Olive trees live to be hundreds of years old, even after they have been burnt or cut to the ground – they can spring back to life! Olive Oil is known as the “King of Oils” and has been used as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, who were among the first to use Olive Oil, regarding it as a precious gift and often entombed it alongside Pharoes, Tutankhamun was found with Olive branches crowning his head.
Olive oil is a “Monounsaturated” fat, this is the type of fat that can lower bad cholesterol and is extremely good for us, especially in the prevention of heart disease. Extra Virgin Olive Oil has the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat of any type of cooking and salad oil. It is also one of the best oils to cook with as it is highly stable at high temperatures, so ideal for the occasional fry-up!
Olive Oil is normally cold-pressed, which generally means that it is also un-refined (Just because it says “pure” on the label doesn’t mean it is un-refined), if in doubt look at the colour, the darker the oil – the more nutrients have been left behind, you also get what you pay for with Olive Oil, I always try and buy Extra Virgin or Virgin.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from the first “pressing” of the Olives and has the darkest, greenest colour – this also has the most pungent smell, you either love it or hate it! Some Extra Virgin Oils cost as much as fine Champagne!
The second “pressing” gives you Virgin Olive Oil, and is slightly cheaper but some experts still say it is just as good. Most of the very good Olive Oils now come from Spain, Greece, Italy and southern France, where the hot Mediterranean sun and rich soil is perfect for the Olive Tree (Olea Europa). The olives grown for pressing are soft and squishy, unlike the varieties grown for the table. Mediterranean countries seem to have a lower rate of cancer and heart disease and the reason for this could be their passion for Olive Oil – some even drink it by the glass as an aperitif!
One of the main reasons that Olive Oil is so healthy is its anti-inflammatory antioxidants and fatty acids that provide a crucial defence against the Free Radical damage that can affect us as we age. The main chemical constituent is Oleic Acid (a member of the Omega 9 family) which makes up around 75% of the oil, this helps Omega 3 to penetrate cell membranes and keeps them soft and supple – it is a very powerful membrane stabilizer. Olive Oil also has small amounts of Vitamin E (5mg per 100ml) which is also a very effective Free Radical Scavenger. Keep yourself healthy by regularly adding Extra Virgin Olive Oil to your diet, the bonus is youthful and supple skin.
Olive Oil is one of the longest lasting oils as it forms less of the degenerating peroxides that cause rancidity when exposed to heat or daylight, it is best stored in a cool, dark place.