I’ve always been the type of person who cooks more meals at home, than I eat out. But I realized recently that I don’t always know what I’m cooking with. I know that sounds weird, but I guarantee you don’t know as much about your ingredients as you think, either.
Do you have extra virgin olive oil in your pantry? It has been a staple in mine for years. Going to the store to grab a bottle is pretty simple. But after learning more about extra virgin olive oil – what it is and the difference between varieties – I have a better understanding of this ingredient I love cooking with. And hopefully after reading this, you will too.
~ This is a sponsored post on behalf of Moms Meet and Flavor Your Life. As always, opinions are 100% my own and in no way influenced by the brand. ~
Preparing meals with pure, fresh, wholesome ingredients is always on my mind. And that doesn’t entirely mean cooking with raw ingredients. Take olive oil for instance. I’m certainly not sitting in my backyard, pressing fresh olives off my olive tree. Although that would be pretty cool. But I do use extra virgin olive oil quite often when cooking.
Whether I’m using it in the bottom of a pan to cook up a protein, or drizzling it over a freshly chopped salad, EVOO is a common ingredient in my house. But I had no idea what it meant for olive oil to be extra virgin, or how many varieties there were, or that they can have different tastes. Have you seen how many different olive oils there are to choose from at the grocery store? I certainly didn’t know the difference between what I was and wasn’t buying, but I do now.
With the help of the Flavor Your Life campaign, I know more about this ingredient I use so frequently. And that’s the campaign’s whole mission – to educate North American consumers about authentic extra virgin olive oil.
The Facts About Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Known as the first cold pressed olive oil, extra virgin olive oil is made by pressing olive oil without the use of any heat or chemicals.
- Olive oils are tested for peroxide values. Lower values indicate fresher oil and more rapid processing.
- Extra virgin olive oil is virtually free of acidity – below 0.8%. If the percentage of fatty acid is too high, it indicates improper production and rancidity.
- A panel of trained, expert tasters test for taste defects and the presence of positive attributes of fruitiness, bitterness, and spiciness. If the oil doesn’t have the signature fruity taste and harmonious balance, it won’t receive an Extra Virgin rating.
- Extra virgin olive oil has a high smoking point of 400℉, so it is suitable for cooking and baking.
- Between use, EVOO should be stored somewhere dark and cool. Do not store it on the counter, near a stove, and never in the refrigerator. Before storing, ensure the lid is screwed on tight and use the oil within 6 months of opening.
The Difference Between European Extra Virgin Olive Oils
For thousands of years, farmers have evolved hundreds of varieties of olive trees and optimized them for different environmental conditions and terrains, to produce the most delicious yields. And believe it or not, the type of olive tree, along with the region it’s grown and the time the olives are harvested, all have an impact on the taste of extra virgin olive oil.
This map helps provide a little more insight into the color and taste of the final product, according to the region in which the olives are grown.
Additionally, olives harvested early in the season (typically late August) are under-ripe and produce oils that appear greener, and have a bitter, pungent taste. On the other hand, olives harvested later in the season (typically late November and into December) tend to be over-ripe, with a mild and buttery taste.
For help determining what kind of extra virgin olive oil you’re buying, check the label for the country of origin. You may also find QR code technology on the bottle, which allows you to trace the olive oil back to its source. Authentic extra virgin olive oils from Europe will have stamps of certification as well – the European Union PDO certification (Protected Designation of Origin, also known as DOP in Italian) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication, also known as IGP in Italian).
After learning this, I decided to check the bottle of extra virgin olive oil that I already had in my pantry. I wanted to know where it was from and wanted to know that it was authentic. Turns out, it’s not. I won’t disclose the brand, but I will tell you that it’s a store brand.
The bottle actually states “See code printed on bottle for Country of Origin” and then it lists abbreviations for various countries. I scanned the QR code on the bottle to get this information and pulled up the website, but there’s absolutely no information about the country of origin. In fact, the website says to look on the bottle. I looked the bottle over several times before giving up. I thought maybe I was missing something, but looked it over thoroughly.
And now, this has me wondering if I’ve even been using EVOO at all. Is this actually extra virgin olive oil? It certainly isn’t authentic to a European country because I can’t even find info on the country of origin. I feel like I’ve been duped. So, remember I said in the beginning, I don’t always know what I’m cooking with. It makes sense now.
How to Cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
With so many different varieties of extra virgin olive oil, it’s easy to experiment with different oils for different occasions and dishes. Delicate oils are best used for salad dressings or as a simple condiment over mild foods, like vegetables, fish, eggs, or potatoes. More robust oils are great for pairing with hearty foods, like steak or a spicy soup. These foods can really stand up to the intense flavor these extra virgin olive oils bring to the table.
I recently received a bottle of Le Stagioni d’ Italia extra virgin olive oil, to try for myself. This isn’t a brand I’ve tried before, but being that it’s authentic, 100% Italian extra virgin olive oil, I was pretty excited to give it a try, especially considering the little story I just shared. This particular EVOO contains rich flavors of artichoke and almond, with a slight bitterness and spicy aftertaste. I thought, what better way to use it than in a pasta dish.
Since I’ve been learning so much about extra virgin olive oil from Flavor Your Life, I thought it would be great to try a pasta recipe featured on their website – Garlic Roasted Vegetable Pasta. Let me tell you…it did not disappoint. The recipe contains lots of fresh, wholesome ingredients that I love cooking with, like eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, garlic, fresh parsley, freshly grated parmesan, the 100% Italian extra virgin olive oil, and pasta, of course. It was a pretty simple recipe, despite the numerous ingredients.
And if I’m being honest, I’ve never really paid much attention to what olive oil tastes like. I’ve just always known that cooking with EVOO was a healthier option, so I used it. But after making this dish and understanding the ingredients I was using, I could actually taste the extra virgin olive oil and point it out in the dish. That spicy aftertaste of the 100% Italian extra virgin olive oil was present like never before.
The flavor of the extra virgin olive oil, in and of itself, definitely added to the flavor of the overall dish. But for me, it was that little tingling of my lips after a bite of pasta sliding across my mouth. That was the 100% Italian extra virgin olive oil. I never would have been able to point that out before. Learning more about EVOO has made me more aware of its flavor presence in my cooking.
Think you’re ready to take on the olive oil aisle? There’s no doubt, the next time I’m grocery shopping, I’ll take more consideration into which extra virgin olive oil I choose. I can’t wait to experiment with more extra virgin olive oils and try more of the recipes from Flavor Your Life.
For more information about extra virgin olive oil, visit Flavor Your Life.
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