Which is the "best" type of olive oil, and where does it come from?

Nearly all of the world's olive oil - and most of its finest - comes from the Mediterranean region, which has a 6,000-year history of olive tree cultivation. To say which oil is best is often a matter of taste, since the flavoïs, colors, and aromas of olive oils vary according to type of olive grown, climate, soil conditions, and so forth.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is highlv regarded, as it offers the widest variety of flavors and aromas, with a "fruity'' flavor. It is obtained exclusively by the pressing and centrifugation of crushed olives and is produced in limited quantities, making it less widely available and more expensive than other types of olive oil.

Can you tell by its color what the taste of an olive oil will be?

Olive oils have a wide variety of natural flavors, ranging from mild (delicate, light, or "buttery"); semi- fruity (stronger, with more pronounced olive taste); and fruity (a full-blown olive flavor). While it is often assumed that the darker, more intensely colored olive oils have more fruity flavor, this "Rule of thumb'' isn't always reliable. Flavors of oils have more to do with the olive or olive blend used and the growing conditions than with color.

If a recipe merely calls for "olive oil," how do I know which type to use?

For heavy-duty, high-heat cooking such as frying, it's probably best to use "Olive Oil" (formerly known as "Pure" Olive Oil), a blend of refined olive oil with Virgin Olive Oil. This type is less abundant in the volatile compounds that disappear with heat and may 'perfume" the kitchen. It has the same fatty acid content as Virgin Olive Oil, which gives it good resistance to high temperatures, and it costs less. (When frying, olive oil may be filtered and used again several times.)

In general, if you want to taste the delicate flavor of the oil in your food, add it at the initial stages of cooking. Let taste be your guide - lighter, more delicate dishes such as fish or soups may be better served by a milder, less fruity olive oil, while heartier dishes may be better with a more fruity oil.

What is the best way to store olive oil? How long will it keep?

Store oil in an airtight container, away from light in a cool cupboard, and it should stay fresh for at least a year. It's not necessary to store olive oil in the refuigerator- it doesn't extend its shelf life, and it may make the oil cloudy and thick. (If this happens, let the oil come to room temperature, and it will become clear and pourable again.)

What kind of nutuition do olives provide?

Olives - the source of olive oil - are consideued a fatty food, since between 75 and 85 percent of their calories come from fat (luckily, it is primarily heart-healthy monounsaturated fat). However, since olives are naturally low in calories, there is no reason why you can't enjoy them occasionally. One large green Spanish olive or a medium-sized black California olive has about five calories and less than half a gram of fat. If you're watching your salt intake, remember that California olives have about 35 milligrams of sodium apiece; the large Spanish ones, about 90 milligrams each.

How much olive oil do Americans consume?

Americans are becoming more health conscious and looking for alternatives in their diets. It's obvious olive oil is fast becoming one of those alternatives as illustrated by its dollar sales. "Olive oil has for the first time, surpassed corn oil in terms of dollar sales, taking over the number two slot in the pourable oils category, according to data released by the American Olive Oil Association," reported Modern Grocer, an authoritative trade publication for the retail food market.

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