Olive oil. It’s a culinary staple, like salt and pepper – something we use on weeknight dinner autopilot. We pour it in a pan to fry, brush it on veggies to grill or simply dip our bread in it like butter without putting in much thought. Little do many people know, olive oil is a magical ingredient with many uses and with a little knowledge, it can be your new secret weapon in the kitchen.
To start better integrating olive oil in your meals you need to know what will satisfy your tastes. So, what kind of olive oil is right for you? Our guide below will show you what to look for on your next trip to the store.
For the purist
The unfortunate truth is that not all olive oils are created equal. What you might find on the shelves of the grocery store down the street isn’t necessarily going to be the same thing you would find at an artisanal or specialty shop. Due to a lack of regulation, bottles labeled 100% extra virgin olive oil at the grocery may not actually be 100% extra virgin. Some are even cut with other types of oil. The best way to ensure your purchase is pure is to find a shop that specializes in olive oils. While this may be slightly more expensive, you’re not only paying for quality – you’re paying for the peace of mind that it is pure and good.
For the supermarket shopper
If you don’t have time to go to a specialty shop and have to rely on a grocery store brand, there are still ways you can ensure your purchase is true quality extra virgin olive oil. If you are shopping in a supermarket, you should always look for darkly colored bottles – or better yet, cans. Over time, light can adversely affect the integrity of the oil, so the less that it is exposed to light, the better and more enjoyable it will be.
For the sweet tooth
Infused olive oils can take your cooking abilities to the next level. It’s so simple to vamp up your crutch desserts and turn them into gourmet treats. Let’s take brownies, for example. Whether you make them from scratch or buy a mix from the store – simply replace the vegetable oil the recipe calls for with a fruit infused EVOO and voila – you now have flavored brownies. To take it a step further, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and top with a chocolate balsamic and you’re sure to impress your next dinner guests.
For the spice lover
Look for an EVOO infused with chipotle pepper. Through the infusion process, the oil absorbs some of the heat of the pepper and all of the flavor. If you live spicy, then this kind of oil would be perfect for you – drizzle it over your vegetables, scrambled eggs, pasta, or really anything that to which you’d like to add a kick of heat.
For the midnight snacker
There’s just something entrancing about the sound of popcorn popping on the stove. Substitute the oil in the pot for a butter infused extra virgin olive oil, and once it’s done popping simply add a dash of sea salt for popcorn like you’ve never tasted. For a simple and filling snack, you can even dip bread into a quality olive oil and enjoy. You can also jazz this up by adding a variety of herbs and spices, as well as balsamic vinegars, to create an easy but delicious hors d’oeuvre for your next get together.
For the world traveler
Single estate olive oils are some of the highest quality oils you can find. Single estate simply means that all of the olives are grown on a single farm or estate, and the oil is bottled on site. Each region where olives are grown (the most notable being Italy and Greece) has varying climates and unique soil properties, and as a result, the oils each have their own distinct flavors and qualities. For example, if you want to recreate the spaghetti alla carbonara you still vividly remember from your stop in Orvieto on your last European excursion, look for an EVOO from the Umbria region of Italy.
There are so many different kinds and varieties of olive oils and each is going to have it’s own unique flavors and characteristics, so the best way to find which one is right for you is to taste them for yourself. Visit a specialty shop which will be sure to have a large variety for you to try, as well as a knowledgeable staff that will be able to tell you when, how, where and by whom each oil was made. Based on their knowledge and your own tastes, you’ll be able to find the perfect olive oil for you.