Hints of nut, earth, slight bitterness, and even salt with a mouthfeel that is smooth and dense; today’s flavor is olive oil.

oliveoilpressOlive oil is yet one more of those flavors that is infinitely challenging to describe, not least because the flavor is dependent upon its terroir and how it was processed. This particular that I have tasted today is a cold pressed, extra virgin, made from Coratina olives and imported from Southern Italy.  Olive oil is basically the fat extracted from olives. What accounts for the variations in taste, mouthfeel, and even healthfulness is how/where the olives were grown, how it was extracted and to what degree it has been processed and filtered.

According to researchers and archeologists, extracting the fat from olives and using it as oil has been part of the human dietary repertoire for over 8,000 years. If you use olive oil at all, I’m sure you’ve realized that it comes in different grades; extra virgin, virgin, and refined (sometimes there are variations of these).  Oil grade depends on processing. Initially, they all start out the same way; olives are crushed into a paste, then churned up until the fat globules separate from liquid and can be extracted by pressing. Extra virgin and virgin oil means that the oil was extracted without use of heat or chemicals and retain the flavor of the olive as well as the beneficial nutrients. Refined oils have been processed differently and tend to devoid of any nutritional benefit as well as any identifying flavor. In short, unrefined olive oil is the best choice, whether you want virgin or extra virgin will be up to you.

oliveoildipsFrom a culinary perspective, olive oil is a really great option for a wide variety of dishes both sweet and savory. It is delicious as a dipping oil; which can actually become its own taste and flavor extravaganza if you choose a variety of terroirs and “bouquets”.  It is great as a dressing or even to use as a quick sauté or braising. It can also be used in baking and roasting foods; however, you want to avoid using it in high heat situations. It has a lower smoke point and will burn much more quickly...besides in high heat situations you tend to lose all of the lovely flavor nuances.

From a health perspective, the media has done a fantastic job over the past few decades proclaiming the benefits of olive oil. So much so, that demand has increased between 8 - 10% each year over the past decade. Spain produces over 50% of the world’s olive oil supply, with Italy coming in a close second.  The focus on Mediterranean diet as a more healthy way of eating has increased the interest in bringing olive oil to the table. The polyphenols in olive oil are pretty rocking as far as nutritional benefits. Research suggests that they can help decrease systemic inflammation and oxidative stress both of which contribute to cardiovascular disease as well as a wide variety of degenerative diseases.  They also provide protection for your liver, pancreas and colon all while decreasing your risk of a variety of cancers. Studies also suggest that the nutritive properties of olive oil contribute to brain health and balanced mood.