Olive oil is such a fundamental part of our cooking that we often take for granted just how beneficial it can be. A natural oil extracted from olives and used either to fry, season or marinade our foods, it’s very much a staple of kitchens across the world. The health benefits of the so-called dietary fats contained within it are, of course, quite controversial, but when used in moderation the benefits really speak for themselves:-
Healthy heart – There is far less heart disease in Mediterranean countries than anywhere else on earth and experts believe this is because of the heavy use of olive oil in their diets. Olive oil not only lowers inflammation but improves the lining of your blood vessels and can even lower blood pressure!
Antioxidants – Olive oil doesn’t only contain a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid (around 73%) that has been known to reduce inflammation and even help to prevent cancer, but it also contains several powerful antioxidants that can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Stroke prevention – Strokes are caused by blood flow being cut to your brain and are the second most common cause of death in the world’s developed nations. Studies have revealed, however, that olive oil can lead to a significant reduction in stroke risk.
Antibacterial – There is a nutrient in olive oil that fights a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori that has been known to cause stomach ulcers and cancer. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in particular has been proven to fight up to eight strains of the bacteria, with studies revealing it eliminated the infection in 10-40% of subjects within just 14 days.
The difference between extra virgin and regular olive oil
So many of us spend our time in the supermarket pontificating over the ‘right’ choice when it comes to the fundamentals of our weekly shop. Olive oil is, rightly so, perhaps one of the most basic ingredients that we must always have to hand and, as we have already discovered, that’s no bad thing at all as it can lead to a healthier heart. However, what is the difference between extra virgin oil and normal olive oil and why is the former more costly?
Essentially, it’s for the same reason that single malt whiskey costs so much more than blended whiskey – EVOO is made from pure olives that have been cold-pressed, whereas normal olive oil is blended with processed oils. The EVOO is made the ‘old fashioned way’ – by grinding the olives under the oil is extracted naturally. The creator of regular olive oil, meanwhile, is a less time-consuming process as heat is used to extract the oils faster.
Spotting the difference between the two is quite easy, as EVOO will be greener and have a much stronger taste and aroma. Regular olive oil, meanwhile, will be a lighter colour and the taste will be much more neutral. This is why EVOO is so popular when used as a condiment and regular olive oil is more commonly used for cooking. If the difference is harder to spot, meanwhile, you could use a refractometer from RS Components to analyse the purity of the oil.
Both oils offer health benefits, but EVOO is far richer in the antioxidants and bioactive compounds that contain the lion’s share of those benefits. So whichever you choose will depend very much on the situation. If you’re cooking up a stir fry or a steak, don’t waste the good stuff, but if you’re serving a platter of cold meats and crusty bread there is really no contest – extra virgin every time. Your heart and your taste buds will thank you!