Nutrition

Olive Oil at the heart of a healthy diet

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Olives are harvested from November until March, six to eight months after their spring blossoms appear. Once the olives have been hand-picked they are brought to mills where they are pressed the same day.

The entire olive is used to make the oil; pulp, skin and even the husk. The olives are crushed by mechanical stainless steel grindstones to produce an olive paste.

It is the cold press method that enables olive oil to maintain its flavour, colour and nutritional value. In fact, olive oil is the only oil which can be consumed as it is removed from the fruit, with no need for further processing. Because no other chemical processing is involved the oil retains the natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other healthy products of the olive fruit.

The Protective Mechanisms of Olive Oil

The protective effects of olive oil against heart disease are essentially due to two fundamental components: monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidant substances.

Olive oil is very rich in oleic acid (varying from 55 to 83% of total fatty acids), which is a monounsaturated fatty acid, and in antioxidants, like vitamin E and phenolic compounds.

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

  • reduce total and LDL so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol levels
  • do not lower HDL so-called ‘good’ cholesterol levels
  • reduce the oxidation of LDL bad cholesterol which seems to be the determining factor in the formation of plaques in the arteries.

People who eat a “Mediterranean diet” which is higher in olive oil and lower in saturates or trans fatty acids have lower levels of heart attack, and other cardiovascular disease, lower overall cancer rates and specifically, lower rates of breast cancer.

Olive oil is also beneficial due to it’s antioxidant properties.

  • Besides vitamin E, olive oil is very rich in phenolic compounds, which account for the major antioxidant property of olive oil.
  • The phenolic content is most highly concentrated in extra-virgin olive oil. But the phenolic properties vary in different olive oils, depending upon several factors including the climate, the cultivar, the degree of ripeness of the olives, the production techniques, and the methods of conservation.
  • The phenols inhibit LDL oxidation, but they act also as direct radical scavengers against the production of oxygen free radicals and their toxic effect.

Characteristics of Olive Oil

Flavour ~ Like a fine wine, each variety of olive oil is evaluated by tasting and measuring its acidity before bottling. The flavour of olive oil is as a result of the acidity and the lower the acidity value , the better the flavour.

Colour ~ The colour of the olive oil is dependant on the pigments in the fruit. Olives give a green oil because of the high chlorophyll content while ripe olives give a yellow oil because of the carotenoid (yellow/red) pigments. However, the colour of the oil will not reliably predict the taste of the oil.

Storage ~ Both light and heat are known enemies to olive oil. Recommended storage of olive oil is in a dark press in a dark glass bottle. Since olive oil hardens at refrigerator temperature, it is best to store at room temperature.

Uses ~ Olive oil is extremely versatile and can be used in a wide variety of hot and cold dishes. For example, it can enhance the flavour of a cold salad or be used to marinate meat or fish; it can add a touch of luxury to sautéed potatoes; and olive oil can be used in the same way as butter or vegetable oils when cooking, frying and basting. There is less risk of it going rancid while cooking since olive oil remains stable at very high temperatures.

Nutritional Information

Typical Values
per 100g
Olive Oil
Olives
Energy kJ
3696 kJ
337 kJ
Energy kcal
899 kcal
82 kcal
Protein g
Trace
0.7 g
Carbohydrate g
Nil
Trace
Of which sugars g
Nil
Trace
Fat g
99.9 g
9 g
Of which saturates g
14 g
1.4 g
Fibre g
Nil
3.2 g
Sodium g
Trace
1.8 g
Salt equivalent g
Trace
4.5 g

Grades of Olive Oil

As with wine, olive oil comes in a wide range of flavours, aromas and colours due to the differing climates, soils and harvesting methods of cultivating countries. No two olive oils will taste exactly the same. There are no additives in olive oil. It is graded according to its flavour and acidity level into several categories.

The four most popular ones are:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil ~ This is a premium grade of olive oil that comes from the very finest olives. Needing no purification, it has perfect flavour, aroma and colour and a maximum acid content of 1%.
  • Virgin Olive Oil ~ This too is a premium product since the olive oil has not undergone any purification, meets equally high standards of aroma, colour and flavour and has an acidity content of not more than 2%.
  • Olive Oil ~ Oil with too high a percentage of acidity or with naturally occurring impurities is refined and blended with virgin olive oils to produce a quality oil suitable for all culinary purposes. It has an acid content of not more than 1.5%. Olive oil is the most widely sold and is less expensive than the virgin oils.
  • Olive-Pomace ~ Oil Within the European Community, a fourth category of olive oil is being sold, olive-pomace oil. This is an oil which is obtained by blending refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oil. It has a maximum acid content of 1.5%.