Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Cheap Food Factfile: Olive Oil

Olive Oil
Price per kg- £3.50 per litre

History
Not only used in cooking, olive oil (the fat that comes from pressing olives) is used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and soaps. Olive trees originate from Greece, and olives have been harvested since 8000BC. It is believed the first time olive trees were properly cultivated (rather than growing wild) was on the Greek island of Crete- and the first traces of olive oil were believed to made by the Minoan culture there in 3500BC. Olive oil was an important commodity, and using it was seen as  sign of wealth, so the ancient Egyptians imported large amounts of olive oil from Syria and Crete. Olive oil was a main staple of ancient Greek and Roman cookery. Olive oil was used by the Romans as a form of cleanser- the olive oil would be rubbed onto the skin at the public baths, and scraped off with a specific implement- taking away the dirt from the skin/ dead skin cells with the oil.

Types
There are numerous types of olive oil, made from different varieties of olive from separate countries, this includes such varieties as picual, hojiblanca and arbequina. Different olives produce different flavours within the olive oil, with some olive oils chosen for having a lighter or heavier flavour, for use in different dishes. In the UK however, we are mostly aware of the main types as being “olive oil” and “extra virgin olive oil”.

Extra virgin olive oil, more expensive than normal olive oil, is olive oil that has been created through physical means, and has not undergone any chemical treatment. It’s acidity should be less than 0.8%, and it should be judged as having superior taste. “Normal” olive oil is usually a mix of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil, is generally less than 2% acidity, and is judged to not have a very strong flavour.  

There is no such thing as a “second press”  of virgin oil, the term “first pressing” is just stating that it was processed in a press, rather than other methods of oil extraction- this is often misconstrued by consumers.

Health Benefits
The health benefits of olive oil are numerous and highly promoted- I am sure many of you will have heard of olive oil being good for your heart! Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, and polyphenols, which protects against coronary heart disease/ high cholesterol. Olive oil has been proven to help with improving skin conditions, such as acne and dermatitis. It is high in antioxidants.  It is also a very good source of the fat soluble vitamins E and K. For those on low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins or South Beach, olive oil contains no carbohydrates or sugars, or protein for that matter.

Nutritional Information (per 100g)
Calories- 884kcal
Fat- 100g
(of which saturates)- 14g
Vitamin E- 14.3mg (72% RDA)
Vitamin K- 60.2mcg (75% RDA)

Import/Export
The biggest producers of olive oil (by a long-shot, almost triple the amount of any other countries!) are Spain. The two other largest producers are Italy and Greece. The Greek’s are by far the largest consumers of olive oil, with the average person consuming on average 26 litres of olive oil per year!!

Interesting Olive oil facts
The higher the temperature olive oil is heated to, the more likely flavour will be destroyed. This is the reason why extra virgin olive oil is used mostly for salad dressings, and not used in cooking.

Olive oil can be treated like wine- with such a variety of different flavours, certain olive oils may go better with particular dishes (some are more fruity, some are more sharp etc.). It is believed that people that like a lot of tannins in their red wine, will prefer the flavour of a more bitter olive oil.

Olive oil is used heavily in a number of religions, often symbolising strength or healing. Traditionally, the 7 torch “menorah” used for the Jewish Hanukkah celebration should use olive oil as burners, not candles. Olive oil lamps are still often used in catholic and orthodox churches, and traditionally olive oil should be used in baptisms in order to bless and strengthen those who are about to be baptised. The consumption of olive oil is generally banned during lent. In Islam, the olive tree, and consuming olive oil, is considered to be sacred, as the prophet Muhammad stated “consume olive oil and anoint it upon your bodies since it is of the blessed tree”.

Ways we like them
Of course, all over Europe, and particularly the Mediterranean countries, olive oil is used for a variety of dishes, and in Greece, Spain and Italy are used as the primary fat in which to cook with.

My favourite recipe that use olive oil as a sort of "main" or "prime" ingredient is good old pesto! Whether it's traditional fresh basil, parmesan, garlic, pine nuts- or whether you want to try something more alternative (like my coriander and feta pesto, or my wild garlic pesto- check the recipes out on my blog) it always uses uggins of olive oil! Extra virgin olive oil, although expensive, i like to use as a garnish really- drizzled over salads or pasta dishes to give it a fresh zingy flavour.

Aoili is a good one too- it's a spanish garlic mayonaise, which you make with egg yolks, loads of garlic, and olive oil, blended in gradually so the mayo doesn't split. Nice garlicky Aioli with some spiced wedges- bliss!!

As well as using normal olive oil for cooking, I often make cheap salad dressings using olive oil, for my packed lunches. I generally mix 1 tbsp olive oil, with 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (I get a massive catering size bottle that normally lasts me a year, and very cheap), 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp sugar, and plenty of salt and pepper. Works every time, and works with most dishes.

Generally, OK, i know, other oils are cheaper- with myself finding vegetable oil being the cheapest- but there are a lot of health benefits connected with olive oil, so if you are in the position to afford it, give it a go!

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