Statue Sophia Twigt

    No kitchen can do without olive oil. And the very best is called ‘virgin’, in French extra virgin, every cooking enthusiast knows that. The term ‘first cold pressing’, which used to stand for the best quality, no longer has any meaning. There is hardly any pressing with olive oil anymore. The olives are ground into a very fine pulp, stirred for a while, ‘melaxed’ and then centrifuged, all in refrigerated machines. All extra virgin oil is therefore cooled from the olives.

    Yet there are big differences in quality and character. The extra virgin from the supermarket, especially the cheap ones, is not a top product. For that you have to go to a specialty store where you can taste. You do this on a piece of bread or from a spoon (professionals use a special blue glass, so as not to be distracted by the color). Olive oil, like wine, is a natural product and varies from year to year; the one you liked last season may like less now and vice versa.

    Italian olive oil is highly regarded. However, there is little of it. So be sure to also look at oils from other countries: Spain (the largest producer in the world), Greece or Portugal, because that’s where excellent products come from. Count on solid prices: quality oil costs per liter between 15 (Spanish) and 25 euros (Italian).

    Characteristics

    Extra virgin has characteristics that differ per region where it comes from, and certainly also with the time of harvest. Olives picked early (October-November), green or slightly purple, yield the grassy, ​​green-scented oil for which Tuscany and other central Italian regions are known. Around the French Nyons, in the Italian Liguria and the Spanish Andalusia black olives are picked late (in January), which yield a milder tasting oil. The color of the oil itself says nothing about nature and quality.

    The very best olive oil is best served cold. That means on salad, but also at the table on vegetables, legumes, fish and meat, or in soup. The heat of the dish releases the smell. But what about baking?

    Refined and unrefined

    Edible oil can be divided into two categories: refined and unrefined oil. Unrefined is called virgin. The latest insights show that virgin oils are better for our health than refined ones. Peanut oil, sunflower oil, salad oil and ‘regular’ olive oil are all refined, virgin olive oil, walnut oil and sesame oil are not.

    Refined oil would be better for frying, because the ‘smoke point’ is higher: it burns less quickly. Yet many people in the olive oil countries bake in extra virgin. They even fry with it. That turns out to be possible, as long as you don’t take unfiltered oil (unfiltered may sound traditional, but there are particles in it that can burn) and don’t set the temperature too high: a maximum of 180 degrees. However, when frying, the fine smell of fresh oil is lost and some of its healthy components are lost.

    But if virgin is better than refined, why refine oil at all and not leave everything virgin? This is due to the industrial scale on which edible oil is made. Seeds containing fat are sensitive to oxidation. Because the time between harvest and processing is long in peanuts, sunflower and other oilseeds, the oil pressed from it tastes rancid. The industry removes that bad taste through an intensive process with chemicals and heat: refining. This does not happen with virgin oil. It is therefore important to process olives very quickly after harvesting – and you count in hours, not days. Virgin oil is more difficult to produce and therefore more expensive.

    light

    Oil, all oil (and actually all food) suffers when light is added. Dark bottles or cans are therefore fine, but a dark cabinet is just as good. The best packaging for olive oil is the bag-in-box, but this is often only available from 3 liters and many of the quality producers are not yet willing to use it. The best before date on a package is usually about a year and a half after the harvest; olive oil is best in the first year. During this time, the taste gradually softens. Older oil can get downright nasty and beware, unfiltered oil ages faster than filtered one.

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