Last summer was spent in the balmy heat of the Mediterranean. I was witness to a thriving population of older generations powering up hills and playing backgammon with gumption. I knew there must be a secret and of course it had a lot to do with what they were putting in their mouths. The most profound being olive oil, so I thought why not make a guide as to what to look out for when sourcing the good stuff.
Olive oil is seasonal. Did you know that olives are only harvested once a year, in winter? So in the Australian winter, an Australian olive oil will just be freshly picked, but in the Australian summer, olive oils like Moro, which are Spanish, are harvested and produced in November. When I shop Australian from around June to November, I choose a producer based on the way they source their olive oils. – i.e. are they sourcing from local farmers all around Australia ensuring they get the pick of the crop? A producer who has lots to choose from means that I know I’m getting the best quality oil.
Dark bottles are a must. Extra virgin olive oils are a very stable oil, but with exposure to heat, light and oxygen, there is a risk it may develop an unpleasant taste and smell (referred to as rancidity). So as gorgeous as the sun is when it hits a bottle of olive oil, if you’ve got an extra virgin olive oil that’s not in a dark bottle, you’ll need to choose a dark and cool place to store your bottle of olive goodness to keep it in peak condition. You may see some olive oil in a clear bottle, but these are usually a blend of refined olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, which should still be stored out of the way of heat and oxygen, but are a bit heartier. While we are being pernickety, try to use a bottle with a pop-up pourer so you don’t accidentally waste a drop of the good stuff. (Squeaky Gate do a great new 360-degree pop up pourer designed for a smooth drip-free pour from all angles).
Colour is not an indicator of quality. The colour of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO’s) is not an indicator of its quality. EVOO’s can be green or yellow depending on the variety of olive, the region or the time of the season the fruit is harvested. The best indicator for quality is by finding an olive oil that follows the International Olive Council guidelines which is the world’s only independent organisation in the field of olive oil, and membership that covers approximately 95per cent of the world’s olive oil producers. In Australia, you can tell brands that measure up to this standard by looking for the Australian Olive Oil Association (AOOA) Quality Seal certification logo on the label.
Pairing flavours to dishes. We are so lucky to have so many beautiful oils to choose from in Australia. I sometimes compare extra virgin olive oil to wine. Every different type of olive has a different flavour. Think of it like a spice you’re adding to your dish! So how do you know which one to pick? You’ll find that different producers have different flavour variants. As an example, Squeaky Gate Growers Co. have three different flavour variants. ‘The Mild One’ for summery salads and seafood, ‘The All Rounder’ for white meats and salads and ‘The Strong One’ that has a peppery bite, perfect for heartier cooking. To help you pick, use the flavour indicators you’ll find on the labels.
A cook’s choice. Due to extra virgin olive oil’s high smoke point it can often be a better choice for cooking in pans. However, extra virgin olive oil doesn’t need to be used for just cooking. It can be a great home remedy for dry skin, dry hair and even creating a great lip scrub when paired with sugar!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil can be confusing, so my job as a nutritionist is to break down the facts into digestible nuggets of information. I now personally make a conscious effort to use good quality extra virgin olive oil in a plethora of my dishes. I think it’s impossible to see a glowing and growing older population drinking the golden nectar and not want to follow suit.
Recently, I’ve partnered with Squeaky Gate Growers Co. Their olive oils are 100% Australian grown and produced by a family owned Australian business. They follow the Australian olive harvest from grower to grower, bringing you the pick of the crop! They offer three beautiful EVOO’s - The Mild One, The All Round and The Strong One and they’re easy to find - at Coles, Woolworths and other independent retailers.