When it comes to Mediterranean cooking, which includes cuisines from Italy, Greece and Spain, olive oil is a staple ingredient that’s also quite versatile. It can be used to make salad dressings, used as a marinade, used to saute food in and so much more, but there is definitely more than meets the eye. So I present to you 10 Things to Know About Olive Oil (and Olives).
Old Timer: The olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees on the planet, predating the invention of written language!
Takes a Licking, But Keeps on Ticking: Olive trees can live to a ripe old age. In fact, some trees in the eastern Mediterranean are estimated to be over 1500 years old; however, the average age is a mere 500 years old.
Heart Healthy: The beneficial health effects of olive oil are due to both its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and its high content of antioxidative substances. Studies have shown that olive oil offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels. (1-3) No other naturally produced oil has as large an amount of monounsaturated as olive oil -mainly oleic acid.
It’s All in the Pressing: Extra Virgin Olive Oil: comprised from the first pressing of olives and considered the best olive oil. Virgin Olive Oil: from the second pressing. Pure Olive Oil: some processing such as filtering and refining. Extra Light Olive Oil: considerable processing and retains a mild olive flavor.
Look Ma! No More Greasy Hands: Clean greasy hands by mixing olive oil with salt or sugar and rubbing vigorously. Wash with soap and water and then bye bye grease!
Sacred Oil: Olive oil has long been considered sacred and was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the “eternal flame” of the original Olympic Games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves.
No More Sticky Stuff: Rub or spray olive oil on your measuring tools for easy clean-up of sticky substances like honey, grain mustards and sugar syrups.
Zit Stopper: Mix 4 parts salt with 3 parts olive oil. Work all around the face and leave on for two to three minutes. Rinse off with warm soapy water. Do this daily for the first week and then two to three times weekly until condition improves sufficiently to stop using.
Keep it Cool and Dark: Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, olive oil can keep for at least two years. It is, however, at its peak within a year of production, and is its most flavorful for the first two months. Olive oil should not be stored in the refrigerator. If chilled, olive oil will become cloudy and eventually solidify or crystallize. Should this happen, the oil is perfectly fine; just leave the oil at room temperature for a time to restore it to its natural state.
Bitter Fruit: Olives are fruits, grown on the olive tree, olea europaea. Plucked from the tree, the olive is extremely bitter, and virtually inedible. Prior to eating, olives are typically cured, either in brine, water or in oil. (Some prefer to cure them further in the bottom of a martini glass!) Freshly picked olives can also be stir-fried to remove some of the bitterness before eating.