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Today, olive oil is the unsung hero of meals around the world. But extra-virgin olive oil didn’t make its first appearance in American kitchens until the 1980s. Back then, people were skeptical about the oil, convinced that it was only meant for a light drizzling on special occasions.
Since the 1980s, the price has dropped, making the beloved oil more accessible and allowing Americans to use it more and more. But beware of strangely low prices. Some “extra-virgin” olive oils on the shelves are mixed with cheaper oils like sunflower and canola which do not have the same health benefits as the real thing. Other olive oil products are colored with chlorophyll or beta carotene, faking out consumers worldwide.
It doesn’t help that labels are getting harder to interpret. The term “extra-virgin” (meaning the very first pressing), isn’t as helpful now as products have switched from presses to modern centrifuges. The European Union, where a great majority of the world’s oil is produced, has been making a great effort to enforce more transparent labeling. But for now, the most reliable stamp of approval would be the European Union’s system of food certification on the bottle.
Once you find that bottle, check for the date when it was made. Experts and producers suggest that if you’re looking for the most delicious oil on the market, you reach for the freshest bottle. How quickly these olives get from their tree to your cupboard determines more about the taste of your olive oil than anything else on the label. Since olives are a fruit, olive oil is perishable and starts to degrade as soon as it’s exposed to oxygen. Once the bottle is opened, it retains its peak flavor for only three to four weeks, so don’t be afraid to use it up within the month.
In European countries, the average person consumes about 20 liters of olive oil each year while Americans go through less than one liter. Olive oil has numerous health benefits that are supported by scientific research, so Americans shouldn’t be so shy to pour it with their elbow held high.
Olive oil is filled with healthy monosaturated fats which reduce inflammation and lower levels of cholesterol. Plus, it contains large amounts of antioxidants which reduce your risk of chronic diseases. In fact, olive oil has a long resume of preventing illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And don’t worry. Olive oil may have a high fat content, but studies show that it does not cause weight gain. In fact, the Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil and is one of the healthiest diets a person can follow.
So next time you’re at the grocery store, take an extra moment to read the label on your oil. Once you’ve found your perfect bottle, go ahead and pour on the good stuff. Because as long as it’s the real thing, you will experience some real benefits. Enjoy!