The Greek olive oil is often considered the lifeline of the Greek cuisine. With its superior quality, fruity aroma and wonderful gutsy flavor, it finds its way into just about every type of Greek dish imaginable except syrups and spoon sweets!
The fondness the Greeks have always had for their olive oil can be traced back to ancient times. According to myth, the goddess Athena gave two gifts to the Ancient Greeks. She granted them wisdom, and because wisdom alone could not sustain life, she created the olive tree.
Archeological studies prove that the Greeks have been involved in the production of olive oil for more than 4,000 years. Pictures found in the ancient palace of Knossos in Crete tell us that olives were both cultivated and consumed and that olive oil was used for cooking as well as a fuel for lamps, very similar to those still in use today.
The health and therapeutic benefits of olive oil were first mentioned by Hippocrates, the father of Medicine. Modern medical studies have indeed shown that the consumption of olive oil of significant value where human health is concerned; in particular, heart and circulatory diseases and many diet related illness are included.
The art of pressing the precious oil from the fruit of the olive tree has been passed on from one generation to another and from family to family. This enthusiasm, respect and mutual devotion for the olive cultivation has made Greece today, one of the world’s largest producers of olive oil.
In recent years, a lot has been written about olive oil and its benefits. Those of you who were not brought up with olive oil as a major ingredient in your diets are most likely, still, somewhat confused about the various types, qualities and uses of olive oil. I certainly was and it took me some time to learn to love it and use it!
Greece produces three types of olive oil:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is extracted from the fruit of the olive tree by a pressing process that uses no chemicals and maintains temperatures under 90 F ( C) which preserves the fruity flavor, color and natural properties of the olive. Most of this pressed product has an acidity level of less than 1% qualifying it as an extra virgin olive oil.
Refined Olive Oil, also known as Pure Olive Oil, has an acidity level between 1% and 3%. It undergoes a refining process similar to that used in the production of vegetable oil and then it is blended with extra virgin olive oil.
Olive Oil Pomace is a blend of kernel oil(extracted from the pulp and pit solids of an olive) and 5% extra virgin olive oil to enhance the flavor and aroma. Some countries blend this oil with other vegetable oils to reduce its cost for market competition, but Greek olive oil regulations require that the Greek olive oil pomace be 100% olive oil.
In short, the quality of olive oil is measured by its acidity level. The less acidity it has the higher quality.
When you buy olive oil think of how you want to use it. Do you want to use it instead of butter, in your salads, in your cooking or even for your frying? I personally have different types of oils and olive oils in my home to use according to my needs. I have to admit though; I use extra virgin olive oil more than any other oil because I truly love its quality and taste!
Once you have bought some olive oil, make sure you store it correctly. It is always best to keep it away from direct light in a cool, dry cupboard. Do not refrigerate as refrigeration will change the oils consistency and make it cloudy and thick.
In any case, selecting a good bottle of olive oil is very much like selecting a good bottle of wine. It is a task mostly relegated to our senses!