The Best Olive Oil for Cooking
A Beginner’s Guide to the Mediterranean Diet
Extra-virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils for cooking and a staple in the Mediterranean diet. And there are so many ways to use it.
By Vicki Martinez
ABOUT OLIVE OIL
Olive oil is made by grinding olives into a paste, then extracting the oils using cold-press or centrifugation methods. Types of olive oil differ in taste, color, and aromatic profile based on the type of olive used, which varies by region.
DID YOU KNOW?
Spain, Italy, and Greece are the largest producers of olive oil worldwide. In North America, California takes the top spot.
Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the purest and most high-quality type of olive oil. It’s considered the best olive oil because it hasn’t been refined (treated with chemicals or heat during processing).
Standard olive oil is a lower-quality product, typically a blend of refined and extra-virgin olive oil.
BETTER HEALTH: OLIVE OIL BENEFITS
It's no coincidence that olive oil is one of the top staples of the Mediterranean diet (which happens to be one of the healthiest ways to eat in the world). Olive oil is a source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and is packed with polyphenols—naturally occurring compounds found in fruits and veggies and well-recognized for their antioxidant properties. Research suggests olive oil consumed as a food and in the context of Mediterranean diet may be associated with health benefits including:
- Increased longevity and healthy aging
- Decreased risk of type 2 diabetes
- Decreased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
On labels reading “Light Olive Oil” the term light refers to the color or taste, not fat or calories.
DID YOU KNOW?
Drizzling your best olive oil on cooked pasta—before it cools—helps keep the pasta from clumping together.
Chef Lorenzo also recommends using EVOO and a dash of white wine to enhance the flavor of seafood. "Butter tends to flatten the delicate flavors of seafood," he says. And when it comes to top-shelf EVOO: "I reserve my best EVOO only for finishing," says Boni. "Adding a little will go a long way and infuse the dish with a more complex and robust flavor.”
OLIVE OIL FOR COOKING: TIPS & TECHNIQUES
Not only is olive oil good for you, but it is also versatile. A quality EVOO is great for sautéing, grilling, frying, or roasting. It's the perfect base for dressings and marinades and can be used to make homemade mayo and aioli.
Skip the heavy cream or butter. Olive oil is all you need to make a great sauce (like in this simple Barilla® Tomato Basil Penne with Zucchini & Garlic dish), adding flavor and nutritional benefits to your pasta, says Barilla Executive Chef Lorenzo Boni.
A prominent university in California has an entire center dedicated to olive oil research: UC Davis Olive Center