Go into many Italian kitchens and you will come across not one, not two, maybe not even three, but countless bottles of extra virgin olive oil. It is considered a significant part of Italian culture and when you taste its incredible flavor, it’s hard to argue why it shouldn’t be.
Italian cuisine is famous throughout the world. As with most aspects of life, the Italian demand quality. And this includes food, how it’s prepared, and its ingredients.
When it comes to extra virgin olive oil, the Italians demand the best. It should be fresh. It should be fragrant. And, most of all, it should be delicious. Thankfully, on an Italian table, it is usually all three.
Most Italian homes have stacks of extra virgin olive oil. Some even carry stashes with them in case they are served with inferior olive oil. When you’re in Italy, you are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to extra virgin olive oil.
Whether it’s from the picturesque hills of Tuscany or made in the streets of Naples and Puglia, this oil is not only used for cooking. Instead, many Italian families use their best bottle of extra virgin olive oil in a “Crudo” way.
In other words, it is drizzled on different dishes such as pasta, vegetables, and pizzas. This adds a variety of flavors to certain dishes such as rich pepper notes to more fruity tastes. No wonder some Italian families go through a whole liter of the stuff every week!
Ask any Italian and they will tell you that a few drops of the best extra virgin olive oil can make a bland meal come to life (not that the Italians ever do bland meals!) Go for the top-shelf olive oil and your taste buds will be more alive than ever before.
To find out more about this love story between Italians and extra virgin olive oil, we decided to delve a little deeper. Read on as we discover what you should pair extra virgin olive oil with and what the best bottles are out there right now.
By the end of this article, you will understand the seduction extra virgin olive oil has over the Italian’s taste buds.
To truly get to grips with why extra virgin olive oil is so beloved in Italy, you need to develop your palate. In other words, you need to become an “assaggiatore.” Translated, this is an expert in discerning varying flavors.
To begin, you should taste the oil on its own. Place a single drop or two onto your tongue and allow it to move around your mouth. If you have ever participated in wine tasting before, this is a similar method.
Now, close your eyes and let the olive oil take you away into a flavorsome nirvana. As you focus on the flavors, you should start to notice various layers of notes shining through. If it’s top-shelf extra virgin olive oil, you may experience a tingling sensation in your mouth.
This is especially evident with oils that were produced at the beginning of the cultivation season when olives were still green. How rich and strong the smell and tastes are tend to depend on the type of olive and if they were green or mature during the creation of the oil.
Another factor that can affect extra virgin olive oil’s taste is where it was grown. For instance, in some regions of Italy, the flavor of certain varieties of olives can change from one kilometer to the next. Anyone for an olive-tasting road trip? Let’s go!
The flavors can vary dramatically. They can be rich and peppery while another olive down the road can have fruity and grassy notes.
And, of course, there are blends to consider. Some have fragrant mixes of different flavored olives that produce unique flavors that, while not naturally grown, are out of this world.
Once you understand the flavors of olives and how olive oil can please your palate, you can start to appreciate the diverse flavors different oils offer. To continue your journey into the world of extra virgin olive oil, we recommend trying a different product drizzled over grilled meat or fish.
Then try another over a simple bruschetta or vegetables. You will soon start to see the difference and understand what works best with what dish.
Pairing Extra Virgin Olive Oil With Meals
As we stated earlier, the Italians demand quality, especially with their food. That is why they take considerable effort and time in pairing extra virgin olive oil with different dishes. In fact, this is considered as important as pairing the right wine with a meal in some circles.
If you are making salads, bruschetta, or grilled vegetables, we recommend using an extra virgin olive oil that boasts a clear flavor. It should have stronger fruity notes. Coratina olives are an ideal choice for such dishes.
For a fish-based meal, pasta, and raw or a cooked vegetable dish, a sweeter, more delicate olive oil is best. We highly recommend using frantoiana or nocellara del belice olives to get the best flavors.
Cooked dishes are best paired with an extra virgin olive oil that features a blend of different olives from Italy. These should be light in order to work perfectly with all kinds of cooked dishes and their distinct flavors.
If you wish to pair extra virgin olive oil with different meals, you need to understand how both taste individually. This is the best way to combine their flavors and notes. Start by adding small drops of olive oil and do the taste test as we mentioned above.
You will soon experience the mixture of flavors on your palate and grow more accustomed to what suits what best.
Some robust oils can ruin delicate dishes with mild-tasting ingredients. On the other hand, some strong spicy dishes can overpower the flavors of more delicate oils. It’s a fine balance that takes time to master and understand but something many Italians are brought up with.
A little fruitiness,
A slight bitterness, akin to biting into a fresh olive
A bit of a peppery note
Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs Olive Oil: Which Is Healthier?
One reason why the Italians swear by extra virgin olive oil is that it’s the least processed form of any olive oil. This allows it to retain all of its natural vitamins and antioxidants which would otherwise be lost during processing.
Therefore, extra virgin olive oil is typically healthier than regular olive oil but it does usually come at a higher price.
Oils that contain MUFAS (Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acids), such as olive oil, are a healthy addition to most diets. This is even more so when the oil is used as an alternative to saturated and trans fats.
However, you still need to eat healthy foods in moderation to maintain a healthy lifestyle because even healthy fats are low in nutrients and high in calories.
When manufacturers process olive oil, they clean it with chemicals before heating it. While this process prolongs the oil’s shelf life, it often strips away much of the flavor and health benefits within.
Extra virgin olive oil contains more polyphenols than regular olive oil. These are a type of antioxidants that sport many health benefits. Furthermore, Italians prefer the taste of extra virgin olive oil, as do most people.
FDA And Extra Virgin Olive Oil
In 2018, the FDA completed a review that determined that there is credible evidence that the consumption of oleic acid in oils such as extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil may reduce the risk of heart disease.
This study, conducted in Italy, one of the leading manufacturers of olive oil in the world, found that some fats such as those found in olive oil are not only nutrients but they also boast some amazing health benefits.
Extra virgin olive oil has an optimal ratio between two essential fatty acids – omega-6 and omega-3. Therefore, this oil can help in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, bowel cancer, and certain cognitive issues that are common in the elderly. It has also been found to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The FDA review concluded that olive oil contains at least 70% of the healthy oleic acid in every serving. Moreover, it’s the only natural edible oil that contains this.
The University of Bari collaborated with the Italian Association for Cancer Research (AIRC) conducted a study that showed certain conditions can lead to a higher risk of bowel cancer when oleic acid is not present in a diet.
Back to the FDA and the discovery that oils such as extra virgin olive oil can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease is no surprise to many who consume it every day. But, the science behind the study shows that oleic acid inside these oils is monounsaturated fat.
When this is substituted for fats and oils that are higher in saturated fat, the risk of coronary heart diseases is reduced. However, these findings are not conclusive as the FDA stated:
“Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that daily consumption of about 1½ tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid, when replaced for fats and oils higher in saturated fat, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
So, extra virgin olive oil contains properties that can offset certain diseases such as heart failure. But, as the FDA states, specific doses of around 1 ½ tablespoon or 20 grams of oils that contain high levels of oleic acid are recommended. As with most foods, too much of it can lead to further complications.
Why Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Healthy?
Extra virgin olive oil is a mainstay in many Mediterranean diets. Research has found that such diets have numerous health benefits on the heart, eyes, and brain function.
When you shop for olive oil, you will usually find the terms “virgin” or “extra virgin” preceding the name. This simply refers to the process in which the manufacturers produced the oil. Compared to standard olive oils, extra virgin olive oil undergoes the least processing.
When olive oil is processed, the manufacturers clean it with chemicals before heating it. Although this process prolongs the oil’s shelf life, it can remove a great deal of the oil’s benefit and flavor.
Research discovered that extra virgin olive oil contains more polyphenols than standard olive oil. These are a form of antioxidant that contains a whole host of health benefits. However, when oil is refined, it is stripped of its polyphenols, vitamins, and many other natural ingredients.
Extra virgin olive oil is not processed as heavily as regular olive oil. This is why it keeps much of its health benefits and is considered a healthier alternative to saturated and trans fats.
Furthermore, many agree that extra virgin olive oil possesses a better taste than more processed olive oils. As well as a fruity, slightly bitter, and peppery taste, extra virgin olive oil contains fewer chemicals and is higher in antioxidants, vitamins, and natural ingredients.
Health Benefits Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It’s hard to rival the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. It’s no surprise that it is a nutritional mainstay for some of the longest living cultures in the world, including Italy, so it’s no surprise that Italians love extra virgin oil.
Made from the fruit of an olive tree, this il is naturally high in healthy fatty acids. While there are several types of olive oil available today (regular, virgin, and extra virgin), studies have found that extra virgin olive oil holds the most benefits than any other. Some of these benefits include:
- Acts as an anti-inflammatory
- Limits the risk of diabetes
- Boosts skin and hair health
- Reduces heart issues
- Protects against the emergence of insulin resistance
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Helps weight loss
- Improves cholesterol levels
- Improves overall digestion
- Boosts metabolism
- Slows down the aging process
- Fights and prevents gallstones
- Protects people against osteoporosis
- Helps mood disorders such as depression
These are just a few of the health benefits extra virgin olive oil has been found to boast.
Oleocanthal is a phenolic compound that is evident in extra virgin olive oil. Researchers believe this is responsible for the tingling sensation you experience when tasting olive oil.
These phenols have anti-inflammatory properties that have similar effects to some painkillers. These also help fight Alzheimer’s disease and can kill cancer cells.
Properties within extra virgin olive oil are said to lower bad low-density lipoproteins while simultaneously improving blood sugar levels and enhancing insulin sensitivity.
Italians Love Extra Virgin Oil!
Fresh, unprocessed extra virgin olive oil should taste a little fruity, a little bitter, and somewhat peppery. Some regular olive oils taste metallic or even flavorless due to over-processing.
So, the next time someone asks you why the Italians love extra virgin olive oil so much, tell them it’s because of culture, processing, health benefits, and, most importantly, the wonderful variety of delicious flavors.