Olive Oil

February is Heart Month and there is no better way to celebrate than by adding a little more olive oil to your menu. Buon Appétito!

Olive Oil

Nutrition Notes

Olive oil is unique among vegetable oils in that it is produced by purely mechanical means. It is a simple process of grinding or milling the olives and then pressing them to extract the oil. This process has changed very little since Greek and Roman times - just the equipment has been updated!

In the past few years, olive oil has received a lot of attention from health professionals and the media. Rich in monounsaturated or �good� fat, olive oil has been linked with reducing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers such as colon and breast and may have a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels.

Many studies have shown that replacing some of the saturated fat from animal products in the diet with monounsaturated fats such as olive oil will reduce the LDL or �bad� cholesterol levels in the blood while maintaining the HDL or "good" cholesterol. In this way, the risk of heart disease is reduced. A diet that focuses on unsaturated sources of fat, among other things, is generally known as the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is widely believed to be the ideal way to eat for health. It is rich in grains, legumes, fruit, vegetables and of course, olive oil. Red meat, poultry and fish are had in small serving sizes and less often.

As well as disease-preventative monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil contains polyphenols, flavonoids and antioxidants. Olive oil is also currently being investigated for potential antibacterial and antifungal properties.

One teaspoon of olive oil has 40 calories, 4.5 g total fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 3.3 g monounsaturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat and 10 mg phytosterols (plant compounds that may help prevent cancer).


Olive oil comes from many places including California, France, Greece, Italy and Spain. The flavour, colour and fragrance of olive oils can vary dramatically depending on many factors, such as growing region and the crop's condition. All olive oils are graded in accordance with the degree of acidity they contain as well as their flavour, colour and aroma.

There are hundreds of different types of olive trees, and most olive oils are blends of several varieties. The characteristics of the oil will also depend upon the ripeness of the fruit and when they are harvested. Olives harvested early will produce a richer, fruitier oil, and olives that are processed later in the season, produce a milder oil with a less robust flavor.

The best olive oils are cold-pressed, a chemical-free process that involves only pressure, which produces a naturally low level of acidity. The following are some of the labeling terms you will come across when purchasing olive oil:

Extra Virgin - The cold-pressed result of the first pressing of the olives is only 1 percent acid. It is considered the finest and fruitiest of the olive oils and is thus, the most expensive. It can range from a champagne colour to greenish-golden to bright green. Generally speaking, the deeper the colour of the oil, the more intense olive flavour.

Virgin - This is also first press oil, mechanically produced, with an acidity of between 1 and 3 percent. It comes from the second cold pressing of the olives and left over pulp.

Olive oil - This is a blend of refined and virgin olive oil. "Olive oil" must have an acidity level of not more than one and a half percent. Olive oil with flavour or aroma defects is refined to produce an odourless, colourless and tasteless olive oil. Virgin olive oil is added to this oil to give it some flavour and colour. These oils will vary in the concentration of added virgin oil and their flavours and prices will reflect this.

Olive-pomace oil - This is not an olive oil and should not be labeled or presented as "olive oil." It is refined oil that is extracted from the olive pomace or pulp that remains after pressing. Like ordinary olive oil, it is flavoured with small amounts of extra virgin olive oil.

Extra-light - Olive oil that has been refined to produce a lighter colour and flavour. Extra light olive oil is ideal for foods where an olive oil flavuor would be undesirable, in baking for example. Extra-light oil has no fewer calories than extra-virgin or other olive oil.


There is an enormous range of tastes and flavours of olive oils even within categories such as extra-virgin. Styles vary from very sweet and mild to very bitter and pungent.

Oils also vary in how peppery a taste they have. It is more a matter of personal preference as to how peppery you like your olive oil. It is a misconception that good olive oil must be peppery.

As some of the higher quality olive oils are very expensive you may want to try a smaller bottle at first, if available. Or if there is an olive oil tasting event in your area, this would be a good place to taste many different ones to see what your preference is. Check out the Canadian link of the International Olive Oil website and look under events.


Olive oil should be kept in a cool, dark place as heat and light can cause rapid oxidation, which makes the oil turn rancid. Stored this way the olive oil should keep up to 6 months. Don't keep olive oil above the stove or oven. It is also generally not advisable to refrigerate olive oil, although it will keep up to a year this way. Refrigeration doesn't cause any harm or change the nutrient value of the oil, but it will solidify and be unusable unless brought back to room temperature.


Rich, fragrant extra-virgin olive oils should be saved for places where the wonderful fruity, peppery tastes will be highlighted. Use for salad dressings, marinades, uncooked sauces, for tossing with grilled vegetables or brushing on bread. Use the lighter oils for sautéing and in places where you don't want a very prominent olive flavour, such as baking.

Caution: Flavoured oils are nothing new and are great for dipping with fresh crusty bread or for including in pasta sauces or marinades. Commercial versions have been in supermarkets for quite a while. Instead of paying big bucks for a little oil, you can flavour your own olive oil. However, there are safe and unsafe ways to make flavoured olive oil. The unsafe way is to put anything in the oil that contains water. That would include garlic, lemon peel, fresh peppers, fresh herbs and spices. The oil will not support bacterial growth but the water-containing herbs will. Botulinum bacteria can grow in this type of environment.

Methods to flavor olive oil safely include:

  • Combine olive oil with flavourful water-containing ingredients (whole cloves of garlic, lemon peel, fresh or dried peppers, ginger, rosemary sprigs, etc.), refrigerate them and use within a week.
  • Mix a small amount of oil with fresh ingredients, then decant the oil and discard the herbs and water. Mix this flavoured oil with a larger amount of oil.
  • Add essential spice oils to the olive oil.
  • Preserve the added ingredients before combining them with olive oil (e.g. in a strong brine or commercial-grade vinegar solution, which are up to 4 times stronger than vinegars sold in supermarkets and are available through commercial food supply outlets).
  • Dehydrate the herbs (mushrooms are good this way too) to remove all water, leaving the essential oils. This could be done using a food dehydrator or by leaving the herbs in the sun.
  • Pressing spices, lemon or garlic with the olives is the safest way to flavour olive oil, but you must have your own olive press or take it to a commercial press

For more on this go to: http://www.oliveoilsource.com/flavoring_olive_oils.htm

Tip: Guidelines for substituting olive oil for butter or margarine in baking: (Bertolli website)

Butter/Margarine Olive Oil
1 teaspoon
¾ teaspoon
1 tablespoon 2 ¼ teaspoon
2 tablespoons 1 ½ tablespoons
¼ cup 3 tablespoons
â…“ cup ¼ cup
½ cup ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons
â…” cup ½ cup
¾ cup ½ cup + 1 tablespoon
1 cup ¾ cup


Let your imagination run wild! Just remember that olive oil is still 100% fat with the accompanying calories. See Nutrition Notes for details.

Did You Know? The olive is the fruit of the olive tree.

FYI: Approximately 73% of the olive oil we consume is imported by Italy. Spain, Turkey, Greece, Portugal and California are also suppliers.

Healthy Ways to Enjoy Olive Oil:



  • Cook your eggs in a little bit of olive oil instead of butter.
  • Try baking your favourite quick bread or muffins with some olive oil substituted for the usual butter or margarine.
  • Use olive oil in breakfast stratas and frittatas.



  • Use olive oil in dressings for green and pasta salads.
  • Drizzle a small amount of olive oil into vegetable or minestrone soup for extra flavour.
  • Serve fresh crusty bread with flavoured or plain extra-virgin olive oil for dipping.
  • Use olive oil instead of butter when sautéing vegetables or other foods.
  • Baste grilled fish with flavoured olive oil.
  • Drizzle olive oil over vegetables before grilling.
  • Make pesto in the summer when fresh basil is abundant. Freeze and use in pasta dishes, soups, sauces, spreads and stuffing throughout the year.
  • Try olive oil for sautéing, basting or roasting meat dishes.
  • Use a small amount of flavourful olive oil in mashed potatoes instead of butter or sour cream.



  • Choose dips that are made with olive oil instead of sour cream or mayonnaise to enjoy with crackers or raw veggies.
  • Brush leftover crusty bread with some olive oil and top with fresh tomatoes and herbs. Toast until bread is golden and tomatoes are softened.

More Information

  • Olive Oil: From Tree to Table by Peggy Knickerbocker, Chronicle Books, 1997
  • The Flavors of Olive Oil by Deborah Krasner, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
  • The Little Book of Olive Oil by Nicolas de Barry, Rizzoli, 2002.
  • The Olive Oil Cookbook by Beverly Jollands, Lorenz Books, 2003.