It is a commonly shared knowledge that consuming extra virgin olive oil is incredibly good for us and everyone should aim to incorporate it into their diets one way or another. Mediterranean countries, such as Spain, Italy or Greece have done this very well, as the majority of their meals are cooked, dressed or otherwise prepared using olive oil. So, what exactly does this green liquid gold contain that is so healthy for us? Here’s what you need to know.
How is extra virgin olive oil made?
Before we get into the many great properties of extra virgin olive oil, it is important to understand the production process. This is because the way an olive oil is made is what makes it extra virgin as opposed to the regular, less beneficial olive oil.
With Spain being the largest producer of this product, your store-bought olive oil, whether extra virgin or not, will most likely be made from Spanish olives. So how different can the two be? Well, what makes an oil extra virgin is how and when it was pressed after harvesting.
Extra virgin olive oil is always pressed within 24 to 72 hours of harvesting and crushed only using force. Regular olive oil, on the other hand, will include different heating or chemical processes in its production, which will provide a longer shelf life for the final product. This will ultimately strip some of the oil’s brilliant flavour as well as nutritional properties. Therefore, when produced extra virgin, olive oil is healthier and tastier.
What are the health benefits?
Besides its incredibly rich and versatile flavour, extra virgin olive oil has many great health benefits when incorporated into daily diet. It is known to be a great antioxidant, loaded with healthy fats and nutrients. Extra virgin olive oil has monounsaturated fatty acids, oleocanthal and oleuropein as well as lots of vitamins E and K. While olive oil gets criticised for its high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, the content of these polyunsaturated fats is still low enough to not worry the health experts.
The many nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties of extra virgin olive oil have been linked to potential prevention of many health diseases and conditions caused by inflammation. This includes different heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis, metabolic syndrome and even cancer. This comes down to the improved blood pressure and blood vessel health, reduced inflammation or chances of blood clotting. While consuming extra virgin olive oil cannot guarantee you better health, its many benefits are certainly worth incorporating into your regular diet.
Should I cook with extra virgin olive oil?
There is an ongoing myth that extra virgin olive oil should not be used for cooking – only for drizzling on salads. This is not true, however, and Mediterranean cuisines prove this very well. The common misconception is due to extra virgin olive oil having a lower smoking point than some of the other alternatives, such as sunflower or vegetable oil. It is also known that when certain oils are heated too much, they may oxidise and obtain harmful properties.
Extra virgin olive oil is highly stable and holds up very well against oxidation. The smoking point for it is around 190–207°C, which makes it a safe choice for most frying methods. While some people may choose to avoid deep frying with it, extra virgin olive oil is nonetheless believed to be one of the healthiest cooking oils.