There are so many olive oils out there; how does one tell if one is good versus another?
According to Kadri Kassir, owner of La Maison de l’Olive in Paris, France and himself from a family of olive growers in the region of San Simeon (Syria), there are simple ways to tell.
Pour a little olive oil in a small glass; warm the glass by rotating it with the palms of your hand for a few seconds. Smell it deeply. If it smells fresh (aromatic, fruity, mildly bitter, pungent), the oil is excellent. If it smells like the fruit is dry (strongly bitter, earthy, rancid, flat), the oil is not good; if it smells like a roasted almond, it means the oil is already rancid. Taste the olive oil too, take a little sip and take the time to savor it or (throw it away!).
Kadri Kassir as a seven generation grower is himself against industrial methods of olive production, claiming that it degrades the olive oil and robs it of its healthful properties. An olive oil is judged by its virginity (in other words, was the oil extracted from the fruit without chemical treatment?). In most cases, it has been subjected to chemical treatment, unless one purchases an artisanal product.
What are the healthful properties of olive oil?
There are many, already touted and proven. Longevity, good for the cardiovascular system, digestion, skin, the list is long. It has been proven to have anti-inflammatory properties (similar to taking ibuprofen); cancer-fighting, cardiovascular disease prevention, Alzheimer’s prevention.
The danger that befalls the consumer is in buying an olive oil that has been tempered with. Some producers (as much as 40% in some markets) mix the olive oil with other, cheaper oils; others use fermented olives that would never sell to make an substandard olive oil and still call it “extra-virgin” adding artificial flavors and scents chemically (infusing it with thyme is a good way to mask the oil’s substandard quality).
Buy oil that has been pressed with citrus (the actual fruit) if you care for an enhanced experience.
All the other oils according to Kassir, (such as peanut, colza, sunflower, etc) are extracted from seeds and can only be obtained through an industrial process.
“Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is” says Dr. Yahya R. Laleli, founder of Laleli Olive oil.
He mentions that olive oil is in essence simply olive juice. When pressed the traditional way, the pulp obtained gives out an oil, which constitutes the first press. The second press consists of adding boiling water to the olive pulp which will extract yet more oil. Unfortunately, nowadays, most industrial olive oil producers use a machine with a thermostat that can regulate the heat used and the olive oil extracted this way is not as robust in its qualities and healthful benefits.
Where should one store olive oil?
In the fridge when not in use and avoid exposure to air and light. In a cupboard.
In Lebanon, olive oil production is a national pride; it is an ancient tradition, going back to Phoenician times (3rd millenium BC); Lebanon has wide groves of indigenous olive trees; however, because of the variety of microclimates and topography in such a small country one will find that the aromas and tastes of olive oil vary from one region to another.
In 2005, a new effort was developed in Lebanon to increase the quality of the olive oil, and promote each region that produces it; the new label of oils was called Tradition du Liban representing the regions of Koura, Zghorta, Akkar, Marjeyoun, Hasbaya and Rashaya el Foukhar.
To purchase Lebanese olive oil:
Al-Wadi al-akhdar (sells Tradition du Liban olive oil, classified by region)