Whether you eat a 100% raw diet, a 100% cooked diet, or something in between, olive oil can offer you a number of benefits, the first of which is flavor. Unlike the anemic-tasting lower-quality olive oils on the market, good-quality olive oil is heady, aromatic, and has a robust flavor. Extra virgin olive oil is the star here, as the flavor has not been processed out of it and it is still redolent with the scent and taste of the olives.
I remember my grandmother using olive oil liberally in her cooking. She bought imported Greek olive oil from the city market in large rectangular-shaped cans designed to keep it fresh, and it was so delicious that she used it on virtually everything. After tasting that olive oil, I felt most of the everyday brands seen on grocery store shelves left much to be desired. I would love to have her source for imported Greek olive oil, feta cheese, and Greek oregano, because I have never found any quite like them since. My favorite brand of olive oil from the grocery store is Colavita, and to get the most robust flavor, I get the extra virgin variety.
Good olive oil is actually delicious all by itself. You can drink it by the spoonful, or even—as one 120-year-old woman did, by the glassful. Many upscale restaurants offer small-size dishes of olive oil along with crusty bread that you can dip in it as an appetizer, which is especially yummy. As you can see in the video, Martha is so enamored of the bread dipped in olive oil that she actually forgets all about her caller. However, olive oil is wonderful drizzled on everything from salads to grilled vegetables and chicken, and it’s great to sauté foods in. I make a very simple Greek chicken that is broiled with a mixture of olive oil and fresh lemon juice on it and sprinkled with sea salt and Greek oregano. For raw dishes, olive oil is delicious on raw vegetables, and you can also use it in most smoothies that have a robust flavor of their own.
Many people don’t realize that olive oil is extremely beneficial to your health. As one of the few truly healthful fats, olive oil is monounsaturated, which is far better for you than polyunsaturated oils and most saturated fats. Although, like other fats, it is calorie-dense, it offers health benefits such as plentiful antioxidants in the form of polyphenols and a lowering of your heart attack risk, your bad cholesterol, and excess insulin, as well as being anti-inflammatory. Olive oil is the keynote of the Mediterranean diet, which much research has shown to be a diet that reduces the incidence of many diseases and promotes good health.
You might be wondering if it’s worth the extra money to get extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) rather than regular olive oil. To me it’s worth it, because I love the flavor of EVOO. The health benefits are also greater because EVOO has not had the antioxidants and other nutrients destroyed by too much processing. However, even regular olive oil is still very good for you. For the best flavor, I recommend imported extra virgin olive oil from Italy or Greece. There is a remarkable difference between that and the usual brands. Flavor is an individual thing, however. Whatever brand you like best is the brand you should buy. Although I use olive oil liberally, a 17-oz. bottle lasts me at least a month and usually two, because with the extra flavor less is needed.
The way you store your olive oil is important to safeguard its flavor and its health benefits. Olive oil is best stored in containers that do not allow in any light or air, and it must be kept cool. If you have a cool area in your pantry, that’s a perfect spot to keep it. If not, you might want to store it in the refrigerator, especially if you keep your house warm. I like cool temperatures in the house, so I keep my olive oil on the countertop, but away from the light. I always make sure to replace the cap tightly to keep out excess air. The Colavita oil I like comes in a dark glass bottle, which helps keep out light, but it’s not a bad idea to throw a towel over the bottle to keep out more light. Olive oil keeps well in the can, but unfortunately a lot of cans are enormous, and over time the oil loses its flavor before you can use it up. I buy the 17-oz. bottle, which is not the largest size, and I never have a problem with the oil becoming rancid.
If you have access to Greek or Italian specialty stores that import their olive oil fresh from the Mediterranean and maintain good turnover in their inventory, you might want to try one of their authentic oils sometime. Some city markets have Greek or Italian vendors that bring in fresh products every week, and they would be your best bet. Wherever you buy it and whatever type you buy, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by adding olive oil to your diet. Your health and your skin will thank you.