Olives are indigenous to the Mediterranean region and are cultivated for oil, fruit and wood. Historical evidence suggests that the production of olive oil started before 400 B.C. Have you heard the expression ‘extending an olive branch’? Olive branches and leaves were considered symbols of friendship and harmony.
Though it is extensively used in cooking, olive oil is also used in medicines and in beauty products. The oil has a high mono-saturated fatty acid to saturated fatty acid ratio, and has the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Extra virgin olive oil is very rich in vitamins E and K.
There are numerous varieties and brands of olive oil available these days and it is essential for you as a consumer to identify and buy the correct product. Extra virgin is the best olive oil you can buy. It is unrefined and has a low acidic level, and it retains its full nutritional value and taste. The colour should be golden green and the taste should be fruity, pungent and very slightly bitter. Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is derived during the very initial stages of extraction, making it more flavourful and rich in nutrients. Since extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoking point it is best used in dressings or drizzled directly over foods, and not for cooking. Next in quality is virgin olive oil extracted in the very next stage. It is slightly more acidic and has less flavour. Virgin olive oil can be used in cooking.
Olive oil is a comparatively new import to India and has been well accepted by us. Traditional oils like sesame, groundnut, coconut, sunflower, mustard and ghee have been declared relatively unhealthy making olive oil the choice of the health conscious Indian. In spite of its good fats, olive oil has as many calories as any other oil or fat.
New research has been highlighting the benefits of ghee, coconut oil, especially mustard oil. I believe one can easily experiment with different cooking oils and choose according to the need of the moment because a caprese salad will hardly be the same without a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a motichur laddoo only craves ghee!