Cooking Aid: How to Choose the Best Olive Oil to Suit your Needs?

Can you picture yourself standing aghast in the aisles of a supermarket, staring at slender green bottles, trying to assess which one will taste the best?Each one of us has been in that position more often than not. Considering a steep rise in its popularity over the last decade or so, Olive oil has become a staple in every household. However, the plethora of varieties and brands that line the shelves of a supermarket is sure to boggle the minds of all shoppers alike. My confusion in the matter has led me to finally attempt this topic, which could help in clearing the picture for all of us. This way when you go to the supermarket next, you will not be spending so much time in the olive oil aisle.

Olive oils

Historically, it has been documented that olive oil was first used in the Mediterranean Basin, stretching across the Sinai Peninsula to Turkey, around the 4th century. The climate in those areas were perfect for the cultivation of olive trees. But, gone are the days when olive oil was produced in its pure form, with technology and machinery the entry of various tweaked forms of olive oil have filled the markets. In essence, the raw material is the same but it is the production techniques that make all the difference in taste and quality.

My first introduction to choosing olive oils was by Chef Alessandro of the Four Seasons, Mauritius. “Always use cold- pressed olive oils for salads and raw foods while opting for hot-pressed oils for cooking”- those were Alessandro’s words that always ring in my ear during my shopping sprees. At the time I was given this advice it sounded very gourmet, but essentially I had no clue as to what it meant. Hence, the idea of this blog came about; research for me and knowledge for you.

Pure Olive Oil

Place three bottles in front of you, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Olive Oil and Olive Pomace Oil, and invariably you would reach towards the olive oil bottle. Wrong choice. Bottles labeled olive oil are one of the lowest quality oils available in the market. The reason for that is that olive oil contains a higher content of refined oils (85%) as opposed to virgin olive oils (15%). Hence the diluted flavors.

Pure Olive Oil

That being said, pure olive oil is the best for cooking, sauteeing, stir-frying and basting meats. The properties of olive oil are retained even in the highest of temperatures, thereby making it an ideal cooking oil. You can recognize pure olive oil by its deep golden color and also lack of taste.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

According to Homer, “Olive oil is liquid gold”, but in this day and age it is Extra-Virgin Olive oil that takes this title. Many connoisseurs compare buying extra-virgin olive oil to searching for good wine.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

It is the purest form of olive oil without any chemicals and without being refined. This is where the term “first cold-press” comes into play. In simple terms it means that the olives were pressed just once at a temperature not higher than 80F, thereby preserving majority of its nutrients and flavors. Extracted from the finest quality of olives, this full-bodied olive oil oozing strong aromas should be used as salad dressings, drizzled atop raw food or just enjoyed with freshly baked bread. A word of caution, never expose extra-virgin olive oil to high temperatures as some of its elements are likely to burn causing the oil to taste rancid. It may be the most expensive out of the three, but it is something that summer linguine, bruschetta, lively pesto and crispy green salads cannot do without. Bring out the flavors of your food by investing in extra-virgin olive oil.

Olive Pomace Oil

Many critics are fiercely against the inclusion of this type of oil in the list of olive oils. Hidden inside dark green bottles, consumers are generally drawn to it due to its cheap price. However upon tasting its bland flavors, you will realize your mistake. It has been termed as “faux olive oil” and even temporarily banned by the Spanish government in 2001 due to its poor quality.

Olive Pomace Oil

After the olives undergo the first press, there is about 5%-8% oil still remaining in the leftover pulp. With the help of chemicals solvents and very high temperatures, another batch of oil is produced, termed as olive pomace oil. This combustion of high heat can sometimes lead to components of benzopyrenes being found in olive pomace oils, which are highly carcinogenic.  Hence it is better to dip into your pockets further to avoid having to buy this oil. Its lack of flavor, delicacy, and bountiful healthful properties should be a viable deterrent. If you have any lying at home, do not discard it, use it on your hair or for your massages but avoid ruining your culinary extravaganzas with such poor quality oil.

In short:

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: For salads, raw food, marinades and dips
  • Pure Olive Oil: For cooking, frying and sauteeing
  • Olive Pomace Oil: For massages and not for cooking