Are all Olive Oils the same?
The answer to the above question is an emphatic no.
The Mediterranean diet has assumed its place in history due to the epidemiological data surrounding populations consuming a typical agrarian diet.
In one recent prospective study involving 5,611 adults 60 years or older, adherence to a Mediterranean style dietary pattern – characterised by high consumption of olive oil, raw vegetables, soups, and poultry – was associated with a significantly lower risk of death from all causes.
After 6 years, those most closely following the Mediterranean dietary pattern had a 50% reduced risk of overall mortality. Much less favourable were the results seen in those most closely following a ‘pasta and meat’ dietary pattern – characterised by pasta, tomato sauce, red meat, processed meat, added animal fat, white bread and wine – whose overall mortality risk increased.
The study authors concluded:
“Dietary recommendations aimed at the elderly population throughout the Mediterranean should support a dietary pattern characterised by a high consumption of olive oil, raw vegetables and poultry.” (Masala G, Ceroti M, et al., Br J Nutr.)
At the heart of the Mediterranean diet is extra virgin olive oil. But, unlike much of oil consumed in the UK, the olive oil consumed in the Mediterranean countries is freshly produced, and this is thought to be the key to its success.
Fresh extra virgin olive oil is unoxidised, has a great taste and is full of natural antioxidants such as polyphenols, vitamin E and squalene. Whilst the role of antioxidants in our diet has not been fully explained, there is no doubt diets full of a wide range of natural extracts from fruits and vegetables, such as fresh olives, provides a healthy regime for all ethnic groups.
Sadly for countries outside the Mediterranean however, the major olive oil exporting countries, such as Greece, Italy and Spain, do not export their best and freshest extra virgin oils. These are reserved for their domestic populations who are much more discerning than non-traditional olive oil consumers.
Only 10% of the total oil produced is finest extra virgin and the rest is downgraded, blended or refined to remove the oxidised and poor flavour components of degraded oil. This oil, with no natural antioxidants, is bottled in clear bottles, allowing light to degrade it further, and exported to countries.
Over the years, we have become accustomed to the bland and light coloured oils represented by these refined grades. While such oils are fine for general use in cooking, they are often oxidised (in clear glass bottles) and past their best, so offer little nutritional benefit. Their ‘healthy’ reputation has been built erroneously on the back of scientific work done on extra virgin olive oil and is therefore totally unjustified. It is no surprise consumers are confused by the myriad of oils and terms appearing on the supermarket shelves.
Luckily, Elanthy imports direct from Greece, and with the longevity of olive oil when stored properly (as discussed in a previous blog post, the 3L Elanthy can in a cool larder is ideal), UK consumers have access to the same amazing Extra Virgin Olive Oil as those living in the Mediterranean.
So, what’s in a name?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil This is the highest grade of olive oil with a free fatty acid level of below 0.8%, produced through the physical pressing of olives.
Virgin Olive Oil Like extra virgin olive oil, virgin oils have also been produced without any chemical treatment, but have a slightly higher acidity.
Refined Olive Oil Refined olive oils are those made from natural oils, but through a chemical process.
Refined Olive Oil Blend These are blends made from refined and natural olive oils, with a slightly higher acidity than refined olive oil.
Olive Pomace Oil This oil is produced from the residue left from the mechanical pressing of olives. It is the lowest grade of edible olive oil.
Pure Olive Oil Pure olive oil is actually a blend of extra virgin or virgin olive oil and refined olive oils, so not as ‘pure’ as the title suggests. It is used mainly when extracted olive oil is of poor quality and the refining process helps to give it a better flavour.
Light or Lite Olive Oil This is certainly not a low calorie option, as the name might imply. It has the same calories or energy as all other oils. It is simply termed ‘light’ because it is light in colour.