10 Myths of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Myth 1: I can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil because the smoke point is too low.
Yes, you can! Cook with your extra virgin olive oil. Think about it: Mediterranean countries have been cooking with olive oil for centuries. The smoke point is higher than most people think. Our recommendation is to use less heat and milder extra virgin olive oil varietals. Heat will not destroy the molecular structure (ie health benefits) but will lose some of the flavors of a more robust olive oil. Saute, grill, roast with extra virgin olive oil – liberally.
Myth 2: Light olive oil has fewer calories.
Unfortunately, light just means the olive oil was most likely defective and ‘refined’ to take out the unpleasant taste. It doesn’t have anything to do with calories or less fat. All oils are 120 calories per tablespoon. Extra virgin olive oil has ‘the good fats’ unlike many other oils that help to lower LDLs (bad fats that increase cholesterol) and increase HDLs (good fats that decrease cholesterol.)
Myth 3: Green olive oil is better.
Not true. Color is not a factor in determining whether or not an extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is fresh. In fact, sensory panel members taste EVOO in blue-colored glass cups so that they are not biased by green color. The mind tends to think greener is fresher, grassier, and more pungent; however, golden-colored olive oils which are more the norm can be quite robust with ‘green’ flavor characteris2cs. Smell
and taste, not color are the senses used to determine an EVOOs freshness.
Myth 4: Imported extra virgin olive oil is fake.
Some of it is. But not all of it. Of course, there is amazing extra virgin olive oil produced throughout the world. You may have read something or listened to a report about fake imports. This has happened and a lot of the olive oil on many grocery store shelves from very
large distributors can be falsely labeled; however, you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not all imported olive oil is fake. The best way to know is to learn what to look for in olive oil and how to taste it. Educate yourself, then go home and check your pantry.
Bou2que retailers who specialize in EVOO, have knowledgeable staff, and let you taste before purchasing are the best places to learn.
Myth 5: All extra virgin olive oil tastes the same.
That’s like saying all wine, coffee, and chocolate tastes the same. Not true. Olive oil is made from many different cultivars or varietals. Just like wine, different grapes produce different flavor profiles. Also like wine, starting with good fruit is essential, and the winemaker or the olive oil miller is critical in producing flavorful and delicious olive oil. EVOOs range from mild to medium to robust intensity, balancing fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency. Different EVOOs varieties or blends pair better with certain foods and uses.
Myth 6: Italy produces the most olive oil.
Sorry. Spain does. Italy usually pops into the mind first because it is the olive oil we’ve seen on US shelves the most in the past. Italy actually produces as much as they consume. So where does their imported olive oil come from? Often it may be a blend of olive oil from
Turkey, Tunisia, or Spain. Check labels. It’s becoming more common practice for manufacturers to say “Bottled in Italy” on the front and on the backlist of the countries where the oil came from.
Myth 7: Olive oil is like wine; aging makes it better.
NO NO NO! This is one of the biggest myths and mistakes. There are a lot of parallels drawn between wine and olive oil but this in not one of them. FRESH IS THE BEST! Think of olive oil as a fresh fruit. Once it’s off the tree it begins to degrade. The shelf life of an olive oil depends upon many factors: quality of fruit, varietal, harvesting methods, milling, storage. Generally speaking, good EVOOs are good for up to 18 months from harvest date. Harvest date is very important. Some fail sooner, some last longer. Again, it’s important to learn how to taste and identify fresh vs defective olive oil. Having said this, there are some countries and regions that prefer the taste of very ripe and older olive oil. That’s a topic for another discussion.
Myth 8: Bitter taste in olive oil means it’s bad.
Heck no! Again, visiting our wine analogy. If you’re old enough to remember the pre-wine craze in California, there was a time when wine meant red or white and rose was white zinfandel. Most started out with milder whites and ‘graduated’ to bolder reds. It’s a little like that with olive oil. Olives are inherently bitter, very bitter (and we live in a food culture that doesn’t readily appreciate that flavor). That’s why table olives need to be brined in saltwater. The salt pulls out the the flavor. Fresh extra virgin olive oil will have bitter qualities and that’s good (and authentic). The level of bitterness (and pungency – realized in the back of the throat and often described as spicy or peppery) determines ripe or green fruit attributes and flavor characteristics. Milder olive oil tends to be described as buttery and nutty and robust olive oil tends to be described as grassy and green. Then there’s a whole host of variations on the spectrum. Some prefer milder EVOOs and later develop a taste for more robust olive oils. Of course, food pairings often determine which varietal to choose…when you’re ready.
Myth 9: Look for First Press, Cold Press on the label
No, those terms are irrelevant these days. The milling process, the means by which olives are turned into olive oil, is now a mechanical process where the olive oil is separated from the fruit and water. This is an outdated term. Instead, you should always look for the HARVEST DATE. The harvest date indicates freshness and you want your olive oil to be fresh. Olive oil does not get better with age and should be consumed within 3 months of opening the bottle or within 18 months of the harvest date unopened. So always look for the HARVEST DATE when purchasing olive oil. Purchase quantities you will consume within three months and remember fresh is best!
Myth 10: Polyphenols in olive oil are unhealthy
No, it’s the opposite, fresh extra virgin olive oil has many health benefits such as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, vitamin K, and Omegas. The phenolic compounds in fresh extra virgin olive oil create a spicy kick in the back of the throat called pungency. The more intense an olive oil is the stronger the sensation can be. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fats you can consume.