What are the benefits of extra virgin olive oil?

olive-oil Explore the Healthy World of EVOO

Most of us cooks use olive oil every day in some capacity.  But have you ever asked yourself, what are the benefits of extra virgin olive? Most extra virgin olive oil is loaded with health benefits.  Simply put, it’s packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.  It’s low in cholesterol and has the reputation as a healthy fat.

What does “extra virgin” mean anyway?

EVOO should be flawless.  Standards are set by the International Olive Council in Europe to ensure the highest grade of oil is labeled “extra virgin” and it must meet their strict standards of smell, taste, low levels of acidity and low levels of ultraviolet-light absorption.

Did you know…   there are over 700  kinds of olives in the world which are used to produce thousands of different kinds of olive oils? And, like wine, different olive oils should be paired with what food you plan to prepare.

In Search of…

Seeking out the best olive oil is like finding a perfect wine. For everyday cooking with foods that have distinctive flavors, choose an olive oil that is described as full-bodied, early harvest or robust and choose a milder oil for fish and chicken.  This would be labled “mild” or “late harvest”.  And like wine and the grape…olive oils change every year, simply because they are made from freshly harvested olives….like the grape.

What does age have to do with it?

We all know that most wines get better with age…olive oil is just the opposite.  It doesn’t…it’s perishable. Extra virgin olive oil will deteriorate within months of being produced.

The next time you’re shopping and find yourself staring at the shelves of different olive oils, read each label and look for a few things; when it was harvested, from what country it was harvested and what country produced it. And look at the color. The best EVOO will have been harvested and produced in just one or two countries.

Don’t…

…purchase big jugs of olive oil with thoughts that you’re saving money.  Yea…you’re saving a few bucks but  you’re not getting what you think you’re paying for.  Some outfits actually add canola oil with their standard olive oil to cut corners and boost revenue. Don’t believe me? Pour a little in a glass, smell and taste it….more about this later.

Instead…

Purchase a few small bottles of different flavors to use with different foods to see what you prefer. There are olive oil specialty stores that allow tastings of any of the wide variety olive oils they carry. You’ll be introduced to garlic infused oils, fruity ones to drizzle on salad greens, citrus oils to be paired with fish… just to name a few. Take advantage of tastings and educate yourself, finding a favorite or three.  Be sure to take advantage of the knowledgeable sales staff that love their craft and love talking about it.

Let’s take a closer look.

There are naysayers out there on the web who claim olive oil is not a  healthy fat when looking at study results done with monkeys.  One study fed monounsaturated fat-rich diets high in cholesterol to a test group of monkeys over a 5 year period.  The monkeys developed “extensive atherosclerotic placques in their coronary arteries”.

Other studies reveal only marginal health benefits of consuming olive oil. But what standard olive oil were they fed?

Food for thought

Is EVOO better for you than butter? Yes, it is but here are some stats that may surprise you…sure surprised me!  Olive oil is the most caloric dense food out there.  As a comparison, refined sugar has 1,725 calories per pound.  Olive oil has over 4,000 calories per pound…which equates to 120 calories in one tablespoon. Butter has 102.  For me, even if the naysayers are correct, I’m content with the “marginal benefit” of EVOO.  I’m careful to just drizzle a bit and not drown my food.  Besides…it’s much more flavorful than butter.

extra-virgin-olive-oil

 

The Upshot…

Eat your fruits, vegetables, omega-3 rich fish and enjoy a little extra virgin olive oil in moderation.  It’s all good.

Avoid oils that don’t name the exact country of harvest, or where it’s produced on the label. In my opinion, the best EVOO comes from one country, is darker green in color and when you taste test it, you’ll notice a pepperiness in the back of your throat.  Always purchase extra virgin olive oil. Buy it in dark bottles and store in a cool, dark place protecting it from light to prevent it from becoming rancid.  And most important…purchase just what you’ll consume within 60 days. Think about it though, this offers you the opportunity to try different oils….and there are SO many…so enjoy!

Not a fan of olive oil?

There are several different kinds of oils to cook with and it seems more keep cropping up. There are so many options that it can get a bit confusing trying to decide which to use in a recipe.

For example:

  • Peanut oil is the “go to” for deep frying unless, of course, you have a peanut allergy. It has a light nutty flavor, is perfect for stir-fry recipes and is great in Asian dishes.
  • Canola oil is an all purpose oil because of its “barely there” flavor.  It’s cheaper than olive oil but I wouldn’t suggest using it for deep frying, salad dressings or drizzling on your pizza.
  • Corn oil is another popular all purpose oil due to its neutral flavor. Its odorless and has a high smoke point (450 degrees F) making it a good oil for frying.
  • Coconut oil comes in two forms. Refined coconut oil has a mild flavor and higher smoking point (400 degrees F). Unrefined coconut oil has a stronger flavor, subtle sweetness and lower smoking point (350 degrees F). This is a popular oil to use in vegan dessert dishes.
  • Grapeseed oil has a light, clean flavor that doesn’t mask other flavors in your recipe. It’s great for salad dressings and is a good substitute if you’ve run out of olive oil. To keep this oil fresh, keep it refrigerated as it contains polyunsaturated fats and can go rancid quickly.

Healthy Linseed Oil

  • Flaxseed oil is made from ground and pressed flax seeds. It contains 50-60% heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, one tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains 7,196 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids. The health benefits of this natural oil (also known as flax oil or linseed oil) are pretty incredible. Besides protecting your heart and your brain, it protects against diabetes and reduces the risk of cancer cell growth. Flaxseed oil also reduces the levels of C-reative protein which is a market used to measure inflammation in people who are overweight.

Flaxseed oil is great in salad dressings, sauces and dips. Add a healthy tablespoon to your next smoothie.  Do NOT, however, cook with flaxseed oil! It does not have a high smoking point (225 degrees F) and can form harmful compounds when exposed to high heat.

Did you know… one of the many active compounds in flaxseed oil is fiber which can reduce constipation and diarrhea. It also reduces eczema and by adding flaxseed oil to your diet can actually improve the appearance of cellulite. Seriously.

  • SAFFLOWER OIL is an oil I choose not to use. While it’s odorless, has a neutral flavor and high smoking point, making it great for frying and cooking at high temps, it’s one of the few edible oils that does not contain vitamin E. There are other negatives about this oil that bother me. It decreases good cholesterol, is not heart healthy and may trigger allergic reactions. People with a sensitivity to plants like daisies, ragweed and mugwort should stay away from using safflower oil. It also may affect the body’s capability to clot blood which could be risky for people on certain blood thinning medications.

So, what’s a smoking point you ask?

Basically, it’s the temperature at which oil starts to smoke and burn. It then releases harmful chemicals that create a bitter flavor. When you overheat cooking oil, it destroys beneficial compounds and creates harmful free radicals which can damage molecules in your body. For this reason, it’s important to pay attention to the smoking point and use oils that have a high smoking point when cooking at high temps. Save the low smoking point oils for unheated foods like salad dressings and vinaigrettes.

In closing…

Now that I’ve hopefully gotten your culinary juices flowing and your mouth watering for something delicious…find yourself an olive oil specialty store and go taste testing.  It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot.  Pick up a few small bottles to experiment with and make something amazing today. I’d love to hear what you’ve tasted and welcome your suggestions for me to try as well.

Skål

Please feel free to leave your thoughts or comments below.  I welcome the feedback.  If you have a special request or question, I’ll gladly help you find the answer or recipe you are seeking.

 

 

24 comments to What are the benefits of extra virgin olive oil?

  • Megan

    What a great overview of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I must say I have learned a lot from your post as I am someone who just grabs a bottle to use in cooking. I never realised there was so much choice and to make sure it is only from one area to get the best product. I will definitely consider this in my future purchases! However, what has really interested me is your comment that Flaxseed Oil reduces eczema. As a sufferer of eczema I never realised this – how would it be best added to my diet for optimal effect?
    Regards,
    Megan

    • Karen

      Megan,

      Thank you for visiting, enjoying my blog and leaving your comments. Flaxseed is the richest known source of omega-e fatty acids and may help decrease the inflammation from eczema. In cooking, use it like you would vegetable oil. You could make a tasty salad dressing with it.

      I have a friend who’s son has eczema and she’s hoping he will grow out of it when he’s in his twenties. There are supplements you can take, however, I’d suggest getting your doctor’s stamp of approval first if you’re taking any medications like blood-thinning meds.

  • Anavai

    wow a lot of good information I never even thought I needed! I love a post that gives information on nutrition. I think sometimes we assume that because a certain ingredient is present in a food or product, then it’s healthy…but it’s good to know how something was extracted, or made, or processed…it gives insight into its health benefits or potential risks…very interesting article!
    thank you!

    • Karen

      Thank you, Anavai, for your lovely comments and I’m glad you got some interesting and helpful information. I hope you enjoy reading my other blogs and offer your thoughts and comments.

  • Sharon

    Great information on extra virgin olive oil and the alternatives. Besides using EVOO for cooking, I used it together with balsamic vinegar as a bread dip. Delicious! Also, as a hair treatment. It gives my hair the extra shine.

    It was only recently that I realised there are many varieties available. And with the information you have provided, I know even more.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Sharon

    • Karen

      Hi Sharon…thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts about EVOO.

      I’ve never tried balsamic vinegar with olive oil as a bread dip and will have to give it a try. What I do is roast an entire head of garlic (cut off the top to expose the garlic cloves) in an aluminum foil packet with olive oil drizzled over the top and a pinch of salt. Roast at 400 degrees until the garlic is soft (about 20 minutes depending on how big the garlic head is). When cooled, squeeze the garlic cloves into the oil and use that as your bread dip. This garlic oil is totally amazing and you can spread the roasted garlic on your bread.

      Give this a try and let me know what you think.

  • kmv

    Thanks for so much great info in one place! And not just on EVOO, but other oil options. So helpful. I couldn’t believe how calorie dense olive oil is!!! Moderation is the key.

    So in your opinion, is there ever a time and place for cheap olive oil? Or should you always opt for extra virgin? What would you tell someone that wants to eat well, but has a tight budget?

    Thank again!!!

    • Karen

      Hello, kmv, thanks for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. Yea, the calorie count was a surprise to me as well but a tablespoon goes a long way and just a drizzle can totally elevate even the simplest dish. I read somewhere that according to top chefs around the world, good extra virgin olive oil is the culinary equivalent of liquid gold.

      I wouldn’t waste your money on cheap olive oil. You can pick up an excellent extra virgin olive oil for as little as $9 a bottle. Think of it this way…if your recipe calls for wine, you wouldn’t buy a cheap wine would you? No, you’d use a wine that you enjoy drinking because of its flavor.

      Happy tasting…it doesn’t cost anything to taste and who knows what you’ll fall in love with. I hope you’ll share your findings with me.  

  • Soraya

    It’s interesting to read your list of alternative oils. I use olive oil for everything and I am an avid fan. But these days there’s a lot of talk about coconut oil being healthier because of a higher smoking point. I tried cooking with coconut oil but I wasn’t so keen on the flavour – it gives the food a coconut flavour I find. So I stayed with olive oil and still love it. I don’t tend to fry on high heat with it though, I just use it to start off the onions in a saucepan, for example. Another oil that I’ve heard about being very healthy is avocado oil but I haven’t tried that one yet. Thanks for the interesting article on olive oil!

    • Karen

      Soraya,

      Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts on olive oil…I, too, am an avid fan haha

      Having a higher smoking point does not equate to being a healthier oil. When you cooked with coconut oil and weren’t keen on the coconut flavor it gave your food, perhaps you were using unrefined oil which has a stronger coconut flavor verses refined coconut oil having a subtle, mild flavor.

      I’m glad you brought up avocado oil.  I’ve been meaning to try this oil in a few select recipes BUT have experimented with making my own mayonnaise and I’ll be adding Table 38’s Homemade Avocado Oil Mayonnaise recipe to my site under the drop down menu “…AND MORE”, so I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think.

  • Michael

    I LOVE olive oil and especially love it when you can dip some buttery bread in it when you go to restaurants (although that may make it less healthy).

    I also love cooking with it and putting it on salads.

    The only thing I wish they would do with olive oil is make it cheaper — as it can get expensive in a hurry.

    Thanks for the review about olive oil, and reminding us how good it is for everyone.

    • Karen

      Michael…a guy after my own heart! One of my favorite restaurants serves freshly baked bread with a small bowl of warm olive oil infused with roasted garlic for dipping to enjoy with a cocktail while dinner is being prepared. OMG! But, don’t worry about the bread, Michael, it’s not like you have it every day, right? So dip & enjoy!

      With regards to your comment about wishing it were cheaper…all I can say is, good quality doesn’t come cheap. You pay a premium for high quality. You want a cheaper olive oil? Purchase from the companies that dilute it with canola oil. You’re obviously an olive oil lover so do your due diligence and shop, taste and buy the best. Your dishes will say the rest. Skal

  • Jennifer Etter

    Thank you so much for this! I am a home cook and have used olive oil for a long time and feel better now that I am a bit more educated about it. I have also recently added olive oil to my skin care routine to moisturize and am loving the results I am seeing. Up until now I have always purchased olive oil in bulk and I think I will now begin to rethink that when I am at the store! I really enjoyed reading this! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Karen

      Hi, Jennifer…thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s funny you mention using olive oil for skin care because I do too! I never waste a drop and when I’m preparing dinner, instead of washing the oil off with soap & water, I’ll rub what I don’t use all over my hands and forearms.

      Thanks for visiting…hope to see you back again soon.

  • Chris

    Hi

    Great information on some of the benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

    To be honest I use this stuff most days for cooking and have never really even thought about its benefits so this post is certainly welcoming.

    It is handy knowing that Extra Virgin Olive Oil definitely does not get better with age, so this is handy to know as buying in big quantities is probably pointless.

    I look forward to some of your future posts.

    Cheers

    • Karen

      Chris…thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts. Years ago, I would buy extra virgin olive oil in huge bottles because I use it a lot and thought I was saving money. When I started to really look into olive oil, what I found out shocked me.

      I purchase just what I use in 30 days. That way I know it’s fresh. Some merchants will give you a discount if you bring their empty bottle back to be re-filled.

  • sharon

    Wow
    So many virgin oils to cook with 🙂
    I am just about to start a healthy food diary so this has really caught my eye, i have heard of flaxseed oil before but never really looked into what its benefits were , i did not realise that it protects your brain and heart and i cant believe you can put it on salad as a dressing (great)
    Love the way you have detailed the oils and what there uses are, which oil would be good for making fried eggs?
    Thanks:)

    • Karen

      Hi, Sharon…thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave your comments.

      To answer your question, I suggest using either canola or vegetable oil because they have a high smoke point for fried eggs cooked over medium-high heat. However, you could try something different and use avocado oil which will add a nutty fruity flavor to your eggs… BUT cook them over medium or medium-low heat due to its lower smoke point. Another flavored oil to try is sesame oil. This also has a lower smoke point but will add an Asian flavor to your eggs especially if you sprinkle just a dash of sriracha over the top.

      I’ve heard that walnut oil is good for eggs, however, never have tried it as my husband is allergic to walnuts. When making scrambled eggs (my favorite) I use butter.

  • Sinisa

    The extra virgin olive oil is my favorite, it has been like that since my early childhood, as I am blessed to live in one of the Mediterranean countries. I can tell you from experience, when you pick the olives with your bare hands and bring them to be pressed for oil, it adds additional goodness to it. Sometimes you need more than 10kgs of olives to get 1L of extra virgin oil. In any case, I strongly believe it is the most healthy of liquid fats.

    • Karen

      Greetings, Sinisa  How fortunate you are to live where you are and to have first hand experience with picking the best olives…I envy you. Here in the states we have to be very diligent about what extra virgin olive oil we purchase. There are so many fakes on the market.  Learning and tasting before we spend our money is the way to go.

      I would love to know more about your EVOO and can it be purchased here in the states?

  • Ryan

    Karen,

    I LOVE extra virgin olive oil on my favorite subs and meals! It’s great to read an article that has nutritional and beneficial facts about a common condiment. What brand of olive oil do you recommend? I am looking for something that will have a nice flavor, and stay around for awhile. Thanks.

    • Karen

      Hi, Ryan…Thanks for visiting and sharing your love of extra virgin olive oil. With regards to what brand I recommend, I’ve tried so many different brands available at the grocery store only to be let down. A few years ago I discovered Monadnock Oil Company, here in New England, where you can taste any of their numerous extra virgin olive oils and flavored oils. This was heaven to me.

      I suggest looking around in your area to find an oil company such as this where you can learn and taste oils you never knew existed. Recently, I discovered the perfect olive oil at a local farm that sells fruits, vegetables, gourmet food items and fresh breads. The extra virgin olive oil they sell is produced from olives picked in Greece. One country…Greece.

      So, Ryan, do your research and find the best place in your area to taste test different oils. You’ll be glad you did and please let me know what you find.   

  • Melinda

    I’ve never really thought about “which” olive oil I needed to use. I’ve just always grabbed the extra virgin. Thanks for the info!
    ~ Melinda

    • Karen

      Thanks for the comment, Melinda. Considering the price of good extra virgin olive oil, it pays to read the label to insure we’re buying the best and getting what we pay for.

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