Olive oil is a viscous oil that is derived from the fruits of the olive tree, which is native to the Mediterranean. It is particularly suited to this region because it is a very low-maintenance, hardy tree. It requires very little water, does well in salty climates and needs very little care. Because of this reason, the olive tree is one of the most recognized plants in human history, and olive oil is one of the most historically important oils in existence.
The olive oil has colors ranging from dark green to bright golden. Note that the color is not an indication of the quality of the oil as it can be affected by many factors. It is one of the most widely used oils worldwide today, especially in the Mediterranean region because it is can be easily produced and harvested. The olive oil is heavily used in various industries today.
History of The Olive Oil
Without a doubt, the history of the olive oil is just as rich as the oil itself. Although it is not clear when olives were first pressed to make oil, its use is believed to have started as far back as 4500 BC.
While it is most commonly used as a cooking oil today, historical uses of the olive oil go much further than that. Olive oil was used for many important and daily purposes and played major roles in many ancient Mediterranean cultures. In Greece and Rome, for example, soldiers and athletes habitually rubbed olive oil all over their bodies to condition and protect themselves from infections. It was also used as an oil lamp and was a common element in various religious rituals.
Types of Olive Oil
Similar to cheese, wine and other foods that have a strong or unique taste, the type of olive oil that you use purely relies on personal preference. Because each variety of the olive plant produces fruits with different tastes, the oils extracted from the different varieties of olive will also consequently have their own unique flavors. Factors such as olive variety, soil conditions, time of harvest, method of extraction and period of storage all have a very strong impact on the taste of the final product.
As a result, different types of olive oils are graded differently. The grading of the olive oil is based on the way the oil was extracted and produced, level of acidity and overall flavor. In a nutshell, there are three main types of olive oil:
- Extra Virgin – Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is often considered the highest quality, best-tasting variety of olive oil. It is also the most expensive. Extra virgin olive oil is the product of the very first cold pressing of an olive fruit and must contain 0.8% acidity or less in order to be classified as such. This type of olive oil maintains a healthier profile than the others, and is said to have a rich and nutty taste. This category can be broken further into “Premium Extra-virgin” and “Extra-virgin”, depending on how low the acidity and taste of the oil is.
- Virgin – All olive oils labeled “virgin” can contain no refined oils. Unlike extra-virgin oils, the virgin olive oil can have an acidity level of up to 2%, which makes it slightly less viable for raw use. It is, however, still a very high quality oil that is well suited for cooking and for other culinary purposes.
- Light – Although the term “light” or “lite” can be used with any classification of olive oil (“light extra-virgin”, for example), it still warrants its own category. A light olive oil has undergone an extensive filtration process in order to remove as much taste and color from the olive oil as possible. The resulting oil is a very light, green-colored and subtly flavored oil that is perfect for use in cooking dishes where the flavor of the olive oil is unwanted. The label “light” has nothing to do with the overall fat content of the oil.
Olive Oil Benefits
The health benefits of olive oil, especially the extra-virgin olive oil is almost universal knowledge since its mass-production. The reason that olive oil is seen as a superior dietary supplement than butter and many other oils is because it has an ideal and healthy fatty profile as well as a high concentration of antioxidants. The end result, as proved by many scientific studies, is a healthier balance of HDL and LDL cholesterol, as well as many other positive health benefits such as:
- Increased Cardiovascular Health – Increasing olive oil intake has been shown to reduce blood pressure, therefore greatly lowering an individual’s risks of dangerous heart diseases. Substances called phenols in the olive oil increase the elasticity of arterial walls, making it less prone to bursting. As a testament to this, the Mediterranean diet which is rich in olive oil is often considered one of the healthiest diets in the world, with very low heart-related fatalities in the region.
- Improved Gastrointestinal Health – The olive oil can form a protective coating on your digestive tract, which in turn helps protect you from ulcers, gastritis and other digestive issues. It also regulates healthy absorption of nutrients in the intestines.
- Lower Inflammation – The extremely high levels of antioxidants and Vitamin E in olive oil have been shown to reduce inflammation. This is especially beneficial for individuals suffering from diseases such as asthma and arthritis. Those consuming olive oil consistently have experienced less severe symptoms and an improved condition.
Olive Oil For Skin
Besides the cardio-protective benefits of the olive oil, it is also commonly used for topical application on the skin and included in many cosmetic products. It was used by women from older generations to improve skin complexion and health and is still used for the same purpose today. When applied on the skin, the high viscosity of the olive oil prevents it from evaporating out and helps it to act as a long-lasting moisturizer which can penetrate deep down into the pores. Using olive oil for skin for long periods, especially extra-virgin olive oil, can soften the skin while improving its elasticity.
More Olive Oil Benefits
While most are familiar with it as a cooking oil, there are also many other great ways to use olive oil. Two of the most common ways that you may use olive oil are as a salad dressing or bread dip, and as a vitamin-rich disinfectant. The high levels of lipids and anti-oxidants make olive oil great to apply on wounds as it aids the healing process. Here are three uses for olive oil that you may not know about:
- As a Leather Conditioner – Are your leather shoes looking drab and lacking luster? Olive oil makes a great leather conditioner, and can thoroughly dissolve dirt and restore shine.
- Stop Hairballs – Anyone who has a cat is familiar with hairballs. Adding a teaspoon of olive oil to your cat’s food can help reduce the number of hairballs that they produce, while improving the overall appearance of their coat.
- Cure Ear Aches – Use a dropper or Q-tip to apply olive oil to your ear as an earache remedy. It can also reduce the buildup of earwax.
As evidenced by its continued use, there’s a reason why olive oil was and is such an important part of past and present society and culture. There’s no other oil that can do what olive oil can do, especially for people who are prone to heart diseases (thanks to its rich nutritional and phenolic content). No matter what you use it for, the olive oil has definitely earned its place on our shelves with its versatility, effectiveness and great taste.