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Olive Oils of the World and their Health Benefits

Olive oil has long been touted for its amazing health benefits, such as reducing pesky LDL cholesterol, minimizing the chances for gallstones, ulcers and other belly related ailments, potentially warding off certain cancers thanks to rich anti-oxidants, and it’s a known anti-inflammatory. Unlike other types of vegetable oils, olive oil does not have bad cholesterol and actually improves your HDL (the good cholesterol).

Research has proven that folks living in Mediterranean countries have much lower incidents of heart issues by and large to their consumption of olives and their oil. For centuries, there have been many beauty oriented benefits to olive oil such as being a wonderful natural skin and hair emollient, too.

More than 22 different countries produce olive oil around the world, but Greece, Italy and Spain are most well known for their ancient pursuits in the production of this magical elixir. These healthy oils are in such demand that Spain, which produces nearly 50% of the world’s supply, has nearly doubled its normal production in 2013-2014.

The quality of olive is determined by a grading system. If you are looking for a superior olive oil, go for extra virgin or virgin olive oil. Extra virgin oil comes from the first press of the olive fruit within 24 hours of harvesting, and has the most flavor and health benefits--which is also why it’s the most expensive. The production of this high grade of oil cannot include the use of heat, chemicals or any other fillers (such as different oils). As further pressings of the fruit continue, the quality decreases as does the flavor, but it is better to consume a mid-grade olive oil than some of the other vegetable oils on the market. Lower grade olive oils (usually labeled at Pure Olive Oil) are refined and can contain a blend of other oils, but are perfectly fine for cooking.

Much like wine, olive oil comes in a multitude of different flavors and aromas depending on who has produced it and where in the world it comes from. So, try lots of different varieties until you find one you like. Try higher grade gourmet oil when it comes to salad dressings, dipping bread or drizzling over a dish for flavor since you will be using less and you will get more flavor for your buck. If you have to fry or cook something that requires a lot of oil, a lesser grade might be in order so that you don’t take a hit to the wallet—as olive oil is much more expensive than your typical supermarket Wesson oils.

If you’ve wondered why some olive oils have a green tint while others have a golden yellow hue, this has to do with whether the fruit is ripe or not. A green color means that the olives are unripe and the oil tends to have a stronger taste; while a yellow shade comes from ripened fruit and the oil has a milder flavor. Neither one is better than the other, and it’s just a personal preference as to which one you go for. Typically, the darker the hue of the oil, the stronger the flavor will be.

Storing olive oil properly is key to maintaining its integrity. Bright light, heat and air are to be avoided to prevent a change in the flavor and quality of your oil. Try to buy your oil in dark metal cans versus plastic containers so that light does not plague your liquid gold and make it go rancid. Keep your oil in a lower cabinet furthest away from your oven or any heat source. Like other oils, olive oil will not last for endless years in storage once opened. Buy as much as you can consume in three or four months at a time to ensure you’ve got the freshest quality and the best flavor.

Finding your favorite olive oil isn’t hard--simply dip a piece of bread in to figure out what tickles your taste buds. Take a look at this list for some ideas of what to try in your local market from around the world. Though America is not the biggest producer of olive oil, it is starting to rank highly in terms of offerings, so don’t hesitate to try some of the US’s top oils, too.

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Photos 1 and 2: courtesy of Creative Commons License