Have you ever happened to be staying in front of the olive oil section in the supermarket, reading labels and comparing prices, till you feel completely lost? Have you ever grabbed the first bottle of olive oil you see, just to avoid that feeling?
Choosing a bottle of olive oil today seems to be as complex task, as choosing a bottle of suitable wine, to match your dinner. However, you don’t have to spend too much effort to make a good choice. Here are some easy steps to help you with the selection.
1. Find out what’s behind the labels:
* Extra virgin olive oil – this is the product of the first cold pressing of olives, and that’s why it’s the top quality olive oil. It has no more than 1% acidity. If the label says “extra virgin”, it’s guaranteed that this olive oil is produced without the use of heat or chemicals. Thus the extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest choice, also containing the highest levels of polyphenols (powerful antioxidants).
* Virgin olive oil – this is the product of the second cold pressing of olives, after the extra virgin was extracted. This too is not chemically refined product, but has a bit more acidity (up to 3%), and it has milder taste and flavour.
* Olive oil – also labelled as “blended”. Usually the basis of this product is refined oil, extracted from the olive mix with the use of heat and chemicals. To this oil producers add small quantities of virgin or extra virgin olive oil, to enhance its flavour and taste. As far as I know, there still aren’t any clear regulations (both, in Europe and USA) regulating the ratio between the low and top quality oils in the blend. This olive oil can incorporate even other vegetable oils. They are not bad for the price you pay, but the quality could vary between the brands.
* Рomace olive oil- the lowest quality of olive oil. This is chemically extracted oil from the fruits and stones. Other vegetable oils, as well as small quantity of virgin olive oil are added to it, so to improve the flavour.
Some gourmet and specialised stores offer “filtered” or “unfiltered” labels. These refer only to the best quality olive oils (еxtra-virgin & virgin), and literally indicate the presence or lack of olive pulp in the oil.
All other titles on the labels do not give you any significant information. Thus the references such as “100% pure”, “Salad olive oil”, “Natural” or “Light” can be rather misleading. “Light” for example refers not to the calories, but to the flavor which is a consequence of a chemical refining of the olive oil.
2. Buy an olive oil that suits your needs
What type of olive oil to buy should depend on what you’re going to use it for, and in particular whether you intend to heat it or not.
*If you need an olive oil for frying or sautéing , choose blended olive oil. To use the expensive types for high temperature cooking is not just a waist. The extra virgin olive oil has a relatively low smoking point and could worsen the dish. Even more unpleasant could be the result if you use unfiltered olive oil, which small particles will easily burn.
*If you need an olive oil for salad dressings or to marinate, choose extra virgin or virgin olive oil. Cold pressed olive oils contain the highest levels of antioxidants, especially if fresh and appropriately stored. So if you want to really benefit from all their goodness, don’t heat them. There are many dishes you can finish with extra virgin olive oil – from a freshly grilled steak, to bruschettas, to pasta and backed potatoes.
The extra virgin olive oil extracted from some green olives has the highest concentration of natural antioxidants (carotenoids). Most probably this is the reason for the wide spread believe that the green olive oil is better than the rest. The golden varieties usually have milder taste and flavour. However the colour of the bottled olive oil varies significantly between the brands and is not indicative of their quality.