Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Oily Situation, Part 1-- Olive Oil

When it comes to oils, people get confused.  What oils are best, and when do you use them?  And, for that matter, should you use them at all?  This is part 1 of a series of posts about this.  I'll start with olive oil, as it is the healthy oil people tend to use the most.

Let me start by saying that I am pro-oil.  Fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K can't be absorbed properly without fats, and adding a bit of oil to your diet can make this easy.  The argument was recently made to me that oils are a processed food since it's not a coconut, olive, etc.  While this is technically true, I would argue back that it is pretty minimally processed, and the product of the processing, depending on the type of oil produced and how it is pressed, can be quite a healthy addition to your diet.  If you think about it, chewing your food and digesting it is processing it as well.  If you'd like to see how, for instance, olive oil is made, check this out:

And here is a nice tutorial on how you can make coconut oil at home:

So you can see that this is not the same kind of high processing that might go into something like white flour, white rice, or anything ending in "-itos."

For those of you who insist on an oil-free diet, I would suggest making sure you eat plenty of nuts and avocados to add a good dose of healthy fats to your diet. 

For those of you who are willing to take the leap into my oily world, let's talk olive oil.

First of all, there are several types of olive oil, which might be confusing to most.  Let's get those defined so you know what's what.

Lite-- This does NOT, by any means, mean that this is a lower-calorie or lower-fat oil, so don't be fooled by the name.  All this means is that it is very light-tasting.  This is because there is almost no virgin oil in it. 

Pomace-- This is oil that has been derived from the dregs of the olives that have already been pressed for higher-grade oils.  They generally use chemicals to get it out, and it's usually refined from that point.  In order to make it more palatable, they will generally add some virgin oil to it, but the end product doesn't really have the benefits that a higher-grade oil would.  This is usually used for high-heat cooking (and not much else), as its smoke point is much higher than a virgin oil's.

Pure Olive Oil (or, simply, Olive Oil)-- This is a blend of refined oil and virgin oil.  Like Pomace oil, it doesn't have much of the benefit of a higher-grade oil, and isn't used for much beyond high-heat cooking.

Refined-- This means the oil has been derived via chemical means.  It will usually have a higher smoke point and lower nutritional value.

Virgin Olive Oil-- Virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, and uses no chemicals or water in its production.  It is allowed to have an acidity of up to 3.3%. 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)-- this is pretty much the Really Expensive Wine of the olive oil industry.  In order to be considered extra-virgin, it must be an oil from the first pressing that is produced by mechanical means only (so no water or nasty chemicals allowed), has to pass some serious taste tests, and must be less than 1% acidic. 

Unfiltered-- All this means is that the small olive particles left over from pressing are not removed from the oil.  It might look a little cloudier than filtered oils because of this.

The smoke point of an oil is when vapor begins to come out of it-- it is basically when the oil begins to degrade, reducing the nutritional benefits and increasing the cancer-causing ones.  The smoke point of extra-virgin olive oil, although it varies from type to type, is around 300 degrees Farenheit (148 Celcius).  This means it is not a cooking oil unless you use extremely low temperatures.  This is a dressing oil, made to be added to foods after cooking. 

Some of the benefits of olive oil are as follows:

1)  It appears to have some ibuprofen-like qualities, meaning some of its components can decrease inflammation in the body.   

2)  EVOO seems to have excellent cardiovascular benefits, as seen here, here, and here.

3)  EVOO and olive (especially those not preserved in brine) consumption may have anti-cancer benefits, as seen here, here, and here

4)  EVOO may even help reduce excess central body fat

There's a lot more good stuff to be found about olives and their oils, but this should give you a good head-start.  Bottom line:  go extra-virgin, don't cook with it, and enjoy.  :)

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!


  1. I love olive oil! I cook with it more than any other ingredient, but I had no idea there was so much more info to it besides just regular and extra virgin. Thanks for the info!

    1. Glad you liked it! Stop cooking with it! :)

  2. Great info! Now I'll make sure only to bring home extra virgin from the store. I cook with grapeseed oil, out of the hope that it is the better option for withstanding heat and maintaining nutrients. Thoughts on cooking oils?

    1. I'm glad you asked... I'll be covering grapeseed and other oils in future posts. Stay tuned. :)

  3. Call it my Spanish/Cuban heritage or something - Virgin Olive Oil is like the only oil I use... unless I am forced by some recipe that would be sensitive to that Olive taste... (then it sesame or canola - ever so rarely)

  4. Curious and confused... Please help. Why do a lot of cooking shows throw EVOO in their cooking (e.g. Rachel Ray). Thank you for the post.


    1. I'm not sure, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's because they simply don't know better. A lot of people cook with olive oil, thinking it's a healthy thing to do.

  5. Happy to report that I have extra virgin olive oil in my pantry :) Thanks for the grapeseed article as well!