With its highly palatable taste and wide availability, nearly everyone has heard about olive oil’s heart helping, cholesterol lowering, blood sugar regulating properties. Olive oil is popularly used in cooking: drizzled in the pan as a base for quick, hearty sautés or slathering over veggies for roasting. However what many people don’t realize is that this powerhouse plant oil is really best featured in dips and salad dressings where its 200 plus beneficial compounds and complex fatty acids can be enjoyed in the raw. In this article I’ll share some of the key features to look for when selecting an olive oil, review tips for using it wisely in the kitchen, and share one of my best olive salad and homemade dressing recipes.
Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is unique for its high amount of very stable long-chain monounsaturated fats in the form of oleic acid (75%). Yet it is also of note that olive oil contains omega-3s (2%) and omega-6s (10%). While essential, these polyunsaturated fatty acids are readily denatured by heat and oxidize rapidly on storage. The valuable polyphenols in olive oil like reparative hydroxtyrosol (HT) and antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin E are also sensitive to temperature. Thus for high-heat cooking, highly saturated fats like butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, red palm oil and grass-fed ghee are more favorable everyday options. Reserve unfiltered olive oil for condiments and on occasions when its unique flavor best compliments the meal. Because really who can resist a robust homemade tomato sauce, pot roast or hearty beef stew without a drizzle of this delicious oil?
How to Select the Best Olive Oil
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, just because I think that this is one of the greatest real food hoaxes going: your olive oil is only as good as the olives that were used to create it, and the conditions under which it was created and kept. Unfortunately, most of the “extra virgin olive oil” you find in stores is not the real thing- even the organic kinds that come in fancy dark glass bottles. Because the markets in the United States and Italy are largely unregulated, manufacturers have found numerous cunning ways to adulterate the product including blending it with unstable vegetable oils like soybean oil or canola oil, or using rotting olives and then deodorizing the final product to neutralize the rank smell.