Overture to Olive Oil in the Kitchen

By Debra L. Karplus

A cartoon favorite since the 1930s, Popeye popped spinach by the can into his mouth as he wooed his love interest, Olive Oyl. Olive was energetic with a slim build. Perhaps her stamina, vitality, and good health were the result of incorporating olive oil, her namesake, into her diet. She may have even kept her skin and hair looking beautiful by using homemade cosmetics containing olive oil. Popeye and Olive might have been way ahead of their time. Possibly they knew some dietary secrets well before the health food craze gained impetus in the 1960s and grew in the decades that followed.

Though the olives you eat don’t really feel oily, olive oil is the oil that comes from the olives that are grown near the Mediterranean Sea, and mainly in Spain, Italy and Greece. There are several different grades of olive oil. But, frugal as you pride yourself in being, you don’t want to simply select the cheapest variety.

Your temptation is probably to buy the cheaper refined olive oils, but since this grade of the oil is processed with chemicals, it’s therefore not as healthy for you. So spend the extra little bit of money to buy virgin or extra virgin olive oil which are physically made without chemicals; these grades of olive oil also have the reputation of a superior flavor. If the label says ‘pure olive oil’, it’s likely to be a blend of refined and virgin oil, thus it’s best to avoid it.

Olive oil has health benefits for you.

Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, unlike most other oils that you can buy at the grocery. Your body needs those fats as they can help lower cholesterol and decrease your chances of having heart disease. Olive oil is also known to balance the omega fats in your diet. Additionally, antioxidants, which boost your immune system, are plentiful in olive oil. If you’re watching your weight, take note that a teaspoon of the oil contains approximately forty calories. But a little bit is often all you really need when preparing and serving foods with olive oil.

Replace butter, margarine, and other oil with olive oil in your recipes.

Your cookbooks and websites have numerous ideas of how to incorporate olive oil into your diet. For example, snack on plain, not buttered or salted, popcorn topped with olive oil and parmesan cheese. Or dip slices of whole grain bread in olive oil seasoned with oregano or basil. Some specialty breads such as focaccia bread are actually made with olive oil and fresh rosemary.

Stop buying bottled salad dressing. It’s expensive, comes in wasteful containers, and is generally not healthy for you; store-bought salad dressing is typically loaded with salt and fats from oils that don’t have the health benefits of olive oil. Salad dressing also usually contains a list of unfamiliar ingredients, whose names you can’t even pronounce!

Instead, dress salads with apple cider vinegar and a bit of olive oil, then add dill weed or seed or some other herb such as fresh or dried parsley. When preparing stir fry dishes and entrees, use olive oil instead safflower or vegetable oil. Tomato sauce and tomato paste from a jar or can are loaded with much more sodium than your body needs.

Instead of tomato sauce, add pesto to macaroni and pasta dishes. Pesto is made with olive oil, parmesan cheese, basil, garlic and pine nuts, all blended together.

More expensive than other oils, olive oil is definitely worth the extra expense.

Oftentimes, items that at first glance seem pricey are true dollar stretchers once you’ve weighed their overall benefits. Thus is the case with olive oil. Indeed, it does cost more than vegetable oil and generic cooking oils, but it’s one of those foods that is notably healthier than similar products adjacent to it on the supermarket shelf.
You can buy olive oil in one of the many specialty stores nationwide that sell only olive oil, and yes, there are enough varieties to fill an entire olive oil shop. But unless you are a gourmet, you are smart to buy olive oil in a supermarket, health food store or even online. For approximately $ 2.50 you can purchase an 8.5 fluid ounce bottle containing 250 ML.

Olive oil typically comes in ornate glass bottles, and is best stored away from heat, light and air. Its shelf life is approximately six months. So be prudent in purchasing only the quantity you think you’ll use in that amount of time. Unlike much other food shopping, buying in bulk may not be sensible when bargain hunting for olive oil.

If you don’t already have olive oil in your kitchen, next time you’re shopping for groceries, put a small bottle of store-brand virgin olive oil in your cart and experiment with some of its many cooking uses. You’ll be surprised at the many ways to incorporate olive oil into your recipes. And you’ll be pleased to be on the road to healthier eating.

This article by Debra Karplus first appeared on Debra Karplus, freelance writer and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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