Ayurvedik India

Types of Olive Oil: History, Facts, and More

Introduction of Olive Oil:

Olive Oil is always hyped but people really don’t know how it is healthy or what made olive oil what it is today. It is called “liquid gold” for a reason which is not known to many. It has been in households for a long period of time, especially in the Mediterranean region. The cool thing is that it is not only a culinary marvel but also a spiritual and religious exception. To understand olive oil in depth, it is necessary that we have an introduction about what exactly is olive oil, its history, its lesser-known interesting facts and types. 

History of Olive Oil

Olive Tree is a small tree majorly found in the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin. Scientifically known Olea Europaea has been native to these areas for over thousand years. These trees have a distinctive appearance with silver-gray leaves that are leathery and lance shaped. They have a very long lifespan, sometimes even leading to centuries. This Trees are commonly cultivated for their fruit, Olives. These are typically green when unripe and turn darker, often purplish-black, as they ripen. This fruit is famously used to produce oil known as Olive oil. The trees and fruits are not only for culinary purposes but also for cultural and symbolic reasons.

The beauty of the tree has been admired for over a millennium now. Early cultivation of olives traces back to approximately 3500 BCE on the island of Crete. It is believed that as early as around 3000 BCE, Semitic Peoples started cultivating olives.  In ancient Greece, during the time of Homer, olive oil gained its importance for anointing the body. While for Romans, in approximately 600 BCE it was a significant crop. Eventually, the cultivation of olives spread across all the countries which bordered the Mediterranean. Also, olive trees were started to be planted as ornamental additions in climates conducive to their growth. 

Olive oil Process

Lesser-Known Facts on Olive 

  1. Long Life: Olive trees have the remarkable ability to sustain for thousands of years. Scientifically In the Mediterranean region, numerous trees have been scientifically verified to thrive for up to 2,000 years.
  2. Fertile: The olive tree starts bearing fruit at approximately 5 years of age. Surprisingly, a tree in Croatia, radiocarbon-dated at 1,600 years old, continues to yield fruits abundantly to this day. 
  3. Unbreakable: The Olive tree can be seen as an immortal tree. The robust root system of the tree enables it to regrow, even when the above-ground structure is destroyed by frost, fire, or disease. A severe frost in Tuscany in 1985 destroyed lives of many farmers as they relied largely on the Olive trees which were destructed. But new ray of hope emerged as new shoots emerged in spring, making the destructed trees fruitful again. 
  4. Water- efficient: Olive trees, similar to that of eucalyptus, are drought-resistant. They can thrive without the need for regular watering.
  5. Kind: Olive trees, especially ones that are large in size, yield an average of about 400 pounds of olives annually. With larger and older the tree, more production of olives can be witnessed. There are approximately 865 million olive trees globally. 
  6. Vintage: Edible olives were cultivated at least 6000 years ago. Legend says it that olives which were discovered on the Mediterranean banks, fell directly to the salt water, and became a culinary delight. 
  7. Sacred: This oil is considered sacred and of great significance throughout history. The olive branch which is leafy symbolizes the abundance, glory, and peace, often ritually offered in ceremonies. It was bestowed to the powerful figurines and deities as a token of prayer and sanctification. Leaves were also used as a crown for the winners of wars and games. Even today, oli ve oil remains a key element in various religious rites. Over time, the olive tree still remains to symbolize glory, fertility, peace, power, wisdom and purity.
  8. Health: Olives are known as distant cousins of peaches and are exceptionally healthy fruits. They contain antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber, contributing to overall well-being.

Nutritional Value

The nutritional value of olive oil can vary slightly depending on the type and processing method, but generally, it contains the following components:

  1. Fat: Olive oil is predominantly composed of monounsaturated fat, which is considered heart-healthy. It also contains small amounts of saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. The specific distribution of fats can vary between extra virgin, virgin, and regular (refined) olive oils.
  2. Calories: Like all fats, olive oil is calorie-dense. One tablespoon of olive oil typically contains about 120 calories.
  3. Vitamin E: Olive oil is a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage.
  4. Phytonutrients: Extra virgin olive oil, in particular, is rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, which may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
  5. Polyphenols: These are natural compounds found in plants that have antioxidant properties. Extra virgin olive oil, which is less processed, tends to retain more polyphenols compared to refined olive oil.

It’s important to note that while olive oil is a healthy fat, moderation is key due to its calorie content. Incorporating it into a balanced diet can contribute to heart health and overall well-being.

Here’s a rough breakdown of the macronutrient composition for one tablespoon (about 13.5 grams) of olive oil:

  • Calories: 120
  • Total Fat: 14 grams
    • Saturated Fat: 2 grams
    • Monounsaturated Fat: 10 grams
    • Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.5 grams
  • Vitamin E: Approximately 2 mg (10% of the daily recommended intake)

Types of Olive Oil

The differences in the types of olive oil depends majorly on the process by which they are extracted and produced. There are mainly 6 types of Olive Oil:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO):

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest quality olive oil. It is the least processed type of olive oil made solely through mechanical means. This indicates that there was no to little use of heat and chemicals. The olives are cold-pressed to extract the oil, this preserves the natural flavours and aromas. EVOO has a fruity flavour with a peppery taste. While the aroma is often described as grassy.

You can also find polyphenols and antioxidants which are the distinctive characteristics of EVOO. It is best used for salad dressing, dipping with bread or as a finishing oil for dishes. It has a unique power in enhancing the flavor of raw or lightly cooked foods. Its low smoke point also makes it suitable for high-heat cooking.

Virgin Olive Oil:

Virgin Olive oil is similar to extra virgin oil, in that it is made from the pressing of olives without the use of heat or chemicals. However, it can have slightly higher acidity than EVOO. When it comes to taste and flavours, virgin olive oil is milder when compared to extra virgin olive oil. The fruity and herbal notes seem to be less intense. The aroma is also less pronounced. Virgin Olive oil also can be used like EVOO. It is a versatile ingredient for the culinary applications. It can be used for cooking at moderate temperatures like sautéing and baking. 

Refined Olive Oil:

Refined olive oil is the type of olive oil which undergoes extensive refining process. The process involves collection of lower quality olives or the second or subsequent pressings of olives. This also includes addition of heat and chemicals in order to remove impurities and flavours. Because refined olive oil has fewer aromatic compounds, it has a very mild and neutral flavour. It also lacks the distinctive fruity and peppery notes which can be found in unrefined oils. This refined olive oil is often used in recipes where the taste of olive oil is not important. Refined olive oil is great for high-heat cooking methods like frying, roasting and deep-frying. 

Pure Olive Oil:

Pure Olive Oil is a mix of refined olive oil and a small amount of virgin or extra virgin olive oil. The refining process includes the filtering and heating to remove impurities and undesirable flavours. This results in a lighter colour and milder taste like unrefined olive oil. This gives a very neutral flavour of olive to the pure olive oil. The cooking methods which are appropriate with Pure Olive oil are frying, grilling, and roasting where a more neutral oil is expected. Though it doesn’t give the distinctive tastes and flavours of olive oil, it still provides the same health benefits.

Light Olive Oil:

Contrary to what the name of this type of oil suggests, “light” olive oil doesn’t refer to its calorie content but rather to its temperate flavour. Light olive oil is often a blend of refined olive oil and small amounts of virgin or extra virgin olive oil. Light Olive oil is lighter in colour and neutral in flavour. Use light olive oil where the flavour is not preferred, such as baking or frying. 

Pomace Olive Oil: 

Pomace olive oil is extracted from the pulp, skin and pits of olives remaining after the first pressings. It is produced using solvents and heat to extract the remaining oil from the pomace. This method is more cost effective but results in lower quality oil. Due to its lower cost, it is often used in industrial and commercial applications. It is not typically recommended for culinary uses at home due to its extensive refining process.

Conclusion

So, there you have it, our little adventure into the world of olive oil!  We are now aware why olive oil is called liquid gold and how we can bifurcate the good quality olive oil. We also have an idea on what the nutritional value of olive oil is. So next time you grab that bottle of olive oil, remember it’s more than just an ingredient—it’s a friend in the kitchen, making your food awesome and keeping you healthy. Cheers to the yummy journey with olive oil.

 

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