Extra Virgin Olive Oil: A Healthy Kitchen Staple

 Extra virgin olive oil is the term for unrefined olive oil with less than 1 percent oleic acid. There are many theories on the origin of olive oil, but the olive tree originated in the Middle East and spread from there to Greece. 

The oldest storage containers for olive oil date back to 3500 BCE. It is believed that olives were first domesticated roughly 6,000 years ago, probably because of the oil’s usefulness. Early on, many found the fruit too bitter when consumed raw; however, the oil was useful as fuel for lamps. Only later on did its culinary value become apparent. 

For olive oil to have the words extra virgin on the label, it has to meet specific standards. Extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed, which means that it is extracted without the application of heat. The pressing must also be performed within 48 hours of harvest. Ideally, it should take place within 24 hours of harvest. 

The process of extracting olive oil could be considered similar to juicing a fruit. In fact, olives are classified as fruits. The primary method used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans is still used in some places today. It involves using millstones to apply pressure to ground olives so that the oil separates from the paste. Modern extraction methods use a centrifuge to separate the pulp from its oil. 

Today, most of the world’s extra virgin olive oil comes from Spain, with Italy and Greece in second and third places, respectively. 

Extra virgin olive oil flavor profile

Extra virgin olive oil has more of the olive taste than other olive oil varieties. Depending on the type of olive used, the extra virgin oil can have a herbaceous flavor with notes of fruit and pepper. 

Health benefits of extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil contains more nutrients from the olive fruit than other olive oil types. Those nutrients include:

  • Vitamins: You can get a significant amount of your daily vitamin E and vitamin K from a serving of extra virgin olive oil. 
  • Monounsaturated fats: Extra virgin olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fat, including oleic acid. 
  • Polyphenols: Extra virgin olive oil is rich in beneficial polyphenols like quercetin, ferulic acid, and carotenoids. 

Use extra virgin olive oil to treat or prevent:

  • Heart disease: The antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil have been shown to lower heart disease risk. Extra virgin olive oil can improve levels of high-density lipoprotein, which is the good kind of cholesterol. 
  • Inflammation: You can get anti-inflammatory agents from extra virgin olive oil, including oleocanthal. The anti-inflammatory benefits may help with illnesses ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer’s. 
  • High blood pressure: Extra virgin olive oil is beneficial for lowering blood pressure. 

Health concerns

The smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is lower than that of many other cooking oils, including regular olive oil and extra light olive oil. A low smoke point means that it will start smoking at a lower temperature. That point is when many of the healthy compounds in the oil begin turning into toxins. 

You should also remember that even a healthy fat like extra virgin olive oil is still fat. Use it in moderation. 

Common uses

Because of the low smoke point, it is recommended that you reserve extra virgin olive oil — especially the expensive variety — for uncooked preparations. You can fry with it, but it is not ideal.