At a recent event at Toronto’s Brassaii Restaurant, hosted by The Flavour Your Life Campaign, Robert Beauchemin, well known Montreal food writer, anthropologist, and olive oil expert, sorted through the fact and fiction about quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). At the same time, guests were treated to a variety of offerings, both savoury and sweet made with the oil.
The European Trade Commission is behind the campaign to help consumers both enjoy the culinary pleasures of EVOO while reaping its health benefits at the same time.
But getting the best EVOO isn’t always the easiest task. First there’s the question of getting the real thing as olive oil fraud is rampant. There have been reports of companies, sometimes large ones, mixing EVOO with cheaper seed oils.
There’s also the question of quality production. And as with any other food, the oil is only as good as the quality of the ingredients used to make the oil. For example, if the olives used have been harvested at the optimal time and pressed in a timely fashion, you will get an oil that is very different than one produced from olives that have dropped on the ground and have been left there for a number of days before they have been made into oil.
To combat both the fraud and poor production methods, Robert stressed that traceability was the key. The European Trade Commission is working hard to provide consumers with this information through the EVOO labels. High quality EVOO makers from certain areas in the olive oil producing countries in Europe are now putting seals on the bottles to designate products from those areas.
Basically these labels should provide you with key information – a guarantee of sorts. Where is the olive oil produced? Some varieties state which kinds of olives are used in the EVOO. Does the bottle have dates on the label – some may have both harvest dates and best before dates while others have only the best before dates.
While many food products are fine to consume after the best before date with no downside at all including nutritional value, EVOO doesn’t fit into that category. An older oil will lose its robust flavour and may become very bland with very little taste at all. The compounds known as polyphenols, which provide EVOO’s unique tastes and aroma, decrease as the oil ages. Further along in time, the oil will become bitter as rancidity sets in. Either way, the pleasures of EVOO are lost.
At the same time, the health benefits diminish. The higher the polyphenol content, the greater the health benefits. For example, research shows that the higher the polyphenol content, the more it can raise blood levels of the beneficial HDL-cholesterol and reduce readings of the artery-clogging LDL-cholesterol. In addition, the oil with the most phenolics also supplies the greatest antioxidant power. In terms of artery health, antioxidants protect against oxidized cholesterol which is more easily deposited in arteries.
EVOO, appears to provide an arsenal of weaponry against disease including a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it contains a pretty impressive 200 different micro-components which are linked to protection against disease.
To maintain the polyphenol level, keep the oil away from its enemies- light and heat. Purchase oils in dark bottles and keep them stored in a cupboard, away from the stove.
I have to agree with Robert about his opinion about EVOO’s effect on food. He states, “The better your olive oil, the better your cooking”. Try a splash of a flavourful oil on a simple tomato sauce – but after you have removed it from any heat – or atop a piece of grilled fish. It may be simple but it is sublime.
But you can cook with EVOO. It’s a myth that its smoke point is too low. It’s actually higher than the trendy virgin coconut oil.
While here in North America, traditionally EVOO has been used in savoury dishes, leading chefs are now employing the oil’s flavour in desserts. If you’re a chocolate lover, the magical combination of EVOO together with dark varieties will astonish you. I’ve had both chocolate ice creams made with EVOO as well as cakes.
If you’re heading to a friend’s for dinner, instead of a bottle of wine, bring a gift of a bottle of a good quality extra virgin olive oil. It will last so much longer. It’s the gift that keeps giving.
Do you cook with extra virgin olive oil or have you thought you should avoid doing so? Please share in the comment section below.