Penelope lived in Tuscany among the olive groves and farms for years, learning from local people about their culture, land, and food.
What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
We use extra virgin olive oil today in much the same way ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean used it thousands of years ago. We eat it raw, we cook with it, we heal with it, we anoint with it and we cream ourselves with it. The process of extracting it is the same (just modernized); the extra virgin olive oil is exactly the same.
This article defines extra virgin olive oil and describes how to use it to benefit from its tasty and health-giving properties:
- to make food that is fresh and delicious
- food that is very good for you—with simple recipes
- for conserving food 'sotto olio' (under oil)
- as food to help with nutrition during chemotherapy
- for babies and growing children, as well as for upset tummies
- to help your pets heal a small skin wound
Olive Oil Is Classified by How It Is Produced and by Its Chemistry
The International Olive Council's description of extra virgin olive oil (Olea europaea L.) is: 'A virgin olive oil which has a free acidity of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams'.
Virgin olive oil, on the other hand, has: 'A free acidity of not more than 2.0 per 100 grams'. There is a fundamental difference that the International Olive Council (IOCC) are still working to define commercially, as they review quality standards and authenticity.
Olive Oil vs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There is a fundamental difference between 'extra virgin olive oil' and what the other 'olive oils' are, aside from the taste (and labels)! Because of the 'cold' process (under 27°C, 80°F) by which the oil is extracted from the olives, 'extra virgin olive oil' retains very high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants that make for good health. The word 'virgin' means that the oil is unrefined and pure because no chemicals or heat are used during its extraction. New hygienic macerating processes 'lower the acidity and produces a fresher oil that tastes better and lasts longer', says my neighbor, the author of Cucina Povera - Tuscan Peasant Cooking.
'Pure olive' oil is the commercial label given to both 'pure olive oil' and 'olive oil' and is usually a blend of 'virgin oils' and 'refined oils', which contradictorily, have less nutritional value, containing fewer polyphenols and antioxidants. Extra virgin olive oil is exceptionally good for us humans and animals. Its dense olive tree flavor was locked in during its separation process - during milling. There was no oxidation.
Chemical Structure of Olive Oil
Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The bottom line is that it is very, very good for you. Says Nutritionist Dr. Francesco Steiner in Rome,
'If you eat extra virgin olive oil 'raw' it maintains all its health properties. If you cook with it, it stimulates the digestive apparatus, especially helping the liver to work better - as a defense system'.
In this article, I'm showing many of the ways we use it in our foods (apart from on pasta!):
- in baking,
- on pizzas
In Italy, in our house and everyone else's home, we use extra virgin olive oil liberally every time we eat
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- because Italy has a 'food' culture which is oiled with olive oil!
- because we love it,
- it's where olives come from and
- where the traditions have been passed down for centuries.
Crudo (Raw) Over Boiled or Steamed Vegetables
An every-day way to eat it is drizzled 'raw' over cooked vegetables as a side dish. (Just quickly boil or steam any fresh vegetable—from chard, to chicory, to green beans, artichokes and even carrots—and pour over the extra virgin olive oil with some lemon.)
Carrots With EVOO and Garlic Recipe
The following recipe serves four people:
- Boil about 1lb peeled carrots in
- 1/2 pint white wine vinegar and 1/2 pint water and salt to taste.
- Drain, slice, dress with extra virgin olive oil, finely shopped parsley and garlic.
- Serve hot or cold!
Slices of 'pizza' that you buy in bakery shops in Italy are made freshly every day; extra virgin olive oil is one of the essential ingredients that goes into or over the toppings. Even if there is no tomato or mozzarella garnish, there is always extra virgin olive oil! Pizzas straight out of the oven are spread with a delicious topping and then, just before being served, extra virgin olive oil is drizzled over them.
You can do the same at home. Even if you don't want to put any elaborate topping on your pizza, you can strew some fresh rosemary, salt and extra virgin olive oil over it (straight out of the oven). It's great with roast meats. It's also a smart-looking party 'nibble' food when cut into small slices and may help cut the effects of alcohol if people are enjoying a glass of wine or two. And, it is easy and clean to serve!
Frying With Extra Virgin Olive Oil
'It is better to fry with extra virgin olive oil than it is with other oils because the temperature point at which it alters is higher compared to other oils"', confirms Richard Steiner, whose science is 'nutrition' and whose task is to get people well from illness or weight problems.
Classically in Italy, we make a simple tomato sauce for our pasta most days of the week! And we start it all by frying the onion or the garlic. All our meat dishes begin with a 'soffritto' too—(finely chopped onions or garlic fried in extra virgin olive oil)
- meat sauces for pasta,
- stews, or
- cacciatore dishes.
We are not sparing with our extra virgin olive oil either. A Roman friend once burped after a minestrone at our home and un-apologetically said 'That was wonderful olive oil. Mmmmm I can still taste it'. We took it as a compliment!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil as a Condiment
The bitter-nutty-woody flavor of pure extra virgin olive oil tastes great on fresh seasonal raw vegetables. Poured over a bowl of raw sliced vegetables in Tuscany it is an appetizer or summer snack called pinzimonio.
Recipe for Pinzimonio
- 1 cup+ of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- Mixed vegetables from the following list, as many or as few as you have:
- Peppers, cauliflowers, cucumbers, artichoke, carrots, celery, courgettes, white parsnip, radishes, fennel, chicory, (any vegetable that you can cut into nice pieces!).
- 1 serving platter
- 4 to 6 little bowls for the olive oil and lemon
How to Prepare:
- Wash and dry the vegetables
- Cut them all into slices (or florets) about 2".
- Arrange them on a platter.
- In the small bowls, pour 1/2 to 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, squeezed lemon, salt to taste, mix.
- Dip your raw vegetables in the small bowls and enjoy.
Conserving Sotto Olio
We conserve produce 'sotto olio' (under extra virgin olive oil), because the taste of the produce is always enhanced by the taste of the best olive oil. There are many recipes and 'how my mom did it' recipes around for almost anything you can think of to go 'sotto olio'
I often make anchovies this way. It's a treat and very tasty to pull out for a lunch party or when friends come round for a glass of wine.
Acciughe Sotto Olio
- Buy good anchovies,
- Wash them in a bowl with white wine vinegar and water so that the salt comes off and the bones come out.
- Pat dry
- Chop fresh parsley and
- a very little garlic and chili pepper.
In a small container, put in a few tablespoons of extra olive oil to cover the bottom.
Place a layer of anchovies on this and then sprinkle with parsley garlic and chili.
Pour over the extra virgin olive oil to cover.
Repeat again with the anchovies and so on till the container is full.
Cover with extra virgin olive oil and try not to eat for a few days!
Chemotherapy and Bruschetta
As a chemotherapy patient, my Nutritionist Dr Steiner advised me to eat several slices of bruschetta a day, even between meals, to help my organisms to rebuild, whilst they were being attacked.
He explained that a chemo patient that eats bruschetta is building a nutritional defense which the chemo compromises. The carbohydrates from the bread and the tomato help their liver to build body energy. Olive oil assists re-building the mucous of the stomach lining, protecting its coat. The salt betters the digestion. Together, the ingredients of this simple snack help an organism in difficulty without putting it in crisis.
I recovered well from the effects of chemotherapy and would recommend others to take the advice of their doctors and to seek the advice of a nutritionist throughout their bombastic cures.
Recipe for Bruschetta
- Toast or grill slices of thick bread.
- Quickly rub fresh garlic over the toast and sprinkle with salt.
- Adding finely shopped tomato and ruccola make is 'more' of a snack.
- Serve hot.
Nutritional Information (USDA)
1 tbsp olive oil (13.5g) contains the following nutritional information:
- Calories: 119
- Fat: 13.50
- Carbs: 0
- Fibres: 0
- Protein: 0
This list is long, but olive oil carries the following benefits:
- Creates a healthy balance between omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats.
- Contains more monounsaturated fatty acids.
- Controls the 'bad' levels of (LDL) cholesterol.
- Raises the 'good' level of (HDL) cholesterol
Monounsaturated fats help clear blood vessels of cholesterol, so now you know you can make cookies using olive oil and say "they're good for me" without batting an eyelid!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Babies and Pets
When babies are able to eat mashed up solids, a drop of extra virgin olive oil in their 'pappa' is very healthy, easy to digest and good for them. Babies learn to love the taste of it in their food straight away!
It's great on simple boiled rice when they have tummy upsets topped with some grated Parmesan (perhaps). You can gently massage a drop or two of it into their scalps if they have dry, flaking skin as infants.
We can't forget them can we? If you see they have an abrasion or dryness, simply drop some oil on it and it should heal just fine.
Olive Oil for Skin
My mother didn't know when to use extra olive oil. She simply used 'olive oil' for everything. She put it on our hair; she shined her AGA cooker with it, the slate in front of the fire. As teenagers, we used it on our skin instead of creams, on our lips to make them shine a minute. We didn't have other products then, so it was treated as a do-all sort of oil.
I doubt it was extra virgin olive oil. But certainly 'olive oil' was something she knew was good for us. Little did we know how good it really was? My mother used to say, "They washed His feet with it, why can't I put it on your cheeks?" We thought she was making things up! She often got things mixed up. (Hadn't a sinful woman washed His (Jesus') feet with her tears? Luke 7:38 not oil) She wasn't mixed up about olive oil, for sure! I still have good skin.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: How can I be sure that a product is genuine extra virgin olive oil?
Answer: You would have to trust your source. It would be described on the label. There are market controls, so it would not be acceptable, or legal to make false claims. If you buy from the farm, you will have that satisfaction of buying genuine extra olive oil and that would feel good.
Question: How do I make extra virgin olive oil?
Answer: The best thing to do would be to type your question into a search engine. There are videos and articles to answer your question.
Question: Can you use a tsp of extra virgin oil in a smoothie?
Answer: I think a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil would be healthy in a smoothie certainly, but with more savory smoothies, like spinach or celery based drinks. It would also be great in a healthy breakfast smoothie made with sesame seeds, banana, lemon, and yogurt too.
Question: Can extra virgin olive oil be used as a brain booster?
Answer: Not exclusively, though a balanced diet would help to maintain a healthy brain, as it does all organs of the body.
Question: Is there a different EVOO for baking?
Answer: No. EVOO are the initials for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, so any brand of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is fine for baking.
© 2012 Penelope Hart