thirds of the extra virgin olive oil sold in US doesn't meet the standard for that label, which is shocking. Whether this is true or not I don't know but there has been high profile cases in Europe with the authorities coming down hard on olive oil producers cheating with their products.
In the summer of 2014 we had the chance to go see the farm Ojai Olive Oil, which is outside Santa Barbara in southern California. Let me say that the products that they have blew me away, especially the Andalucian extra virgin olive oil with a very strong peppery flavor. This is quite simply the best olive oil I have tasted, and the peppery flavor is an indicator of the polyphenol content (one of the things that makes olive oil healthy).
The presentation we saw in Ojai was interesting and very informative, not only about the production they have, but also about olive oil in general. I learned some new things about olive oil which is what I wanted to share in this blog post.
First, the definition of extra virgin is that it should have an acidity of less than 0.8%, in addition to superior taste. Some producers of olive oil are actually mixing different harvests so unless it is declared on the product, you may get a bottle which has oils from 2 different years and maybe even from different farms. This allows the producer to get as close to the 0.8 percent limit and still call it extra virgin olive oil. Also, it allows them to smoothe out the production such that a single bad year doesn't bring them in financial trouble. While such products still qualify as "extra virgin" it is not the best products you can get. Basically the lower the acidity, the higher quality.
Second, the smoke point of the oil changes with the acidity, so the lower the acidity, the higher smoke point. A high quality extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 400 degrees Fahrenheit rather than the 325 or 350 degrees you see in some sources. This also means that it's safe to use for cooking as long as you don't go too high with the temperature. In other words, not the best choice for high temperature grilling or broiling but otherwise perfectly fine.
Here are some tips about selecting a quality oil:
- Make sure to select extra virgin olive oil only. Cheaper products are not worth it!
- If you can, select a product where the acidity is declared on the bottle - the lower acidity the better it is.
- Take a look at the date on the bottle and get the newest product you can. Be wary of a product where the harvest date is not declared.
- Select a product with dark glass bottles since light exposure makes the oil go rancid over time. Store it in a closed cabinet rather than the counter.
- As always, select organic products only!
To conclude let me share some ideas for using olive oil (besides the classic salad dressing):
- Sprinkle it on vegetables that you bake in the oven (sweet potatoes, winter squash, broccoli etc). Use a cooking temperature of 350 Fahrenheit or
180 degrees Celcius and you don't have to worry about smoke point.
- If you are on the auto-immune protocol, use it to add a little kick to dishes in place of the chili peppers (e.g. guacamole).
- Rub it on the skin of a chicken that you roast in the oven, it helps making the chicken skin crispy.
- Add it to stir fry dishes for flavor.
- Put it on spaghetti squash.
- Finally, it is good in ice cream (I kid you not!)