04/17/2010

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Olive Oil: Tasty and Healthy Olive oil, long a staple ofMediterranean and European diets, earned new respect and appreciation in the U.S. after the FDA allowed manufacturers to label olive oils with text that asserts that incorporating olive oil in our menus, especially as a substitute for other oils and fats, can assist in reducing the risk of heart disease by reducing the amount of LDL or "bad" cholesterol in our blood. According to the FDA, a mere 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil a day will help reduce our risk of heart disease. Plus, it's pretty easy to substitute olive oil, with its healthier monounsaturated fats, for other products. Olives too warrant inclusion in our menu planning. Olive oil, made by pressing olives to express the oily juice, is available in a number of different grades from a variety of olive species, growers and countries. The grades reflect the amount of processing performed on the olive oil, and the amount of oleic acid in the oil. Oleic acid is a natural component of olives, and partially responsible for the taste of the oil. Extra- Virgin and Virgin olive oil contain more of the polyphenols that help make olive oil anti-oxidant (and and heart-healthy), and are generally better for us in terms of health and nutrition. These are the basic grades of olive oil: Extra-virgin: Oil from the very first pressing, unrefined beyond straining or filtering. It can't contain more than 0.8% of oleic acid. Virgin: Also from the first pressing, but virgin olive oil is slightly higher in natural acidity than Extra Virgin, fewer phytonutrients, and a slightly more robust flavor. The acidity is caused by more oleic acid. Virgin olive oil can contain up to 2% oleic acid. Pure: In very broad terms, this is generally a more affordable and lower-quality oil produced from subsequent pressings of the olives. Olive oil is often used as an ingredient in other foods, as well as in health and beauty products, including cosmetics, so there are additional fine-gradations, as well as a crude form used as lamp-oil (and marked as lamp-oil on the label). Olive oil labeling is sometimes deceptive; oil can be bottled in a country other than the one that produced the olives. "Refined" usually means that the olive oil was subjected to additional post-pressing processing, often with chemicals, in an effort to control the taste of the olive oil. Aside from the numerous health benefits in incorporating olive oil in our diets, the pervasive association of olives and olive oil in so very many cuisines for thousands of years should make even the olive-sceptic take a second look at the delicious, nutritious, and astonishingly versatile olive oil. Though it requires careful watching to avoid over-heating, you can even use olive oil for frying. You can also use quality olive oil as a substitute for butter or margarine, whether it's dipping bread into a little oil, or using olive oil to baste, oil or marinate foods as part of cooking. [Originally written for: http://healthfoodtalk.com/article/olive-oil]