Always considered a main element of the Mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil is a vegetable food fat obtained from the mechanical pressing of olives. Unlike foods such as meats or dairy products that contain saturated fats (in different proportions), extra virgin olive oil is rich in unsaturated fats (as are seeds and dried fruits or foods rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6). In particular, in EVO oil we find a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats, such as linoleic acid and linolenic acid, defined “Essential Fatty Acids” (AGE) as essential for the growth and proper functioning of tissues.
The beneficial properties of extra virgin olive oil (a high-quality one) are numerous. According to several clinical studies, its balanced composition has a protective effect on the arteries, liver and stomach. In addition, oleic acid, present in extra virgin olive oil in percentages above 80%, is extremely useful for bone growth. Similarly, the polyphenols contained in EVO oil are perfect natural antioxidants that provide numerous benefits, even in adulthood.
There are also many benefits for infant nutrition. EVO oil contains Omega 3 and Omega 6 in proportions similar to those contained in breast milk, making it essential both to promote brain development and to prevent the onset of colic. In Italy, for example, the addition of a tablespoon of EVO oil to solid children’s foods is strongly recommended by many pediatricians also to promote the absorption of vitamin D, responsible for bone development.
The answer to this question requires us to dispel a great myth whereby the intense green color of an oil reflects its quality. Actually, like many other Olive Oil Sommeliers will confirm, the color does not affect in any way the fundamental characteristics of this product. Furthermore, dark glasses are used during professional tastings, when the organoleptic and gustative characteristics of the olive oil are been analyzed, to ensure the results are accurate regardless of color.
In order to recognize an extra virgin olive oil, we have to take other factors into account. The acidity of an oil, expressed in oleic acid, is the chemical reference value to distinguish an EVO from other oils. Unlike organoleptic characteristics, acidity can only be detected by laboratory analysis. We must consider that the maximum value of oleic acid allowed to define an extra virgin olive oil as such must never exceed 0.8% per 100mg of product. It goes without saying that it is impossible for any of us to taste 100mg of product at a time in order to determine the degree of acidity.
What other methods can we use to verify the quality of an EVO oil?
The organoleptic examination, when carried out with the clean palate and away from strong smells, allows you to begin to really know the oil you choose.
It is important to remember that, as with any other fruit, olives contain very specific flavors and fragrances, so when we taste an olive juice, we must be sure to feel similar fragrances to those of the olive itself.
If at first taste we feel bitter and spicy sensations, we are tasting an EVO oil with a strong presence of phenolic substances, characterized by a high antioxidant power. This type of sensation is indicative of an extra virgin olive oil produced by a recent pressing with olives at the right stage of ripeness. As a result, oleuropeine and aglycone, responsible for that bitter and spicy flavor typical of both the fruits and the leaves of the olive tree, are safely maintained in the final product.
The polyphenolic substances contained in the EVO oil must be carefully preserved not only at the time of extraction, but also during its storage time. In fact, these substances, so precious for our organism due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, tend to diminish over time. Consequently, we need to preserve the EVO oil in the most appropriate ways, in order to negatively affect its maintenance: away from oxygen, light and heat sources.
Remember that a freshly produced and carefully preserved oil will have an expiry date longer than sixteen months from the date of bottling.
Any quality product requires research, dedication and continuity.
The extraction of the EVO oil is only the tip of the iceberg of the entire production process, the latter meticulously organized according to the cultivars (varieties of olives), the pedoclimatic factors and the harvesting techniques.
Different cultivars have very different ripening times; therefore, the harvest must necessarily follow a careful study of the plant. A green olive with slight purple hues (defined as the ripening phase) would allow the extraction of extra virgin olive oil with acidity at its lowest level, at the expense of yield. On the contrary, an already ripe olive (hence full purple) would lead to a higher yield, although the quantity of oleic acid and the polyphenolic substances would be much lower, penalizing the quality of the EVO oil.
To ensure an entire years work is not lost, as little time as possible must be spent from the moment of harvesting (directly from the tree!) to the first stage of production in the mill. The reason behind this is very simple: as with any fruit harvested from the tree and squeezed a short time later, the fresher the better.
The clay containers, used until a few years ago, have been almost totally replaced by stainless steel containers. The latter, equipped with a lid to avoid contact with oxygen, are considered more suitable for proper storage of the extra virgin olive oil that otherwise would tend to oxidize. Similarly, this type of container is particularly suitable for keeping the product away from light and heat sources as major enemies of oil.
When we buy oil at home, how should we keep it?
For household consumption, the oil is usually purchased in tins of 3 or 5 lt. This type of container is undoubtedly very practical for transport, but the same cannot be said for the long-lasting conservation of the oil inside. As we have repeatedly mentioned, one of the main enemies of EVO oil is oxygen; hence, opening and closing very often any container would facilitate the entry of air into it.
As a result, we recommend transferring the entire content from the tin into single dark glass bottles equipped with stoppers and hermetically close them after each use. In this way we will not be forced to consume the product in a short time to keep its characteristics unchanged, while we can continue to enjoy a good EVO oil even months after its bottling.
Transparent glass bottles with dispenser are certainly very practical for domestic use, but do not allow a real conservation of the oil. As well as finding similar oil bottles in a restaurant should make us suspicious about the origin and quality of that oil.
herbaceous, fruity, spicy or balsamic organoleptic sensations. Tastes and smells awaken memories, even those farther away and slumbering. A good oil and food pairing is essential for the right exaltation of the flavors of each ingredient, but not always easy.
The first step when approaching the precious world of gastronomy is certainly learning to distinguish the flavors and scents of each ingredient. Often evaluated as a condiment, EVO oil is actually a valuable ingredient for most recipes you decide to prepare or complete. An oil correctly matched manages to enhance the taste of a dish by binding in a harmonious and balanced flavors and aromas. On the contrary, an EVO oil incorrectly matched with a dish would cover its flavors or even upset it.
As for wine so for oil, In order to correctly pair food with extra virgin olive oil, we shall taste it and imagine what the final result could be. A very bitter and spicy oil, often called “intense“, will bind in a much more harmonious way to a dish based on legumes, meat or cooked vegetables. On the contrary, a “light” oil will perfectly match dishes with a delicate flavor, such as fish, white meat, salads. If we were instead faced with a “medium” oil, as easily guessed, we could combine it with any food that is not particularly delicate or marked in flavor. A simple bruschetta with two fresh tomatoes and a pinch of oregano with this type of EVO, would be able to awaken any taste buds.
Those just mentioned are typical examples of combinations obtained by affinity of flavors. What would you say if instead, we were a little more daring? A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil with a very intense and spicy flavor on top of chocolate ice cream would make even the most skeptical people change their mind. Moreover, in pastry, we find many recipes that require extra virgin olive oil. For instance, we tasted olive panettone, cat tongues with extra virgin olive oil, or even artisan “spumoni” (a typical dessert from our city) with pistachio and hazelnut with a drizzle of light fruity EVO oil on it.
There are far too many examples to cover, but what really matters is having fun with the combinations, with the experimentation, and even with some wilder improvisations…after all, why not?
You put your heart into it, as we put ours into EVOO.