Olive oil is one of the most common vegetable oils in the market. Made by pressing small oblong fruits known as olives, it remains a widely-used culinary oil in the Mediterranean.
While it is highly popular for its unique, fruity flavour, it is also regarded as one of the healthiest oils in the market. With its beneficial effects on the heart to its beautifying wonders on the skin, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use olive oil for cooking.
A Brief History of the Olive Oil
Olives, borne of the Olea europaea tree, has been cultivated since 8000 BC. It was not until 6000 BC when the ancient humans began making olive oil. Evidence of this, however, can only be traced back to about 1500 BC.
While olive oil was largely used by the ancients for culinary purposes, it was also used to make medicines and soaps. It was even used to fire up oil lamps.
Historically speaking, the Greeks and Spartans used to exercise with olive oil rubbed on their bodies. The great philosopher Aristotle, on the other hand, recommended this – together with cedar oil, lead ointment, or frankincense ointment – to be applied on the cervix for birth control.
Olive oil has some religious significance too, at least to 2 major religions. In the early days, the Jews only used the consecrated first drop of a squeezed olive to fuel the Mishkan menorah. Catholics (Roman and Orthodox) and Anglicans, on the other hand, used olive oil for the Catechumen and the anointing of the sick.
How is Olive Oil Produced?
In the early days, the ancient Greeks made olive oil by squeezing them in between mats. Seeing that this was not very efficient, the Romans developed the trapetum and presses in the 5th century AD to boost production. Many Eastern Mediterranean oil makers continue to use these devices up until today, despite the creation of the hydraulic press in 1795.
In these modern times, the first step of making extra virgin olive oil is by grinding them into a paste. The oil is then obtained through any of the 2 methods:
In this traditional method, the ground olive paste is placed on fibre disks, which are stacked onto one another. They are pressed to isolate the paste from the oil. As the latter contains some amount of water, the oil and water are separated through centrifugation. This process takes about 30 to 40 days.
2. Steel drum
This modern method produces olive oil rather quickly (20 minutes tops). First, the ground paste is mixed through malaxation. This process turns minute olive oil particles into bigger units, which help hasten the process of mechanical extraction. Like the millstone process, the oil is separated via centrifugation.
Types of Olive Oil
The above-mentioned methods of mechanical extraction produce virgin olive oil. While it does have a good taste, this mid-grade variant comes with sensory defects. As such, it pales in comparison to the high-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). This variant only accounts for 10% of the worldwide olive oil production.
EVOO is obtained through a process known as cold mechanical extraction, which does not use solvents or other refining methods. This helps the EVOO achieve a low free acidity <0.8%, compared to virgin olive oil’s <2%. EVOO also has little to no organoleptic defect, and as such is known for its fruity, superior taste.
To make good EVOO, the fruit should be sourced from an area with favourable weather. This explains why most of these are produced in the temperate Mediterranean countries of Greece, Italy, and Spain.
Apart from the virgin and extra virgin grades, another marketed type is the ‘refined olive oil’. Branded as plain/pure olive oil, it is produced by refining virgin olive oil with chemical and physical filters. To improve taste, this product is infused with a small amount of virgin olive oil.
Olive pomace oil, which is not an exact type of olive oil, is manufactured with a hint of the virgin variant. It has a high smoke point, which makes it useful for many olive oil cooking recipes.
Some manufacturers also filter olive oil. This helps remove particulates that can shorten the product’s shelf-life (the average is 12 months). At the same time, this process can help turn the oil into a more stable and attractive variant.
While filtered olive oil has some good traits, some believe that the process adversely affects its quality. For these individuals – and for those who dislike food processing – the best choice is fresh unfiltered olive oil. Also known as cloudy olive oil, it has a distinctive slightly cloudy appearance. However, it has a short life, and as such should be used to make olive oil cooking recipes right away.
Is Olive Oil Healthy?
Yes, very much so! For every one tablespoon (13.5 ml of olive oil), you get the following nutrients:
- 119 calories
- 13.5 grams of fat (21% of the daily value)
- 2 grams of saturated fat (9% DV)
- 9.8 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids
- 1.42 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids
- 1.9 milligrams of Vitamin E (10% DV)
- 8.1 micrograms of Vitamin K (10% DV)
- 0.27 milligrams of Sodium
- 0.135 milligrams of Potassium
- 0.135 milligrams of Calcium
- 0.076 milligrams of Iron
- 0.041 milligrams of Choline
Health Benefits of Olive Oil
As this product comes with many nutrients, it comes as no surprise that there are many olive oil benefits for health:
1. Olive Oil May Help Protect the Heart
Virgin olive oil has a high polyphenol content of about 1000 mg/kg. This type of antioxidant works by inhibiting oxidation, a process that produces free radicals. These compounds, which can also be acquired through exposure to toxins, UV light, or pollution, can damage the cells in the body. In the long run, these damages could lead to heart disease, cancer, cataract, among many other inflammatory diseases.
Fortunately, olive oil contains phenols that are useful against coronary heart disease. These include:
Olive oil is also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are known to help lower lipid levels. It can also help reduce blood pressure, which is another contributor to the development of heart disease. According to a study, daily consumption of 10 to 50 ml of olive oil can help reduce diastolic blood pressure by 0.73 mmHg.
2. The Antioxidants in Olive Oil May Help Reduce Diabetes Risk
As mentioned, extra virgin olive oil is rich in phenolic compounds such as Hydroxytyrosol and Oleuropein. Apart from fighting free radical damage, these antioxidants may help reduce diabetes risk as well.
Such evidence was seen in research done on mice with diabetes. More than just having increased blood sugar, these rats manifested high cholesterol levels as well. In response to this, they were supplemented with hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein extracts, which are abundantly found in olive oil. After 4 weeks of supplementation, the diabetic mice demonstrated significant decreases in blood sugar measurements. Not surprisingly, they showed lower cholesterol levels as well.
Such olive oil benefits for health are attributed to the antioxidants’ ability to minimize oxidative stress, which brings about diabetic complications in the long run.
3. Olive Oil Consumption May Help Minimize Cancer Risk and Progression
Apart from being very delicious, olive oil recipes may just be your ticket to reducing cancer risk. After all, a study has shown that it may be able to prevent malignancies from developing or progressing. Such benefits can be traced back to its phenols, which include Hydroxytyrosol, Tyrosol, Oleocanthal, and Ligstroside Aglycon.
For one, Oleuropein may help prevent angiogenesis or the process of creating new blood vessels. The newly-created vessels contribute to cancer progression by providing oxygen and nutrients to the tumour. With Oleuropein’s anti-angiogenesis effects, it is deemed to be beneficial against breast, skin, urinary bladder, prostate, colorectal, lung, and brain cancers.
Apart from Oleuropein, Hydroxyterol phenols are just as useful. According to the same study, they help reduce risk by minimizing colon cancer cell proliferation.
Apart from the above-mentioned effects, the other polyphenols also inhibit cancer cell growth. At the same time, they can induce the death of certain cancer cells as well.
More than just reducing cancer risk and progression, olive oil may also offer protection against cancer-causing (carcinogenic) food agents. For one, it is rich in oleic acid, which is less likely to oxidise compared to that of seed oils (sunflower, sesame, or canola). Its polyphenols are also resistant to oxidation, which eliminates the formation of cancer-causing agents due to food storage.
With these effects, researchers are all for using olive extracts in conjunction with established cancer treatments.
4. Olive Oil Intake May be Beneficial Against Inflammatory Diseases
As mentioned, olive oil is brimming with antioxidants. Apart from their heart and cancer-protective effects, they have anti-inflammatory effects as well. With that being said, EVOO may help reduce the symptoms of inflammatory diseases.
For one, EVOO’s polyphenols help prevent the upregulation of enzymes that trigger inflammatory bowel disease. In another study, EVOO supplementation prevented the development of rheumatoid arthritis, reducing joint oedema and cartilage destruction along the way.
A diet rich in olive oil may also help minimize the symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that attacks various parts of the body. In a mice study, EVOO was able to limit the disease’s damaging effects on the kidneys.
EVOO may also help provide comfort in patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that can lead to loss of brain and spinal cord motor function. Compared to those in the palm oil group, the EVOO group demonstrated better muscle performance and survival rates. The progression of the disease was markedly delayed as well.
5. Olive Oil Consumption May Help With Weight Management
If you have a hard time losing weight, then you may need to consider swapping your usual fatty oils with olive oil. After all, a study has shown that those who use olive oil were less likely to suffer from obesity. The key to this, however, is to maintain consumption within the acceptable levels, which is 4 to 46 ml a day in this research. After all, increased intake can lead to some weight gain. Remember, olive oil is still high in fats.
6. Olive Oil Application May Help Promote Hair Growth
Apart from oral consumption, topical application leads to many olive oil benefits on the hair. According to one study, the application of Oleuropein-rich olive extract promoted hair growth in mice. Compared to those treated with minoxidil – the gold standard for hair loss treatment – those with Oleuropein had longer hairs. They also had more and bigger hair follicles, which are indicative of hair growth in both mice and humans.
7. Olive Oil is Good for the Skin
According to the British Association of Dermatologists, approximately 54% of the population is afflicted with some form of skin disease. While there are many medications available, they usually come with unpleasant side effects, such as irritation, stinging, redness, or peeling.
With that being said, more and more people are looking for affordable natural remedies. With olive oil’s benefits for the skin, it has become a popular choice amongst many users. According to a study, topical application of olive oil can lead to reduced skin inflammation and better wound healing. Because of these, some people undergo a massage with olive oil for its benefits!
Apart from alleviating inflammation, olive oil may also help delay skin ageing due to its strong antioxidant effects. As a bonus, it may help improve skin moisture as well.
With the many olive oil benefits for your face, it comes as no surprise that it reduces melanoma risk as well.
How Much Olive Oil Per Day is Healthy?
According to a report, it’s good to take 15 ml of extra virgin olive oil the first thing in the morning. For one, it can help you with detoxification, weight management, and skin health maintenance. These benefits of drinking olive oil in the morning don’t stop here though. For one, it may help reduce your colon cancer risk as well. This is particularly useful, as Cancer Research UK lists this as the fourth most common malignancy in the UK.
If you find it unpalatable to take 15 ml of extra virgin olive oil in the morning, you can add a dash of lemon juice into the mix. This will make it better tasting – and better for digestion too!
A Guide to Buying Olive Oil
As mentioned, not all olive oils are made equal. If you want to get the most out of olive oil’s benefits, then you need to keep these tips in mind:
- Opt for olive oils that are stored in dark, opaque containers. Do pick one that’s located at the back of the shelf. Remember, exposure to light can degrade the oil’s quality.
- Check the bottle to see the product’s harvest, sell-by, or best by date. It’s best to use a product within 18 months of pressing. With that being said, make sure to choose that has been manufactured recently.
- Go for small containers as you can use them up faster. Remember, olive oil is only good for about 8 to 12 weeks after opening. Large containers, while cost-effective, have more oxygen that can affect the oil’s flavour.
- Buy organic extra virgin olive oil from a local organic food store or online health food store.
- If you have a chance to test it, have a taste of the olive oil before committing. Do this by swishing the oil around your mouth. You know you have top-quality oil when you feel a peppery feel on your throat.
How to Store Olive Oil Properly
While you may be prudent when buying olive oil, this is all for naught if you don’t know how to store olive oil properly. Make the most out of your purchase by following these storage tips:
- Don’t use transparent decanters. Should you need to do so, transfer only a small amount that you will use for the week.
- Wrap the bottle with paper or a piece of cloth, especially if your olive oil is packaged in a clear bottle.
- Keep your olive oil in a cool, dark cabinet or pantry. Avoid placing it near the stove as heat can destroy the oil’s integrity.
- Refrigerate the olive oil if you don’t use it as much. Again, make sure that it is in an opaque or covered bottle.
- You can check the ‘quality’ of your olive oil by pouring a small amount into a glass. Swish it like a connoisseur – it should have an herbal, fruity, grassy, or spicy aroma. If it smells like crayons, it has become rancid. Best to throw it away.
How to Use Olive Oil in Your Diet
As mentioned, olive oils differ according to extraction, acidity, and defect. With that being said, these oils serve different gastronomic purposes.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
As this is minimally processed, extra virgin olive oil contains minerals that degrade when exposed to heat. This could lead to a rancid taste, which is a far cry from its usual grassy, fruity flavour. As such, EVOO is best used as a dressing for salad or cooked food – or a dip for bread.
2. Virgin Olive Oil
This mid-grade oil is perfect for scenarios where EVOO is not available – or if it’s just too expensive for the recipe. With its high smoke point of 401 degrees Fahrenheit, this is best used for sautéing and browning vegetables and meat. You can also toss this on vegetables before roasting them.
3. Refined Olive Oil
Another good option for cooking is refined olive oil. After all, it is free of the compounds that turn rancid with cooking. As such, it is suitable for searing and stir-frying.
Olive Oil Recipes
Olive oil is not only good for the heart, skin, and hair, it’s perfect for your tummy as well! That’s because you can get the best-tasting dishes by using extra virgin olive oil for cooking. If you want to stay healthy – without worrying about your weight – then you should try these yummy recipes:
1. Bread with Olive Oil Recipe
An olive oil bread recipe is one of the easiest things to do. All you need is half a cup of extra virgin olive oil. To taste, add fresh rosemary, oregano, flat-leaf parsley, garlic, ground black pepper, and Himalayan salt into the mix.
2. Olive Oil Recipe for Salad Dressing
Olive oil vinaigrette makes for a healthy and delicious way to enjoy your greens. For this, you need 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, Dijon mustard, Himalayan salt, and ground black pepper.
3. Spaghetti with Olive Oil
For a light yet hearty meal, drizzle your spaghetti noodles with olive oil. Don’t forget to throw in some garlic cloves, red chillies, and finely-chopped flat-leaf parsley. Add some Himalayan salt to taste.
4. Olive Oil Cake
Olive oil is not just for savoury recipes – it works for desserts too! For this, you need extra virgin olive oil, milk, Coconut sugar, all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. As for the glaze, you could try apple cider vinegar, coconut sugar, and sliced peaches.
Olive oil is extracted from pressing the Olea europaea fruit through traditional (millstone) or modern (steel drum) methods. These lead to the production of the virgin olive oil, or the higher-quality extra virgin olive oil.
To prevent the immediate spoilage of these variants, the oil may be refined. However, this is not always done. This gives rise to unfiltered olive oil, also known as cloudy olive oil.
The health benefits of olive oil are aplenty, many thanks to its high nutrient content. With regular consumption, olive oil may help reduce your risk of heart disease, inflammatory disease, diabetes, and cancer. It may also help improve hair and skin health, apart from promoting proper weight management.
The recommended daily intake is 15ml a day, which is best taken during the morning.
Olive oil can be easily destroyed by heat and oxygen, so you must store this product properly.