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You Can Cook with Olive Oil - so long as it really is Extra Virgin.

We often get people in our store who don't realise that you can cook with extra virgin olive oil. Their experience has been that when they do cook with olive oil it smokes at a low temperature. When we ask them "where did you buy it and how much did you pay?" the answer is always the same: "at the supermarket and we only paid $13 for a 1 litre bottle".

When we question them further we discover that they bought a cheap olive oil from Italy,  Spain or Greece and relied on the label being truthful when it stated "extra virgin olive oil". Whereas we know that most of the low cost supermarket olive oils are not even olive oil, let aloe extra virgin.

Fake Olive Oil

We are continually getting news of producers of counterfeit or fake olive oils being raided by the authorities and the seized oils showing up as blends of other substances, in some cases not even oils, but mostly canola oil , hazelnut oil, or sunflower oil.

The mafia has been heavily involved in producing counterfeit olive oil because it is a lot easier to get away with producing that than counterfeiting money. Whole families have been caught and ended up in jail.

What the innocent buyers of this stuff don't realise is that some of these other oils are harmful. For example, canola oil has been linked by some researchers to an increase in dementia and alzheimers. People with a nut allergy could be seriously harmed when there is a large percentage of hazelnut oil contained in this product.

What is in "certified" extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is obtained by crushing the olives (after they have been washed) to make a paste, kneading the paste (malaxing) to release the oil particles, spinning the paste in a centrifuge to extract the olive oil, and then separating the extracted oil from any water to clean the oil prior to bottling.

It is important to ensure that these processes don't apply unnecessary heat to the paste or oil (keeping it under 28 degrees celsius), and that oxygen is kept off the oil by putting a layer of inert gas (like argon) on top of the oil. During the filtering and bottling process this layer stops the oil from oxidising and keeps the free fatty acid %age and peroxide value below the International Olive Council (IOC) limits established for olive oil. 

What makes the oil extra virgin

For olive oil to be certified as extra virgin it requires three things to  be true:

  1. The Free Fatty Acid percentage (FFA%) must be less than 0.8%
  2. The Peroxide Value (PV) must be less than 15
  3. There must be zero defects in the oil

The "acidity" in olive oil is the result of the degree of breakdown of the triacylglycerols, due to a chemical reaction called hydrolysis, in which free fatty acids are formed.  Oil extracted carelessly and/or from poor quality fruit suffers from a very significant breakdown of the triacylglycerides into fatty acids. These "broken off" fatty acids are called Free Fatty Acids. Sometimes just one of the three fatty acids breaks off, leaving a diacylglycerol. If two fatty acids break off, we are left with a monoacylglycerol. If all three break off, were are left with glycerol.

Factors which lead to a high free fatty acidity in an oil include fruit fly infestation, delays between harvesting and extraction (especially if the fruit has been bruised or damaged during harvesting), fungal diseases in the fruit, prolonged contact between oil and vegetation water (after extraction), and careless extraction methods. .

The free fatty acidity is thus a direct measure of the quality of the oil, and reflects the care taken right from blossoming and fruit set to the eventual sale and consumption of the oil. So you know that if this stanard isn't met the oil could have an adverse health impact.

Peroxides are the primary products of oxidation of olive oil. Fats and oils such as olive oil are oxidized when they come in contact with oxygen. Oxygen may exist in the headspace of the container and dissolve in the oil. The oxidation products have an unpleasant flavor and odor and may adversely affect the nutritional value of the oil. Essential fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic are destroyed, and certain fat soluble vitamins disappear. Fatty acids are oxidized by one of the following mechanisms.

Auto-oxidation occurs in the absence of air by reactive oxygen species or "free radicals".  It is temporarily prevented by the natural antioxidants in the oil that absorb these free radicals. When the antioxidants are used up, the oil ages quickly.

Photo-oxidation occurs when the oil is exposed to natural and/or artificial light sources (including halogen lights and store lights). It causes serious deterioration of olive oil, as it can occur up to 30,000 times faster than auto-oxidation.

The more rancid or oxidized the oil, the more peroxides are present. Measurement of the peroxides in olive oil is a very simple procedure which is done at a testing lab. High quality extra virgin olive oils have a peroxide value of less than 10 meq/kg. In order to be extra virgin, olive oil must have less than 15 meq/kg.

The joy of olive oil lies in its many delightful aromas and flavors—from voluptuous ripe olive to bright green grassy notes and from a soft subtle finish to a zippy peppery kick—there is a world of sensory exploration awaiting the adventurer. But like any great explorer, you will be faced with risks—crocodiles in those placid waters. This is an introduction to the most common defects you will find in olive oil: what they are called, what causes them, and how to recognize their presence.

Any discussion of defects must start with rancidity.

The sad truth is that most people are accustomed to the flavor of rancid olive oil. Olive oil is no longer an occasional presence in the kitchen so it is time to change that. 

Olive oil tastes best when it is fresh. Think of olive oil on a freshness continuum that goes from just-made, harvest-fresh at one end, to completely rancid at the other. How long it takes an olive oil to go from one end of this freshness continuum to the other depends on many factors: storage temperature, exposure to air and light, and the amount of natural antioxidants in the olive oil in the first place. All olive oils, even the finest ones, will get rancid eventually.

So how can you tell if your olive oil is rancid?

  • It smells like crayons or putty
  • It tastes like rancid nuts
  • It has a greasy mouthfeel

This is why you must never hoard olive oil: use it and enjoy it. Waiting for a special occasion to use your good olive oil? 

The second most common defect of olive oil is called “fusty.”

Fustiness is caused by fermentation in the absence of oxygen; this occurs within the olives before they are milled. This is why it is so important for olives to be processed into oil within as short a time as possible after harvest. Olives left to sit in bags or piles for even a few days will produce fusty olive oil.

And what does fusty smell and taste like? Unfortunately, the answer for a lot of people is “olive oil.” For many people fusty flavors in olive oil are the norm.

We know that good olive oil smells like fresh green or ripe olives, a fruitiness pervades the oil.  Fusty olive oil smells like sweaty socks,  or fermented olives.

Rancid and fusty are by far the most common defects of olive oil. Occasionally you may run into a winey-vinegary defect. That is caused by fermentation with oxygen, and can be reminiscent of vinegar or nail polish. Another defect that crops up once in a while is musty. Caused by moldy olives, it tastes of dusty, musty old clothes, or the basement floor.

Rancid and fusty are by far the most common defects of olive oil. Occasionally you may run into a winey-vinegary defect. That is caused by fermentation with oxygen, and can be reminiscent of vinegar or nail polish. Another defect that crops up once in a while is musty. Caused by moldy olives, it tastes of dusty, musty old clothes, or the basement floor.

We cook with olive oil every day

Because Azzuro olive oil is all certified as EVOO we know:

  1. We don't let our olives sit around after they are harvested - they get milled with 24 to 36 hours. So it always has a FFA% of less than 0.3%.
  2. We keep the oxygen off the oil by using gas and consistently get a PV of less than 7
  3. We have never had defects and have consistently received EVOO certification from the independent lab for the last ten years
  4. It has a smoke point of 210 degrees and we don't cook at that temperature.
  5. It enhances the flavour of the dish that we cook.
  6. We are using the healthiest oil in the world.

Buy Azzuro's 2018 season extra virgin olive oil and start today by clicking here.  


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