Heart healthy fat: How to buy and use extra virgin olive oil

Anyone who has been awake for even two seconds in the last, oh, say almost forever, knows that it is far, far healthier to use vegetable fats in your dishes than animal fats. Especially if you are battling the evil cholesterol.

(Fats, of course, being best when enjoyed, as with everything, in moderation.)

And the one fat everyone seems to be telling you to use the most is extra virgin olive oil. Which is great. But no one seems to be telling us how to chose the best extra virgin olive oil for the task.

Which is where I come in.

Olive oil 101
I'm no expert, so only consider this an introductory class. Then you can run (amuck, one would hope) among the bottles in your grocery store, your farmer's market, nay, even your nearest olive oil producer, if you should be so lucky, and taste, taste, taste. Which is, let's face it, the only real way to learn about olive oils.

At any rate, that's what I did. And, for my taste testing, I turned to the oldest olive oil producer in California: Nick Sciabica & Sons on the assumption that, by now, they have learned a thing or two about oils.

First off, let's clarify what the heck extra virgin olive oil is, anyway
Extra virgin olive oil is a grade of oil. It is cold pressed, unrefined, and mechanically extracted. It is the type of oil you probably want in your kitchen.

A season for everything
Now, you can buy olive oil by grade, such as extra virgin, but you can also buy olive oil by season (well, perhaps not the olive oils found at Safeway, for example, but you may have better luck finding good extra virgin olive oils at your specialty grocer). So let's take a minute and sort this out, too.

Fall oils (oils pressed with olives picked in the fall), which use the small, green olives, tend to have a full flavor. This makes them ideal for salads and bread dipping. Although the olives used in winter oils are bigger and blacker than the olives used in the fall, the flavor (and color) tends to be lighter. Considered “lightly fruity,” winter oils are ideal for sautéeing.

Spring oils use olives which are very ripe and completely black. Interestingly, these oils are the most delicate with a “buttery sweet” taste.

Unflavored olive oils
Oils come in two types: Flavored and unflavored. Flavored oils have an addition to the oil. Such as garlic. Or rosemary. Unflavored oils do not.

As we saw by looking at the seasons, oils can vary quite drastically in taste. So here are three unflavored oils from Sciabicato get you started:
  • Mission Limited: Made from spring olives, this is a wonderfully light, delicately fruity oil, idea for drizzling (apparently, the elder of the Sciabica pours this on his morning toast in place of butter).
  • Sevillano Fall: More intense than the Mission Limited, this is the oil you go for if you want a smooth, flavorful oil to drizzle on your salads and bread.
  • Manzanillo Fall: Even more intensely flavored than the Sevillano Fall, this intensely fruity, almost peppery oil, is especially wonderful for cooking.

Flavored olive oils

Flavored oils are a wonderful surprise when used for dipping and a flavor enhancer when used in cooking and baking. Here are three we quite like:
  • The Sciabica Lemon extra virgin olive oil, which is made by crushing fresh lemons with fresh olive right in the press, is incredible drizzled on sautéed asparagus.
  • The Garlic olive oil, which has a light (not overpowering) garlic taste, is especially good tossed with pasta (add some olives and some minced parsley and some Parmegian Reggiano and you've got a meal).
  • The Orange olive oil is amazing in olive oil cakes (click here for the recipe for a lemon olive oil cake - I use the flavored olive oil and an orange instead of a lemon).
Is there anything you can't do with olive oil?
Rumor has it, olive oil is also a great moisturizer, good to rub into your cuticles and on your face.

I don't know if it is good for your skin, but I do think it would make you popular with the kitties.

Get yer red, hot freebies!

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