It is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps. Olive oil is used throughout the world, but especially in the Mediterranean countries and, in particular, in Greece, which has the highest consumption per person.
Legend has it that the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena to humanity. Homer referred to olive oil as liquid gold, and Thomas Jefferson proclaimed it the richest gift of heaven. For centuries, a gift of olive oil was a welcome treasure. Food-lovers have never entirely forgotten the delightful golden fluid, but in recent years, a new awareness of the benefits of olive oil has been born. Science has turned its investigative eye upon it in recent years, and numerous studies have only reinforced the notion that olive oil is an amazing substance with numerous benefits.
Probably the most widely-used oil in cooking, olive oil is pressed from fresh olives. It's mainly made in the Mediterranean, primarily in Italy, Spain and Greece (though countries such as America and Australia also produce it). Much like wine-making, climate, soil and the way the olives are harvested and pressed all have an impact on an oil's character.
Olive oil is assessed on three criteria - fruitiness, bitterness and pepperiness - the flavour, smell and colour can vary radically, both according to its origin, as well as whether it's extra virgin (the finest grade) or not.
Generally speaking, the hotter the country, the more robust the flavour of the oil. It is also possible to flavour olive oil with herbs and spices by steeping them in the oil for ten days or so (though chilli needs far less time).
All year round.
30 HEALTH BENEFITS OF OLIVE OIL
Choose the bestExtra virgin oil is the most expensive type, and is made from the first cold pressing of the olives. It has a very low acidity rate (under 1%) and is best used for dipping or to dress salads - both because its superior flavour is impaired by heat and because it has a low smoking point.
Virgin olive oil is also a first pressing, but has a slightly higher acidity level (under 2%). It should be used in much the same way as extra virgin, and can also be used to cook Mediterranean dishes to create an authentic flavour (but should not be used for deep frying).
Refined to remove its impurities, and blended to improve flavour, pure olive oil is the cheapest olive oil there is. Its flavour is quite bland, so it's not worth using it on salads, but it's a good all-purpose cooking oil (again, don't deep fry with it).
Oils from Spain tend to be smooth, sweet and fruity, with hints of melon and nuts and very faint bitterness - they're quite versatile.
The flavour of Italian oils varies from region to region. The north produces oils that are mild, slightly nutty, and very good with fish. Oils from the centre of the country are stronger-tasting, with grassy notes. Southern Italy, including Sicily, produces oils that have a drier, more herbal flavour.
Greek olive oils are herby, fruity and sometimes peppery - good all-rounders.