The good oil on olive oil
With its superior health benefits and versatility, not to mention its swag of local and international awards, Australian extra virgin olive oil is among the world’s finest.
I recall a time when I was interviewing Italian-born chef Stefano Manfredi and he explained that when he and his family arrived in Australia in the 1960s his mum would have to go to the chemist shop to buy olive oil. In a specimen bottle, no less. It just shows how far we’ve come in our knowledge and appreciation of food and ingredients. These days, we’ve become the second biggest consumer of olive oil per capita in the world outside of the Mediterranean. Clearly, we love the stuff!
What’s more, we now produce top quality olive oil and heaps of it. Yep, even better than that produced by Spain, Italy and Greece, the traditional home of olive oil.
We’ve officially been producing olive oil since about 1870, but it is only in the past 30 years or so that we’ve gotten serious about it. We now have over 900 producers who manage to squeeze out over 20 million litres of olive oil. And not just any olive oil, but top grade extra virgin olive oil.
What’s the difference?
These days, your average supermarket shelf is brimming with different types of olive oil: extra virgin, virgin, light, pure, etc. So which one is best?
At the top of the olive oil hierarchy is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Fresh and healthy, it is squeezed straight from the olive. Unlike in the production of other oils where chemical and heat extraction is used, EVOO does not undergo any refinement or extraction processes using chemicals or heat. This means that of all the mainstream cooking oils, EVOO has the highest level of monounsaturated fats and retains more antioxidants than any other oil.
“Published research shows that no other food comes close to extra virgin olive oil for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.” This is a quote from Mary Flynn, Senior Research Dietitian and Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University in the USA. Her research has uncovered the fact that EVOO is associated with a range of health benefits related to heart health and weight control, and it has anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory properties.
The reason your heart will thank you for consuming EVOO is down to those all-important antioxidants. They help increase good cholesterol and decrease bad, reduce the risk of developing blocked arteries and reduce blood pressure.
We’ve all heard that a Mediterranean diet with its abundance of nuts, fruits, legumes, wholegrains and fish is one of the healthiest choices you can make. But its benefits also lie in the fact that EVOO is the main source of fat in this lifestyle. And people who enjoy a Mediterranean diet have been shown to have a lower body weight, which they can maintain for longer. EVOO also helps you to feel fuller for longer, another factor in helping to keep your weight stable.
Those incredible antioxidants also come into play when it comes to slowing down the ageing process. Antioxidants such as vitamin E help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals, which contributes to making the internal ageing process slower.
And with inflammation now being implicated in a range of diseases, the good news for EVOO consumers is it contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal.
Fresh is best
To get the most out of your EVOO, you want it to be as fresh as possible. Obviously, Australian oils are able to get to market here more quickly than imported oils. What’s more, the standards for Australian EVOO are extremely strict and as many as nine out of 10 imported olive oils fail to make the grade.
So now you’ve narrowed your choice down to Australian EVOO, you want a company that uses the finest olives, picked and pressed at the perfect time. You also want to go for oils that are cold pressed within 4–6 hours of harvesting the olives. The harvest date is also important for gauging longevity, as you should use your oil within 12–14 months of harvesting and within 4–6 weeks of opening. But how do you know which brands are the best quality? Look for the Premium Certified Australian EVOO Logo.
Buying Australian doesn’t mean missing out on range, as local producers are having great success with a huge choice of olive varieties. You’ll even see a lot of Australian EVOO named after the variety they’re made from. Take for instance Cobram Estate’s Ultra Premium Hojiblanca Extra Virgin Olive Oil, made from and named after the Spanish Hojiblanca variety and winner of the 2017 Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales President’s Medal.
The great cooking myths
There’s been a persistent myth in the cooking world that heating olive oil releases harmful toxins. On the contrary,EVOO is very stable to cook with and it’s all down to those antioxidants again. The point to consider is smoke point, and given EVOO has a smoke point between 200 and 215ºC, which is above that of standard home cooking temperatures for hot and cold cooking, it’s a safe, healthy choice.
Also, don’t believe the myth that can’t use EVOO in certain pots and pans. You can use it in any pot or pan you choose, as well as on the hotplate.
So next time you’re standing in front of the oils in the supermarket, there’s only one choice – premium quality, certified Australian extra virgin olive oil.