Some dishes don’t taste complete without a drizzle of olive oil.
It is more than just a salad dressing and can be used in cooking, baking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and many more.
Olive oil is very popular in Mediterranean countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and is used generously in the Mediterranean diet.
As widely used as olive is these days, not many people aware of how it is made.
That being said, knowing how a certain ingredient is made makes you appreciate your food even more.
The Olive Tree
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that olive oil is made from the olive fruit which comes from the olive tree.
The olive tree has been around for thousand of years and hundreds of olive varieties exist. However, when it comes to making olive oil, only several dozen types of olives are used.
Here are some interesting facts about olive trees.
The olive tree can outlive many species of plants. The average age of an olive tree is within 300-600 years old.
The oldest olive tree has been known to be more than 2000 years old. Talk about being ancient.
The bark of the olive tree is pretty special too as it is resistant to decay.
The olive branch is also globally recognized as a symbol of peace.
Harvesting The Olives
During ancient times, farmers harvest the olives by hitting the shaking the tree to dislodge the fruit. However, this wasn’t an ideal method as many of the olive fruit were bruised when it hit the ground.
Once bruised, the olive will start to oxidize and this will affect the quality of the oil produced.
These days, modern farmers will still shake the tree but they will set up nets below to catch the olives before it hits the ground.
Olive harvesting runs from September to January.
Cold Pressing Extraction
The harvested olives are then brought to the olive oil production mills or factories for oil extraction. The leaves and twigs are then removed before the olives are washed cleaned and ready to be pressed.
The olives are then poured into a large bowl-like structure where they are crushed by rotating granite wheels or stainless steel rollers to form a smooth paste.
This is a good way to process olives as the lack of heat allows the manufacturers to retain the best oil quality.
The grinding process goes on for about 40mins with water being slowly added to the taste.
Once this process is over, the paste will be pilled in circular layers on top of each other and compressed tightly with a hydraulic press to extract the oil and water.
Another method used for extraction is with a centrifuge. The paste is spun rapidly round and round. The centrifugal force will push the paste to the edges while the oil and water drips down into the centre funnel.
Filtering The Oil
The olive oil that has been collected from the cold-pressed technique still needs to be filtered before bottling it for sale.
The filtering process allows for any impurities or debris to be removed from the oil. Manufacturers will usually let the oil sit in large stainless steel tanks for a period of time.
This allows the oil to sink to the bottom which leaves the water and any impurities floating at the top. The filtered oil is then removed and sent to be bottled.
Benefits Of Olive Oil
Good grade olive oil not only tastes good but is also rich in many health benefits. Here are the main health benefits of olive oil.
Rich In Monosaturated Fats
Bring fat is unhealthy but fats can be classified as good and bad.
Bad fats or saturated fats is what you get when you consume fried food or ‘unhealthy’ good in general. Too much of saturated food in your diet can cause coronary ailments.
Good fats or monosaturated fats are considered a healthy fat and has many health benefits.
When it comes to antioxidants, olive oil has loads of it.
Antioxidants help to reduce internal inflammations in your body and help protect you from ailments like cancer.
Protect Against Heart Diseases
The Mediterranean diet uses a lot of olive oil. Studies have shown that people on such a diet are less prone to heart diseases.
Olive oil has been shown to reduce bad cholesterol and blood clotting.
Usage Of Olive Oil In Pets
Olive oil, although known to be good for human consumption, might not be the best thing to feed your dog or cat with. Animals might not take too well to oil which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. If you wish to get your dog or cat a good fatty acid, try fish oil supplement made for pets.
Some cat owners also use olive oil to treat hairball issues in cats. I would strongly discourage it as there are better natural hairball remedies for cats.
Different Grades Of Olive Oil
Just like wine and whiskey, there are many grades of olive oil in the industry that you might have seen in the supermarket but don’t really know much about.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil that you can buy. It has a distinctive olive aroma and has natural antioxidants.
There are certain guidelines and criteria that need to be adhered to before olive oil can be labeled as extra virgin olive oil.
If you are looking to get the freshest and most natural olive oil, get extra virgin olive oil. The grade of oil is made without any chemicals or artificial ingredients.
Many people would use extra virgin olive oil as a dip or salad dressing due to its robust aroma and taste.
Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil is pretty much made in the same way as extra virgin olive oil but it doesn’t meet the same standards.
It has a higher acidity level of 2% compared to 0.5% for extra virgin olive oil.
This oil is primarily used as a cooking oil.
Olive Pomace Oil
Pomace is the mixture that is left over after the first extraction of the oil. This mixture can be treated with heat and chemicals to further extract whatever oil is left.
Olive pomace oil is also widely used for cooking, massage oil and skincare.
Mild Or Light Olive Oil
This name can be rather misleading. It doesn’t mean that the oil is healthier or has fewer calories but it is due to the oil being less intense than extra virgin or virgin olive oil.
Not everyone likes the intense flavor of high-grade olive oil but prefer a mild or lighter taste.
Olive Oil Color
Olive oil can come in different colors. Olive oil made from unripe olives is usually lighter and more green in color.
Olive oil that is made from ripe olives are of a deeper yellow color.
Color alone does not determine the grade of olive oil but the rule of thumb is the darker the olive oil the more natural antioxidants it has.
How To Store Olive Oil
You should notice that olive oil manufacturers will store their oil in dark or tinted glass bottles. This helps preserve the oil as heat can turn the olive oil rancid.
It is best to keep your olive oil after from any heat source like sunlight and cooking stove. Store it somewhere cool and dark or even in the fridge.
Do note that olive oil solidifies at cold temperatures but does not degrade the quality of the oil.