Regional Flavor Differences in Greek Olive Oil:
Coroneiki olives in the rocky, dry areas of the Peloponnese, i.e. the Mani, produce exceptionally aromatic oils, often peppery and In parts of the Peloponnese, especially Messinia, Koroneiki is pressed with other local varieties, mainly Manaki and Athinolia. These oils are lighter with more citrus and nutty tones. Oils from Kranidi and Lygourio in the Eastern Peloponnese, are usually pressed from the Manaki olive. These oils offer subtle aromas of apples and citrus fruits with only a touch of bitterness and pepper.
Crete leads the islands in into the international market. This island boasts seven PDO regions as well as a PGI. Koroneiki dominates here as it does on the mainland but there are some local varieties such as Tsounati in Chania, Throumbalia in Rethymnon and Hondrolia in Heraklion. The flavours of the oils are quite varied.
Heavy vs Light Olive Oil
People often ask about heavy vs. light olive oil, a question that is a bit unclear to begin with! Heavy smelling olive oil means poor quality, while a light or pleasant smell is fruitiness and all the good things. A bad quality olive oil is heavy in taste as well.
Why does olive oil go cloudy (white sediment or pearls in the oil)?
When the temperature of the bottle drops below 8C then the olive oil starts freezing and the fatty acids contained develop as milky substances. It regains its clarity when brought back down to room temperature. If it is cloudy at room temperature, then that is due to poor filtration or intentional lack of filtration. Filtration is delicate: you want to remove olive skin , pit fragments and other materials but do not want to overdo it with a quality olive oil because you remove nutrients and flavor.
Does olive oil contain preservatives?
NO! Olive oil is a natural preservative. Before refrigeration it was used to keep olives, cheeses, meats, fish and vegetables for long periods of time. We still see products like this today, such as the ladotyri of Mytilleni and Zakynthos, tyrobalakia, cured fish, even pasto and singlino from Mani.
How to Choose and Store Olive Oil
How do we judge the quality of olive oil and know its flavor and nutrients have not diminished?
- Smell and taste it. Look for the positive attributes—is it fruity? Peppery? Grassy? Pungent? These are all positive qualities.
- If an oil smells or tastes rancid, you will know it immediately. The oil will smell and taste very heavy, almost moldy or musty.
- The flavor and nutrients of an olive oil are best preserved in young oils, so look for the production or bottling date on the label.
- Buy oil from a shop with high turnover, which indicates that the oils don’t sit on the shelf forever.
- Do not buy olive oil that has ben sitting under bright lights or in a shop window in the sun, as heat and light destroy flavor and nutrients.
- Look for olive oils that are bottled in dark glass or tins, which protect from light.
The best way to sample olive oil is literally to drink it. How do we do this?
- Place oil preferably in a dark blue glass, so as not to be influenced by color, which is not an indication of quality.
- Warm the glass in your hand to release the oil’s aromas.
- Smell it, then drink in a little, together with some air, swirling it in your mouth.
- Between samples of different oils, eat plain bread or an apple slice to clean the palate.
- Think about flavor characteristics: pepperiness, pungency, fruitiness, bitterness, blandness. Is there anything negative? Can you taste hints of almond, apple, grass, or citrus?
Which is the best olive oil to buy?
There is no real answer to the first question beyond saying that the best olive oil is the one that appeals to an individual’s personal taste. Ask yourself if you like fruity oils or more peppery, pungent oils? For fruity, direct them to Cretan oils; for pungent to oils to the Peloponnese; for milder oils to Lesvos; to all-purpose oils, to the major brands that don’t necessarily have a place associated with their production.
What is the best way to store olive oil in order to keep all its flavor and nutrients intact?
Keep olive oil in dark bottles with the cap tightly on, in a cool, dark place to avoid oxidation. Consume as quickly as possible. NEVER keep olive oil exposed to light or heat.
What is the shelf life of olive oil and how long are its nutrients intact?
Shelf life is a function of storage to a certain degree. Most companies give an 18-month shelf life; some, i.e. Gaea, have reduced that to 14 months. Unfortunately, very few, if any, Greek producers list the harvest date on the bottle. Most write “best consumed before” a certain date.
Which olive oil is best for salads, which for cooking?
To a degree, this is a matter of personal choice. However the top of the line extra virgins, from specific areas, many PDOs or PGIs, with the lowest acidities, are also the most flavorful, so these are advisable in salads or raw as a garnish in other uses (bruschetta, drizzled in soups, over grilled fish, etc.) Look for an all purpose extra virgin for cooking. Price is often an indication of these differences. So, expensive oils should be used raw in salads; cheaper ones should be used in cooking.
What is the importance of olive oil in Greek cooking?
- Raw, in a huge variety of cooked and raw salads, from boiled greens to Horiatiki.
- As a cooking fat.
- As the fat and flavoring agent in a category of dishes based on olive oil (ladera).
- In frying and sauteeing.
- In baking (cakes, cookies, etc.) and increasingly in more advance pastry (mousses, ice creams, etc.)
- As the perfect, simplest garnish for grilled fish and more.
Basic Health Benefits of Olive Oil.
Why is Olive Oil good for us?
- Olive oil plays a role in the famed longevity of the Greeks.
- Greeks consume more olive oil than anyone in the world, more than 20 liters per person a year.
- Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids and is also known to have anti-inflammatory qualities.
- It has proven beneficial for metabolism, healthy arteries, stomach, gall bladder and more.
What are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are a group of chemicals found in many fruits, vegetables, and other plants, such as berries, walnuts, olives, tea leaves and grapes. They are classified as antioxidants, meaning that they remove free radicals from the body. Free radicals are chemicals that have the potential to cause damage to cells and tissues in the body. Polyphenols have been found to possess a variety of potential health benefits, including cancer prevention and reducing the risk of getting heart disease. Some studies have also found that polyphenols lower LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, in the body.
Basics of Greek Olives
Most consumers recognize Greek table olives either by their place names or their curing and processing. There are dozens of different kinds of olives, distinguished by either place or process, but only a few main varieties. All olives change from green to black and eventually wrinkle as they mature.
One variety can produce several different kinds of olives (some might be green, others black or wrinkled, some brined, others preserved in olive oil, some whole, others slit or crushed slightly, for example).
What are the major Greek table olive varieties and their characteristics?
The most famous is the Kalamata. Shiny, brownish-black, tight-skinned, “almond” shaped. Usually slit on two sides and preserved in vinegar and/or olive oil. Conservolia, 80% of all Greek table olives, is the most important commercially. Large, oval, rich dark green when unripe and changes as it matures: greenish-yellow, greenish-red, mahogany, and finally, dark, bluish-black. Processed both green and black and is known by place: Volos, Amphissa, Agrinio, Stylida, Atalanti. Megaritiki. Grows mainly in Attica. Cured as green olive, w/ lemon & garlic. Throumba: There are many different wrinkled olives in Greece, sometimes called zaromenes or stafidates or hourmades, but the dark, oily, black Thassos throumba is the most famous.
What are the major Greek table olive varieties?
What does the term organic olives mean?
Organic olives have not been grown with any chemical pesticides or fertilizer and use natural, organic means to combat the olive fly. They are not processed with any chemical means, such as caustic soda.
What is the difference between soft and crunchy or hard olives?
Pasteurization increases the softness of the olives. Some olives are by nature softer, as they mature naturally on the tree, such as Kalamatas (Salt and vinegar help firm them up.) Nevertheless they should not be too soft. Pitted olives are softer than unpitted.
What substances are used to preserve olives?
Natural lemon juice
What is the difference in taste between olives in brine and olives in oil?
Olives in oil tend to be softer than those in brine. Olives in brine tend to be crunchier than those in oil. The main difference is in texture, although olives preserved in olive oil have a particularly rich, round taste. Olive oil is not the only oil used to preserve olives. Because it is expansive and because it solidifies when refrigerated, which many consumers don’t like, many producers use cheaper seed oils that have neutral or no flavor.
What is the best way to preserve olives in their jar?
If the olives are in a glass jar in olive oil, close the lid and store in the cupboard after opening. If the olives are in brine, refrigerate after opening. If the olives are in a tin, divide them up in jars after opening. Refrigerate those in brine and store those in olive oil in the cupboard. Throumbes (wrinkled black or brown olives) should be refrigerated. Olives in ziplock packages may be stored in the packages, refrigerated once opened.