Back home, my family’s pantry was always stuffed with different types of oils. My mom loves to cook and is always changing up which oils she uses, so I always had a nice selection of oils to chose from when cooking. Usually, I used grapeseed oil or sesame oil for cooking and coconut oil for baking. Oddly enough, olive oil was never a major staple for my family’s meals. We reserved it mostly for specific recipes (usually Italian) and salad dressings. However, since arriving in Rome, olive oil has quickly become a regular part of my diet.
I use it every morning to cook vegetables and eggs, I use it most afternoons as a snack paired with some fresh bread and tomatoes, and I have yet to cook a dinner without it since my first night here. When shopping, I’ve only seen a different type of oil (vegetable) once, and I found myself surprised by how quickly my roommates and I could go through a family sized bottle of olive oil that would’ve lasted me months back home.
Still, despite the fact that olive oil has practically replaced water in my daily life, when a store owner recently asked me what I actually knew about olive oil and how it’s made, I stared at him blankly. Then it hit me, I knew absolutely nothing about the basics, much less the intricacies, of olive oil — or differences between types and brands even though I haven’t gone a day without it in months. Luckily, this store owner was kind enough to give me and my roommates a very detailed lesson on the importance of olive oil. Here’s my best attempt at condensing a two-hour long conversation into major takeaways that I truly think are useful to everyone, whether you’re living in Rome or anywhere else in the world!
1. Always wait until the very end of cooking to add the bulk of the Olive Oil
- Olive oil has a lot of really cool health benefits according to our olive oil connoisseur. Apparently it can lower cholesterol, improve digestion, and help with heart health. However, he stressed that these benefits are best absorbed by the body when the olive oil is not exposed to high heats, so adding olive oil at the end of a recipe will help you to get the most out of the oil!
2. There is a notable difference between refined, virgin, and extra-virgin olive oils
- Although I always knew there were different types of olive oil, I never paid much attention to the labels and what the different types actually meant. How olive oil is labeled has to do with how it is produced and how acidic the final product is as a result of that production. Refined Olive Oil has the highest amount of acidity, whereas Extra Virgin Olive Oil has the least – it has to have under 0.8% of free acidity. This least amount of acidity comes from using a method called cold extraction to produce the oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is also the most bitter of the three.
3. Keep your olive oil sealed tight
- Every time olive oil is exposed to air it loses a bit of its nutrients and flavors so it’s important to keep the cap on as much as possible. Because of this, it’s better to buy olive oil in smaller batches so it stays fresher and has more benefits with each use.
Talking to someone who was so knowledgeable about Italian cooking culture made me realize that there’s always room to learn more, even with the parts of Italy that I’ve become most comfortable with. There’s more than meets the eye (or mouth) with olive oil, and with all this new information, I’m hoping to convince my mom to keep our pantry full of different types of olive oil once I get home!