Olive oil helps carry the flavor of foods and spices, provides a pleasing feel in the mouth, and satisfies the appetite. Liberal use of it will enhance both savory and sweet dishes without guilt because of its wonderful health-boosting properties (although if you're trying to lose weight, you may not want to overdo it, because like all fats, it provides nine calories per gram).
Virgin and extra-virgin oils are best used uncooked or cooked at low to medium temperatures. Refined and olive oil grade oils are the choices for high-heat uses, such as frying.
An oil's smoke point is the temperature at which it smokes when heated. Any oil is ruined at its smoke point and is no longer good for you. If you heat an oil to its smoke point, carefully discard it and start over. Olive oil has a higher smoke point than most other oils (about 400 degrees Fahrenheit). Refined olive oils have a slightly higher smoke point (about 410 degrees Fahrenheit).
Tips for Cooking with Olive Oil
Although extra-virgin and virgin olive oils stand up to heat remarkably well, they do lose flavor as they're heated, so they are best for uncooked dishes. Use them to harmonize the spices in a dish, to enhance and build flavors, and to add body and depth.
Olive oil also balances the acidity in high-acid foods, such as tomatoes, vinegar, wine, and lemon juice. In general, treat your olive oils as you do your wines, carefully pairing their tastes with the flavors of the other ingredients in the dishes you are creating.
Here are some ways to use olive oil:
- Drizzle it over salad or mix it into salad dressing.
- Use in marinades or sauces for meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables. Oil penetrates nicely into the first few layers of the food being marinated.
- Add at the end of cooking for a burst of flavor.
- Drizzle over cooked pasta or vegetables.
- Use instead of butter or margarine as a healthy dip for bread. Pour a little olive oil into a small side dish and add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar, which will pool in the middle and look very attractive.
- For an easy appetizer, toast baguette slices under the broiler, rub them lightly with a cut clove of garlic, and add a little drizzle of olive oil.
- Replace butter with olive oil in mashed potatoes or on baked potatoes. For the ultimate mashed potatoes, whip together cooked potatoes, roasted garlic, and olive oil; season to taste.
- Make a tasty, heart-healthy dip by mixing cooked white beans, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor; season to taste with your favorite herbs.
- Use olive oil in your sauces -- whisking will help emulsify, or blend, the watery ingredients with the oil in the sauce.
The Most Versatile Version
You can use multipurpose fine virgin olive oil in almost any recipe. It is moderately priced despite being close in flavor to more expensive extra-virgin olive oils. Plus, you can use it in high-heat applications, so feel free to grab fine virgin olive oil when you need to saute, panfry, or stir-fry.
Fine virgin olive oil is also the right choice when you want quality flavor but not that strong olive taste. Try these tips for fine virgin olive oil in your kitchen:
- Brush it on meats before grilling or broiling to seal in the meat flavor and juices and create a crispy exterior.
- Add to eggs and drizzle over toast.
- Sprinkle on brown rice.
- Before refrigerating homemade pesto, add a thin layer of fine virgin olive oil on top of the sauce after putting it in a jar so the pesto will keep its green color.
Baking with Olive Oil
Most people don't think of using olive oil when baking, but it's actually a great way to get more monounsaturated fat and polyphenolic compounds in your diet. Choose the lite, light, or mild type of olive oil for baking, especially savory breads and sweets such as cakes, cookies, and other desserts. Because of the filtration these types of oils have undergone, they withstand high-heat cooking methods.
Substituting olive oil for butter dramatically reduces the amount of fat -- especially saturated fat -- in your baked goods. And of course, olive oil does not contain any of butter's cholesterol. You'll also use less fat -- you can substitute three tablespoons of olive oil for a quarter-cup of butter. (Check your cookbook for substituting advice.)
The product still turns out as expected, but with 25 percent less fat, fewer calories, and more heart-healthy nutrients.
Olive oil can enhance the flavor of almost anything you eat. Now that you know how it gets to your table, you'll know how to get the most out of it.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gayle Povis Alleman is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in traditional nutrition from Western Washington University and a master's degree in alternative nutrition from Bastyr University. This varied background allows her to bring together the best of both approaches to offer research-based, holistic information about wholesome foods, nutrition, and health. As a writer, educator, and speaker, she encourages people to achieve optimum health through food, nutrients, and physical activity.