Olive Oil, an Ancient Gift for Health

Once upon a time, in man’s very early history, a dove was sent out on a mission: to find evidence of safe ground. Unwilling to land on garbage and toxin, the picky bird came back. When sent out again after a week, the dove returned bearing in its beak a part of its plant of choice, an olive leaf. Familiar story, isn’t it? You’re right. It’s the Biblical account of Noah and the flood. Through the centuries, the olive tree and its extracts have continued to benefit mankind in countless ways. From its origin in the Fertile Crescent (which history tells us was the birthplace of civilization), its use was developed and spread by the Greeks. This was part and parcel of the Greek influence that permeated the vast Roman Empire.

No wonder the olive tree is among the earliest known of trees cultivated by man. It was the source of fuel to light up lamps, a major component of cosmetics and fragrances, a medium for healing and anointing. To this day, the olive leaf extract, typically prepared as tea, is considered highly medicinal. It contains the substance called “oleuropein,” a natural wide-spectrum antibiotic that is reportedly also effective in lowering blood pressure and preventing the common cold and flu. The taste of this powerful antioxidant can be mellow or strong depending on steeping or brewing time. The slightly bitter taste after longer steeping can be mellowed with herbs, lemon juice, milk, soya as desired.

We see modern man’s increasing preoccupation with healthy options, particularly in the kitchen. The very use of oil tends to elicit some uneasiness. But not when the oil is olive oil, which consistently tops the list of good, monounsaturated fats. When used in moderation and especially when used to replace unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats put bad cholesterol under check and thus lower your vulnerability to stroke and other heart diseases. Extra virgin oil or premium extra virgin, the highest grade olive oil, is the first pressing extract from newly harvested olives. It is believed to help the body assimilate the vitamins A, D and K and produce such wonderful effects as retarding the aging process and facilitates the bile, liver and intestinal functions. Those aiming to lose weight, however, will particularly remember that olive oil is oil and will be accordingly temperate.

In the culinary world, the olive oil is highly valued not only for its health-boosting attributes but for its aroma, color and most of all, its flavor. It satiates the appetite and delectably complements the flavor of spices. And it’s versatile too. It enhances the flavor of both sweet dishes and savory ones. It neutralizes the acidity of vinegar, wine, lemon juice, marinades and other high acid concoctions. It can be used in cooked and uncooked dishes.

The later pressings of olives produce the other ranks of olive oil. Next to the extra virgin are the other virgin grades which include fine virgin, virgin and semi-fine virgin. Then they are followed by olive oil, including what used to be called pure olive oil and refined olive oil. They have higher smoke point than other oils. The smoke point of oil is the point at which it smokes when heated. At this point, the oil is ruined and must be replaced as it is no longer healthful.

For uncooked dishes or those cooked in low and medium temperatures, extra virgin and virgin oils are the best. Although they can stand up to heat, they lose some flavor when heated. They go best with salads. They build and enhance flavor, harmonizing the spices used. Refined olive oil is the choice for high heat cooking such as frying and sautéing. Being comparatively milder in taste, they are also preferred in breads, cookies and other baked dishes.

When they have to be substituted at all, walnut, almond or hazelnut oils are best for cold dishes and salads. For frying and sautéing, corn and peanut oils are the common substitutes. For storing, they need to be kept in a cool dark place as decay and go rancid when exposed to light and heat.

Here’s a quick recipe for bread dipping sauce that highlights the value of olive oil.

Bread Dipping Sauce (2-4 servings)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

½ cup virgin oil, 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced (Italian parsley is best), 1 tablespoon fresh basil (minced), ½ teaspoon fresh rosemary (minced), 1 tablespoon fresh garlic (minced), 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, well-crushed, 1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon juice and salt to taste.

Procedure:

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add all the other ingredients and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Serve as bread dip.

You might have seen a lot of marketing ads stating that organic olive oil helps reduce the risk of coronary and other disorders. This shows that the benefits of olive oil, particularly the extra virgin or earliest pressed extracts, already have federal agency approval. The US Food and Drug Administration authorize these ads.

There you are. Guilt-free cooking thanks to this ancient gift for mankind.


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By Marco Lange
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