(All photos courtesy Con ‘Olio)
I attended a fabulous Olive Oils and Balsamics Workshop this past weekend and learned so much. The cooking class also consisted of a chef’s preparing of three healthy and flavorful salads, so I thought I’d share some of the many tips I acquired as well as one of the recipes. Thank you Faraday’s Kitchen Store and Con’Olio!
First, a little background. The recent and increasing popularity of the long celebrated “Mediterranean Diet” has resulted in massive amounts of olive oil being sold and consumed across America. It seems we’ve discovered what Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards have known for centuries: consumption of an olive oil-rich diet has immense health benefits. The key however, is making sure you are consuming real olive oil. Yes, sadly, there is what’s basically fake olive oil and it’s probably on your favorite grocer’s shelf.
Researchers at UC Davis recently concluded that roughly 70 percent of the EVOO, or extra virgin olive oil, sold in the U.S. is tainted and falsely labeled, a stat echoed in the book “Extra Virginity.” Most of the oils you find on a grocery aisle are pressed, imported, bottled and sold with no regulation guaranteeing their freshness or authenticity. In the most common practice, EVOO is blended with, or sometimes even substituted by, lower-grade olive oil and processed from olive-pressing waste and over-ripe olives. In Mediterranean countries, this type of oil is called “lamparte or lamp oil and is considered unfit for human consumption. Yikes!
Other common fillers found in so-called pure olive oil are canola, sunflower, and hazelnut oils, as well as chlorophyll, which gives the fake stuff the popular greenish tint. You’ll also find these types of oils often bottled in green bottles. I’m not going to mention any names here, but just know that some of the market’s biggest and most popular brands have been found guilty of doing so, largely because there aren’t laws in the U.S. protecting consumers against such products. This practice is so widespread that producing and selling fraudulent olive oil is said to rival that of the illegal drug trade.
It’s tough to regulate the olive oil industry in the U.S. because virtually 98 percent of it is imported. There has been no need to protect domestic olive oil producers and the EU’s International Olive Council’s grading systems carry no weight stateside.
And, don’t think that just because you spend a lot of money on an olive oil it’s going to be pure and real. Price is not a sole indicator of this, but if you pay less than $10 a gallon it’s likely the product you just bought isn’t made of olives, much less pure ones.
FOR THE HEALTH OF IT
The attraction to an olive oil diet is understandable. EVOO is high in anti-oxidants and is known to help cardiac health, lower blood pressure, protect against certain cancers, ease symptoms of ulcers and gastritis, lower gallstone formation, lower “bad cholesterol” in the blood, protect bone density, and it’s a proven anti-inflammatory. It’s also said that consuming just three tablespoons of fresh olive oil a day helps with joint, heart, and memory health.
How then, can you know you’re buying the real deal? Of course Con ‘Olio recommends you buy all your oils from them, but if you don’t, here are some tips they shared:
Make sure the product you’re buying has a “Harvest” or “Crush” date. This is the day the olives fell off the tree. Keep in mind that all those health benefits I mentioned earlier are really only around the first year of oil’s life. Any oil that has a “best by” date less than two years out is considered good and contrary to what many believe, an olive oil can be used on high heat as long as it’s six months or younger.
During the class, we actually tasted olive oils much like you would wine at a wine tasting. I was so hesitant at first, but it’s amazing how wonderful a good olive tastes! It is vibrant and lively and not greasy or oily…at all. When tasting an olive oil, it’s recommended you slurp it then continue with a few more “slurps” as it goes down your throat. It should feel crisp and slightly more and more peppering with every slurp. That’s how you know you have a new and high-quality olive oil. After experiencing this, you will know right away when tasting an old, rancid, or just not good olive oil.
So now that you’re looking in your pantries and seeing that the olive oil you have may just be one of those “blends” of olives from different countries and may contain mysterious fillers, what to do with it? Use it on cutting boards, wooden salad bowls, and other similar items. One more tip: do away with all those decorative olive oil decanters for counter and stove tops. The best place to store an olive oil is in a cool, dark pantry or cabinet…not on a counter where sun or artificial light can hit it all day.
We are Austin’s source for the highest quality, largest selection of Ultra Premium extra virgin olive oils & aged balsamic vinegars on tap! Our oils are imported fresh from the Northern & Southern hemisphere, chemically verified & sensory evaluated to ensure authenticity & quality. Harvest dates & full chemistry provided. Come taste the delicious difference!
Balsamics, on the other hand, are often better the older they are. In fact, a balsamic that’s been cast-aged for at least 12 years is considered the finest. Thankfully, a good balsamic will last up to three years in your pantry and considering that “balsam” is the Latin root for “to cure” or “to restore,” you can bet they have health benefits as well. In fact, they have been used medicinally since the middle ages!
Now to the fun stuff: the recipe for Chef Katy Parker’s fabulous salad!
Quinoa with Arugula, Butternut Squash and Cranberry Salad
For the salad:
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 pounds pealed butternut squash
1 cup rinsed quinoa (considered a “super food” and the only grain that’s a whole protein)
2 cups water or vegetable stock
2 cups baby arugula, rinsed and spun dry
¼ cup dried cranberries
For the vinaigrette:
Juice of one lime
2 T orange juice
2 T lemon olive oil
2 T strawberry balsamic
½ t salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425. Place butternut squash in large baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat and roast for 15-20 minutes until tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven, set aside, and cool.
While squash is baking, make the quinoa by warming 1 t olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add quinoa and stir until toasted. Add water or stock, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. (Katy recommends rinsing quinoa before cooking to reduce its bitterness, look for dark quinoa for more flavor, and cook your quinoa in a flavored liquid like stock or wine.) Quinoa is done cooking when grains appear translucent except for a whitish ring around the middle of each.
Remove quinoa from heat, fluff with fork, and transfer to large bowl. Cube squash and add to bowl, along with arugula and cranberries.
In a small bowl, whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients and pour in bowl, tossing to coat all salad ingredients.
Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Serves 4 to 6.