Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly does “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” mean?
“Extra Virgin” and “Virgin” are the only types of olive oil produced by the simple mechanical crushing of the olives. Once the olives are crushed, the oil is blended with the vegetative water which is naturally present inside the olive. The water is then separated from the oil either by gravity or, in modern mills, by using the decanter centrifugation method in which the water and oil are separated according to their different densities. No chemicals or additives are used for making Extra Virgin Olive Oil- it’s basically olive juice!
What’s the difference between Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Virgin Olive Oil and Olive Oil?
The main differences are the acidity levels and the production methods.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 0.8% (0.8g per 100g)
Virgin Olive Oil - 0.8 – 2%
The lower is the acidity, the higher is the amount of antioxidants. When you taste a young Extra virgin, do not mistake the stinging or itching sensations in the back of your throat with acidity. Those in fact are positive attributes resulting when healthy olives which are collected at the right time. Acidity cannot be detected in the mouth but only through lab tests.
Other types of olive oil present in the market:
Olive Oil, also called Refined Olive Oil is rectified and chemically cleaned.
“Pure” Olive Oil is a blend of Virgin Olive Oil and Refined Olive Oil.
Refined olive oils have often low acidity but they also have zero nutritional value and may contain traces of the chemicals used during the refining process. They are lower quality and inferior - I do not recommend them both from a health or flavour perspective.
What does “IGP TOSCANO” mean?
It stands for Indicazione Geografica Protetta, a government certification (like the DOCG in wine) which guarantees that all production phases (from olives'‘ provenience to milling and bottling), have taken place within the production area coinciding with the territory of the region of Tuscany. After being certified IGP Toscano, each bottle receives a numbered neckband which traces back to the producer. If you want to double check it yourself, go to this website and punch in the number on your bottle’s neckband: http://www.oliotoscanoigp.it/ita/tracciabilita.html
Why is Extra Virgin Olive Oil more expensive than other oils? And why is Tuscan olive oil particularly expensive?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil in general is more expensive than any other olive oil because of the way it is produced. Only Extra Virgin comes from the first mechanical pressing of the olives. When cold pressed, temperature is kept under 27°C and contact of the olive paste with oxygen is avoided by using nitrogen: the aim is to minimize oxidation, preserve antioxidant levels and to conserve all its vitamins, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients. In Tuscany, which is considered a cool climate for olive oil production and where the terrain is mostly hilly, costs are usually higher than in warmer areas: olive trees can be planted only between 200-650mt (below which there is a high risk of frosts, above which winter temperature can be prohibitive). We collect the olives before they fully ripen, sacrificing the quantity of oil produced for a better quality: unripe olives in fact retain a higher level of antioxidants and reduced acidity, for the benefit of our health and the longevity of the olive oil. The characteristic fruitiness and pepperiness of Tuscan Extra Virgin olive oil is also a result of early harvesting.
What is “Light” Olive Oil? The word
The word “light‟ refers to mildness of flavour and taste - it does not connote low in calories.
Cooking with Olive Oil
Is it OK to cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Yes. First of all, consider this: in Italy, we don’t produce or buy any type of oil rather than Extra Virgin and we use it for all our cooking needs. Unless you cook with very high heat (temperatures beyond what most residential stoves can put out), you can use Extra Virgin for almost any recipe. Its smoke point is around 190-200°C. If you’re not too concerned about the cost, go ahead and use extra virgin for everything. Try frying an egg using Extra virgin, then do the same using any other cheaper oil…and taste the difference!
Do trans fats form in Olive Oil when it’s heated?
No. Trans fats form when any edible oil is subjected to an industrial process called hydrogenation, which turns liquid oil into an edible fat that is solid at room temperature - for example, margarine.
Can I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as a substitute in recipes that call for butter?
Yes. Many recipes, including those for baked goods, can be prepared using olive oil instead of butter. Keep in mind that Extra Virgin, especially the fruity ones, will impart its characteristic flavour to your dish (as does butter). Following below is the conversion table according to the International Olive Oil Council. Check the Gaia’s recipes page on my blog for inspiration.
BUTTER TO OLIVE OIL MEASUREMENT CONVERSIONS
1 teaspoon -- 3/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon -- 2-1/4 teaspoons
2 tablespoons -- 1-1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup -- 3 tablespoons
1/2 cup -- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup -- 1/2 cup
3/4 cup -- 1/2 + 1 tablespoons
1 cup -- 3/4 cup
2 cups -- 1-1/2 cup
Storing Olive Oil
How long does Extra Virgin Olive Oil last?What’s the best way to store Extra Virgin Olive Oil? Should I keep it in the fridge once it’s opened?
Sealed stainless steel containers or dark glass bottles are the best choice. Keep it away from heat and direct light - not on a window sill or on top of the fridge!!! Avoid transparent bottles or plastic bottles. Once the container is open, consume the Olive Oil within 2 months or transfer it in a smaller container to minimize air contact.
My bottle of olive oil has sediment at the bottom - is it still good?
All olive oils straight out of the mill are cloudy and they will remain cloudy for the first month or two because of the small particles of olive that remain after processing. With time, these particles will naturally settle at the bottom of the container. They don’t add any health benefit or flavour, instead they will shorten its shelf life and, in time, cause unpleasant characteristics. Usually Extra virgin is filtered simply by using gravity: some producers allow the sediments to settle at the bottom of the tank and collect only the clear oil at the top, others filter the oil through cotton wool which will hold the particles.
Another type of sediment is the “white cloud” that is a result of low storage temperature: below 16°C the olive oil solidifies. The deposit will disappear once the olive oil is brought to a warmer temperature.
Why is genuine olive oil so healthy?
Most Extra Virgin Olive Oils naturally contain high levels of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants such as polyphenols and tocopherols. Oils high in monounsaturated fats are more resistant to oxidation and as such have longer shelf lives. Oleic acid is the major monounsaturated fat in olive oil and Extra Virgin contains between 65% and 85% of oleic acid. Here are some of the beneficial properties of Extra Virgin which have been confirmed by several medical studies:
- Anti-inflammatory – oleocanthal (a natural organic compound in Extra Virgin) inhibits inflammation as ibuprofen or other similar drugs
- Reduces coronary heart disease risk
- Reduces LDL cholesterol level
- Helps prevent the onset of diabetes
- Helps against memory loss, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease
- Increases bone mass and calcium absorption
- Lowers incidence of gallstones
For more further reading on this subject, visit: http://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-health-news
Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil more digestible than other vegetable oils?
Yes. Extra Virgin is more digestible than other oils because of its high concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids. It’s the only 100% digestible oil compared with sunflower oil (85%), peanut oil (81%) or corn oil (36%).
Is it good to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil during pregnancy? Is it healthy for small children?
Yes. It has been demonstrated that the post-natal development of babies who’s mothers consumed Extra Virgin when pregnant is fred better in terms of height, weight, behaviour and psycho-motor reflexes. The fetus needs vitamin E to grow and the newborn baby needs vitamin E to fight against the oxidative stress caused by entering an oxygen rich atmosphere. Although not very abundant in olive oil- with Extra Virgin containing more vitamin E than olive oils- vitamin E is present in sufficient quantity thanks to the resistance of olive oil to oxidation. In Italy few drops of Extra Virgin are added to the very first solid meal and there is no turning back after that!