The Health Benefits and Uses of Olive Oil
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (mainly oleic acid), which, unlike saturated fats, do not adversely affect blood cholestrol levels and may even help to lower them slightly. For those suffering from constipation, take more olive oil often as it helps to lubricate the intestines and eliminate waste from our bodies, thereby curing your constipation.
Olive oil also provides natural antioxidants (called polyphenols) which help to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Olive Oil Catergories
The flavor of olive oil varies, depending on the source, the variety of olive, the soil conditions, weather, etc. Some of the primary sources come from Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco, and California. Some olive oils are from a single variety of oils, but others, like most Italian oils, are blends of oils from different types of olives and from different countries.
The oil produced from the first pressing of ripe olives is often the purest form, thus is called virgin. Extra virgin simply means an oil from the first pressing that is particularly low in acid - less than 1%. Virgin olive oil may have as much as 4% acid. Fino or fine olive oil is a blend of extra virgin and virgin olive oils, with an acid content not above 3%.
To squeeze more oil from the ripe olives, modern extraction methods of pressure, heat and chemical solvents are applied. These refined oils may be blended with virgin oil to replace some of the flavor lost in the processing, and are sold as pure olive oil or just olive oil.
In some countries, you may also stumble upon light olive oil, which is not lower in calories, but which has been so finely filtered as to remove most of its color and fragrance (and flavor). It has a higher smoke point than the other types of olive oil, though, so it is well suited to high-temperature frying.
For the best qualities, we should go for the "Virgin" or "Extra virgin" olive oil because they have a fruity and rich flavour, wouldn't turn rancid so fast and are more easily digestible than refined oil.
For nutritional values, they are the same. But, extra virgin oil which is low in acidity level contains more antioxidants.
Compared with other vegetable oils, only olive oil has enough flavour to replace butter and margarine for a healthier choice. Because of its pure state, extra virgin oil is often used as a dressing in salads or as a dip for breads.
Refined or light olive oil is suitable for deep frying. It may seem pricey to use it to fry food but the fact that such oil is four to five times more heat resistant than vegetable oil would mean you can reuse it to fry foods many more times before the oil begins to break down.
Cooking with Olive Oil
Olive oil, when heated at high temperature, will cause its alcohols and esters to evaporate. The esters are what make up the olive oil delicate taste and fragrance. So heat will only change the flavor of olive oil but not its nutritional contents. We recommend you use a cheaper olive oil like refined/light oil for frying and then add a more flavorful olive oil after cooking.
Heating food will break down its nutritional value. High heat such as frying is worse than moderate heat such as steaming, which is worse than eating vegetables raw. It is not the cooking oil per se, but the high heat of frying.
Most nutritionists recommend lightly steaming vegetables or eating them raw. A touch of a flavorsome olive oil added at the table will add taste and healthful anti-oxidants. This is what "Mediterranean diet" is about, which has been shown to help prevent coronary disease and have other health benefits.
Keep away from heat, ie the stove, to prevent ageing of the oil. Better to keep a large container in a dark, cool cupboard and pour a small amount into a dispenser for everyday use. The container can be made of plastic, stainless or tinted glass.
Alternatively, you can store oil in the refrigerator or freezer, which will greatly extend its shelf life. Do not worry about the crystallized waxes in the oil when chilled. All you have to do is to warm the oil back to room temperature to melt it.
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