Olive Oil Facts
• Olive growers watch the trees carefully for an even blend of ripe, maroon-colored olives and less-ripe green fruit to balance the flavor of the oil. If a great percentage of the olives harvested are green, the oil will have a much more intense taste, often described as peppery.
• Harvested olives must be shaded quickly to avoid sunburn and processed as soon as possible to avoid bruising and molding.
• Extra-virgin olive oil is a natural fruit juice that preserves the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit.
• It’s the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as is, pressed fresh from the fruit.
• Freshly pressed olive oil is cloudy due to the small particles of olives that are suspended in the oil. Many people love the taste of the extra-virgin nectar, with its assertive flavor and very spicy back-of-the-throat finish—often shocking to the uninitiated palate. Known as oliva nueva, the oil is stored in barrels or cans for about two months to allow the olive particles to settle to the bottom before the oil is bottled.
• Extra-virgin olive oil has an acidity level of less than 0.8 percent. Olives must be pressed within 24 hours of picking so that the acid level doesn’t increase, ideally at a temperature of no higher than 86 degrees (high-heat extraction methods produce more oil, but the subtle flavor characteristics of the olive are lost).
• Extra-virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats (fatty acids) and polyphenols, which are antioxidant substances. Studies have shown that olive oil protects the body from heart disease by controlling LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels, while raising HDL, or “good,” cholesterol levels. No other naturally produced oil has as much monounsaturated fatty acids as olive oil. Research also suggests that including extra-virgin olive oil in the diet may bolster the immune system and aid in preventing colon cancer.
A NO-WASTE CROP: The entire olive tree can be used to create products, beginning with the fruit, which is pressed for oil or brined for use as table olives and spreads such as tapenades. The pomace left after crushing the olives is used as compost and cattle feed. The oil is used in a variety of culinary applications and also for making skin-softening soaps. Leaves of the olive tree are used in making skin and beauty products, often in conjunction with the oil, while olive-leaf tea, which contains more antioxidants than green tea due to a high level of polyphenols, is becoming increasingly popular. Finally, olive wood is a hardwood with a particularly lovely grain that is used to produce long-lasting kitchen utensils and decorative home accessories.