1. You use it for special occasions
You may have bought a nice bottle of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil once and save it for special occasions and that bottle is sitting there for months even for a year waiting to be used. Drizzling it on some heirloom tomatoes you found at the farmers market or just to dip in some bread when you had company over. But the reality is that you are doing a disservice to the olive oil and yourself. Olive oil is best used when fresh for two reasons: it tastes good and it retains its nutrients when it is fresh. Let’s not forget that olives are fruit and as with every fruit you prefer their juice fresh. After 3-6 months from the harvest date olive oil is no longer fresh. So next time you find a nice olive oil, make sure you use it.
2. You never cook with it
So you use corn oil or canola oil or some other tasteless vegetable or seed oil to cook with. Over and over and over I read about how bad it is to fry with olive oil. I’m surprised this piece of misinformation still is in the media. So here is the truth: olive oil does not have an extremely low smoke point. As a matter of fact extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point than many refined olive oils, it also contains the polyphenols that reduce the rate of oxidation. Smoke point ranges at about 365 to 410 degrees Fahrenheit. So unless you are doing industrial deep frying you will not reach the smoke point on your home stovetop. Of course as with most foods, heating will cause some loss of the antioxidants. Also just for the record, all those Greek people in the 60’s who had no heart disease? Well guess what? They fried with olive oil all the time and cooked and baked with it. A Spanish study, based on information gathered from over 40000 Spaniards, showed that there was no association between eating fried food and coronary heart disease, but one of the details was that the food was fried in olive oil and was not reused, in other words they did not fry with the same oil over and over again.
3. You don’t eat too much of it
The average consumption of olive oil in the U.S. is 1 teaspoon a day. However, if you are looking to get the benefits of olive oil, that one teaspoon won’t cut it. Study after study that shows health benefits of olive oil point to the amount of 2-3 tablespoons a day whether that is heart disease, blood pressure, cancer or cognitive function. If you are following a Mediterranean diet that is vegetable centered and with little processed food, you will be within your calories even if you consume this amount of olive oil daily. And remember olive oil should be your main source of fat in your diet, if you are trying to follow a Mediterranean diet that means that the olive oil used in your salad and cooking will be the majority of fat you are getting in your diet.
4. You buy “Olive Oil”… but is it really olive oil?
Well kind of. Of course you buy olive oil. But labeling can be tricky. When you see on the label “Olive Oil”, in the U.S. that means that it is a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils. Refined olive oil is a low quality olive oil that is refined physically and chemically to remove undesirable qualities such a free fatty acids and unpleasant flavor and odor. This olive oil does not have the beneficial qualities of extra virgin olive oil (polyphenols) or the taste. So try and buy extra virgin olive oil.
5. You prefer mild tasting olive oil
Studies have shown that many people do not know what fresh olive oil tastes like and that in fact they are used to and prefer the taste of rancid olive oil. Olive oil should not taste “buttery”, many people think that a buttery taste and an oily feel is what olive oil is about. Absolutely not, it should have some bitterness to it and fresh olive should taste “green”, fresh, a bit peppery, it should not be tasteless or have an “old nuts” taste. Check this post for more specific information on what good olive oil should taste like.
Photo by Andreas Levers for flickr