Olive oil is an integral part of traditional Mediterranean dishes, and it often takes the place of butter or vegetable oil in the cooking process. Choosing the right olive oil is integral in the proper preparation of Mediterranean cuisine.
Health Benefits of the Olive
Olives and olive oil have been used in Greece for thousands of years as cooking ingredients and cosmetic tools. Lightly smearing the oil beneath the eyes to prevent dark circles or bags is a folk remedy still popular today.
Olives are high in fat content, which has led to the belief that they should be avoided or limited in consumption. Olives are actually very healthy, as they contain monounsaturated fat, which is an essential nutrient in maintaining healthy body function.
Types of Olives
First, all olives start out green. When they aren’t yet ripened they are hard, bitter and inedible. Olives go through several stages of curing before consumption. They are soaked in oil or brine water, or dry packed in salt.
Green olives are less ripe and have a more pungent taste. Black olives are matured and can have a salty or sweet taste, depending on how they were cured. The Mediterranean region boasts dozens of different varieties of olives used in Mediterranean cuisine.
One of the most popular is the kalamata olive, also known as the Greek olive, which is a brownish-purple olive that is briny, slightly bitter and most often used in salads.
Choosing the Right Olive Oil
In the supermarket, you’ll see several varieties of olive oil, including virgin, extra-virgin, and refined olive oil. Different types of olive oils are used in different ways:
- Olive oil: Sometimes referred to as “pure olive oil,” this type comes from the second pressing of the olives. It’s used for general cooking and cosmetic purposes.
- Virgin olive oil: A higher grade than pure olive oil, this type is made from the first pressing of olives that are more mature than those used in extra virgin olive oil. Virgin olive oil is less expensive than the higher grades, and is often used in place of extra virgin olive oil.
- Extra virgin olive oil: This type of olive oil comes from the first pressing and is used in cooking that warrants a strong olive flavor.
- Refined olive oil: a highly acidic oil that is refined, the result is a tasteless version of olive oil.
The health benefits of olive oil make olives a staple of Mediterranean cuisine.
Experiment with other basic ingredients by serving Mediterranean dishes with yogurt, goat cheese or honey.