Ηas been the most important culinary ingredient for Mediterranean people since the ancient times.
Homer called it the “Liquid Gold” and Hippocrates the “Great Healer”.
It is considered the most healthy fat on earth, containing loads of antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamins.
It is the core element of the Mediterranean Diet.
It accompanies our lives every day during our lifespan.
It is Mother Nature’s greatest gift to humanity!
Many studies have attributed several health benefits to this diet, with very encouraging findings, and the research is still ongoing. As a result, over the last two decades, the Mediterranean Diet has been gaining a lot of attention at an increasing rate due to a majority of health benefits such as less cardiovascular disease, promotion of healthy blood sugar levels, improvement of cognitive function, and even prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer. Although the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease, and one of the main explanations is thought to be that this diet is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat due to the high consumption of Olive Oil.
Antioxidants in Olive Oil
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), carotenoids and phenolic compounds (simple phenols such as hydroxytyrosol and complex phenols such as oleuropein) are all antioxidants whose activity has been demonstrated in vitro and recently in vivo, revealing further advantages in the prevention of certain diseases and also of aging.
The phenolic content of olive oils varies according to the climatic conditions in the producing area, when the olives are harvested and how ripe they are when picked. Oil production and storage methods also have an influence. Phenols have countless biological properties, for instance, hydroxytyrosol inhibits platelet aggregation and is anti-inflammatory and oleuropein encourages the formation of nitric acid, which is a powerful vasodilator and exerts a strong anti-bacterial effect.
Oxidized LDLs are known to be atherogenic, which is where olive oil steps in because it has a beneficial, protective effect against LDL oxidation. Moreover, it also strengthens other cells in the body against the toxic effects of oxidants.
The high antioxidant content of the Mediterranean Diet appears to contribute significantly to its effect on longevity.
These antioxidants are found in fresh fruit and vegetables. Because it is the only oil to be obtained from a fruit, olive oil retains a host of substances, antioxidants and vitamins that give it added nutritional value.
Gastronomy & Olive Oil
Etymologically, the word "gastronomy" is derived from ancient Greek γαστήρ (gastḗr), "stomach", and νόμος (nómos), "law", and therefore literally means "the art or law of regulating the stomach".
Gastronomy involves discovering, tasting, experiencing, researching, understanding and writing about food preparation and the sensory qualities of human nutrition as a whole. It also studies how nutrition interfaces with the broader culture.
Olive oil participates in many aspects of our lives. Among all the uses of Olive Oil, the culinary one is by far the most extended, appreciated and the best one to enjoy all the benefits that olive oil has to our health.
Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil complements and enhances many different cooking techniques. Contrary to popular belief, extra virgin olive oil is great for cooking and can be easily incorporated into almost any dish or cuisine, adding new flavors and healthy polyphenols and monounsaturated fats.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate Extra Virgin Olive Oil into your cooking is by adding a quick drizzle moments before serving. This can be done with almost any dish, including pasta, soups, salads, soft cheeses, or over-grilled meats. A small amount on a sandwich can also be a flavourful substitute for mayonnaise.
Try adding a small dish of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to your next salumi or cheese spread. Fresh, warm bread dipped or topped with olive oil is an instant crowd-pleaser.
Recent research shows that sautéing vegetables in extra virgin olive oil is actually healthier than boiling. The technique preserves vegetable nutrients and olive oil aids your body in their absorption. Try a quick sauté of asparagus or green beans in Extra Virgin Olive Oil topped simply with sea salt and pepper.
Since heat is such an integral part of cooking, yet is also one of the factors that can lower the quality of olive oil, many people assume that applying heat to olive oil in cooking applications such as shallow and deep-frying, stir-frying or sauteing, is a combination that should be avoided.
This is a myth.
Heating an extra virgin olive oil to frying temperature does not hurt or substantially alter the chemical composition of the oil if kept below the smoke point, and is still very good for you due to their polyphenol content and high levels of oleic acid which is very stable and does not easily oxidize.
The alternatives - i.e. canola, soybean and corn oils - are significantly less stable, contain little to zero polyphenols and can break down into dangerous, toxic byproducts at high temperatures due to accelerated oxidation. Olive oil is the most stable of all fats when heated.
The smoke point of a true extra virgin olive oil is 210°C, well above the 175-190°C that is required for most frying. If the olive oil is higher in acidity and/or contains impurities (often representative of lower grade, mass-produced oils), the smoke point can lower some 10°C. That said, you should always fry foods with high-quality olive oil and should avoid mixing it with other types of oils.
Deep Frying tip: Though the added flavor will be best when frying the first time, reusing a large pot of olive oil 4-5 times is still safe and flavorful (and not to mention cost-effective) if doing so within a short timeframe and if properly strained after each use.
Frying with olive oil has been standard practice in the Mediterranean diet for centuries. Try shallow frying eggs, sliced potatoes or fish in extra virgin olive oil and you will be amazed by the results.
Try replacing the butter or margarine in your next recipe with olive oil. A ripe fruity olive oil will bring a new dimension of flavor to cakes and pastries and will add healthy fats into baked goods.
Since ingredient measurements are critical when baking, the index below will help you adjust your recipe appropriately. Conversion for butter to olive oil:
1 teaspoon = ¾ teaspoon
1 Tablespoon = 2-1/4 teaspoons
¼ cup = 3 tablespoons
1/3 cup = ¼ cup
½ cup = ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup = ½ cup
¾ cup = ½ cup + 1 tablespoon
1 cup = ¾ cup