Unless you’ve been raised by wolves in the forest, it’s likely that you’ll know at least something about olive oil. It’s one of the most called-for ingredients in many of the most famous dishes in the world, especially in foods hailing from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. However, there may be a few facts about olive oil that still surprise you, so I thought I’d create a fun guide to ‘everything you need to know about olive oil’. Feel free to leave me a comment below if you know any fun facts that I’ve missed!
How long has olive oil been used for?
The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae date to 3,500 BC, though the production of olive oil is assumed to have started before 4,000 BC. By 3,000 BC in Crete, the olive was widely cultivated and a highly prized commodity. The cultivation of olive trees in Crete became prevalent in the post-palatial period and played a significant role in the island’s economy, as it did across the Mediterranean. Olive oil entered its golden age with the Greeks, as they used it for food, fuel, skin lotion, contraceptive, detergent, preservative, pesticide, perfume and adornment. Olive oil was also a major export of Mycenaean Greece (c. 1450–1150 BC). Scholars believe the ancient olive oil was produced by a process where olives were placed in woven mats and squeezed, with the oil collected in vats.
- It’s packed with polyphenols.
- It strongly promotes cardiovascular health.
- It may reduce risk of certain cancers.
- It supports healthy memory + brain function.
- It supports a healthy mental outlook + mood.
- It combats pain + inflammation.
- It may boost bone health + strength.
- It supports a healthy gut microbiome.
- It supports a healthy immune system.
- It balances blood sugar and may help prevent diabetes.
- It may help you lose weight.
- It’s the healthiest oil you can cook with.
What’s the difference between olive oils?
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil. When it comes to olive oil, this is the best of the best! If you’re going to keep one bottle of olive oil in your kitchen, EVOO is probably the way to go. Extra virgin olive oil is made from olives that have the least amount of rotting because they’ve been crushed shortly after harvest. It’s hard to argue with that! EVOO also must pass a taste test with a panel of judges before it’s sold so it has the best flavor.
- Virgin Olive Oil. One step down from EVOO, you’ve got virgin olive oil. The olives in virgin olive oil typically sit longer between harvesting and crushing, so they have a higher acidity content. It works for sauteing, roasting, baking, frying, and sauces, but isn’t recommended for dressing or finishing dishes, since it doesn’t taste nearly as good as EVOO.
- Olive Oil. You’re probably picking up on a pattern here, right? If you’re guessing that standard-issue olive oil is yet another step down from virgin olive oil in terms of quality, you’re right. It’s bleached, neutralized, and deodorized during refining and should really only be used when you’re sauteing, roasting, and mid-temperature frying, when the flavor won’t make a difference.
- Light Olive Oil. This is a lower-quality olive oil that’s blended with other highly refined oils. It doesn’t share the health benefits of other EVOO or virgin olive oil, but, like plain olive oil (above!), you can use it for basic kitchen tasks if you need to.
- Olive Pomace Oil. After olives are pressed, the solid pulp that’s left over is known as pomace, which can then be turned into an oil. Chemical solvents are used to produce it, so if you see “olive pomace oil” on a label, you should probably stay away from it.
Where can you buy good olive oil?
Purchasing directly from a producer isn’t an option for most of us, so the second best option is specialty olive oil retailers. Unless they’re online, you’ll have a chance to taste a wide range. Consumer food and lifestyle shows are excellent places to visit as producers offer samples to try.