Mediterranean Olives

Revered, healthy, flavorful
By Carolyn Samuel

The beautiful olive tree is synonymous with the Mediterranean and is a characteristic symbol of that landscape. The world’s religions associate it with wisdom, peace, and prosperity. From a culinary perspective, as the only fat derived from pressed fruit, olive oil has been championed in recent years as a particularly healthful food.

Olive Oil is Healthy

The first great doctors of ancient Greece used olive oil in their cures and the olive tree is mentioned in the Bible, where it is seen as a symbol of strength and purification. From a culinary standpoint, the fragrance and flavor of olive oil are obvious, but olive oil contains a significant combination of nutritional benefits too.

Extra-virgin olive oil contains predominantly the monounsaturated fat, oleic acid, which research shows to be neutral in terms of triggering adverse health effects. It also contains a desirable ratio of omega-3s compared to other fats—extra-virgin olive oil contains 200 mg per ounce.

Extra-virgin olive oil is also rich in natural antioxidants, containing vitamins A, D, and E; flavonoids; and phenols. These substances have all been shown to help slow down the aging process, leading to better overall health. Observational studies show that Mediterranean people are less likely to suffer from heart disease, several types of cancer, and some digestive disorders—this is often attributed to olive-oil consumption. Furthermore, fat plays a critical role in energy metabolism, brain health and function, and the function of cell membranes throughout the body.

Italian Olive Oil

Many countries produce olive oil, but Italian olive oil is unique. The longitudinal geography of Italy means that olives grown in the south can develop different flavor profiles than those grown in the north. Therefore, local oils become truly unique and unrepeatable—this is the real wealth of Italian extra-virgin olive oil. At a local level, the blending processes used at olive farms vary significantly. The cultivation of the olives and the characteristics of each oil based on the olives used can change the flavor and fragrance considerably.

A wide number of olive varieties are grown in Italy: Lavagnina from Ligura, Frantoio from Tuscany, Casaliva from Lake Garda, and so on. Each is unique and delicious. Some blends produce oils that are delicate with sweet aromas, while others produce oils with grassy notes or aftertastes of bitter almond or pepper. Some are golden yellow and others are rich green.

More information about Italian olive oil, including a selection of recipes, is available from flavor-your-life.com.