Olive Oil: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Olive oil is a cooking oil widely used in Mediterranean cuisine, known for its rich flavor, versatility, and potential health benefits, such as improving heart health.

What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is the oil (liquid) produced from olives that is used for cooking, baking, frying, or drizzling over food. The oil is either mechanically pressed from the olives (extra-virgin olive oil or virgin olive oil) or olives can be exposed to heat or chemicals to release the oil (refined olive oil or pure olive oil). Olive oil has many health benefits, including being high in monounsaturated fats.

Is Olive Oil Good For You?

Yes! Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats and can be included with almost every lifestyle.

8 Health Benefits Of Olive Oil

1. Olive Oil Boosts Heart Health

  • Studies have shown that heart disease is less common in Mediterranean countries, leading to more people world-wide eating a Mediterranean-inspired diet that has now been shown to significantly reduce heart disease risk

2. Olive Oil Fights Inflammation

3. Olive Oil Is Rich in Heart-Healthy Monounsaturated Fats

4. Olive oil is High in Antioxidants 

  • Polyphenols, powerful plant compounds, are found in olive oil and provide a great source of antioxidants

5. Olive Oil May Lower Risk of Stroke

6. Olive Oil May Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Risk

7. Olive Oil May Prevent Cancer

  • A Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil and plant-based foods. Researchers have found that people who include olive oil have a much lower risk of certain cancers

8. Olive Oil May Improve Brain Health and Memory

History, Background, and General Facts about Olive Oil

  • Olive oil has been an integral part of the Mediterranean diet (countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea) and people who live in these countries have been found to have lower risk of heart disease
  • The top producers of olive oil are Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Greece, and Turkey. The most consumed olive oil is in Greece, then Italy and Spain.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Olive Oil?

  • Italian - pasta, salads, pesto, olive oil cake, focaccia, and dipping bread
  • Greek - salads, fish, dipping bread, olive oil cookies
  • Turkey - artichokes and green beans cooked in olive oil
  • Tunisia - mashed zucchini dip, Ful medames (fava beans in olive oil), couscous
  • Middle Eastern - hummus, lamb dishes, artichoke dishes
  • American - roasted vegetables, hummus, pesto, sauteed vegetables
  • Spanish - gazpacho, tortilla, sofrito, dipping bread
  • Moroccan - couscous, chickpea salad

What Is The Best Way To Store Olive Oil?

The best way to store olive oil is in a cool, dry place away from heat and sunlight, such as a pantry or in the refrigerator if you don’t plan to use it quickly.

What Are The Different Types Of Olive Oil?

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

  • Extra-virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil and the highest-quality, purest olive oil and companies must abide by strict production standards to make it

  • It is extracted by cold-pressing (mechanically extracted instead of chemically treated) to preserve the natural oils from the olive and to provide maximum health benefit and flavor

  • It typically has a golden-green color, with a distinct peppery flavor

Virgin Olive Oil

  • Virgin olive oil is made using a similar cold-pressing process as extra-virgin olive oil and is also an unrefined oil (mechanically extracted instead of chemically treated)

  • Virgin olive oil also maintains the purity and taste of the olive, though production standards are not as rigid as extra-virgin olive oil

Refined Olive Oil (Pure Olive Oil or Olive Oil)

  • Refined olive oil (or pure olive oil) is a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil (heat or chemically treated to extract the oil) 

  • Refined olive oil has gone through heat and/or chemical processing to extract the oil, rather than mechanically pressed

  • Refined olive oil is a lower-quality oil than virgin olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil because it has been processed. It is lighter in color and has a milder flavor

Extra Light Olive Oil

  • Extra light olive oil is lighter in color and flavor, and not lighter in calories or fat

  • This oil has been refined (gone through heat and chemical processing to extract the oil)

Olive Pomace Oil 

  • Olive pomace oil is the lowest quality olive oil. It is extracted from the residue of oil and water that remains after the fruit is pressed

  • The residue still contains a small amount of oil that can be extracted

  • Virgin olive oil is sometimes mixed with the oil from the residue to improve the quality

  • It can be used for cooking and is also used in beauty products like soaps

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Olive Oil

Consuming olive oil is considered safe unless you have an allergy to olives.

What Is The Best Substitute For Olive Oil If I Don't Have Any?

If you don't have olive oil available or need a substitute for it in a recipe, there are several alternatives you can consider depending on the purpose and flavor profile you're aiming for. Here are some options:

  1. Vegetable Oil: Vegetable oil is a versatile substitute for olive oil in many recipes. It has a neutral flavor and a similar texture, making it a suitable replacement in cooking, baking, and dressings. Use vegetable oil in the same amount as the olive oil called for in the recipe.

  2. Canola Oil: Canola oil is another neutral-flavored oil that can be used as a substitute for olive oil. It has a high smoke point, making it suitable for frying and high-heat cooking. Use canola oil in the same quantity as olive oil in the recipe.

  3. Avocado Oil: Avocado oil is a healthy alternative to olive oil and has a mild, buttery flavor. It works well in cooking, sautéing, and salad dressings. Use avocado oil as a 1:1 substitute for olive oil.

  4. Coconut Oil: Coconut oil can be used as a substitute for olive oil in certain recipes, especially those that benefit from its distinct tropical flavor. However, keep in mind that coconut oil solidifies at lower temperatures, so it may not work well in recipes that require liquid fats. Use melted coconut oil in a 1:1 ratio as a substitute.

  5. Butter: In some recipes, particularly in baking or sautéing, butter can be used as a substitute for olive oil. Keep in mind that butter has a different flavor profile, so it may alter the taste of the dish. Use it in the same quantity as olive oil and adjust flavors accordingly.