Mediterranean Diet Ingredients: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The olive tree is a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin, which produces olive oil. Olive oil could easily be described as one of the most important ingredients to any Italian meal.
The great taste of a good olive oil isn’t the only reason that so many people use it in their dishes, but the health benefits from the oil are also a positive. Many studies have shown that there are quite a few bonuses from consuming the natural fats of the olive oil. Olive oil has a rich history, interesting production and classification process, endless benefits and nutritional value, and plays a role in many tradition Italian recipes.
The olive tree is a native to the Mediterranean Basin where the olives were harvested and collected by the Neolithic peoples in the eighth millennium before Christ. Olive oil could be referred to as “liquid gold” and athletes would ritually rub it all over their bodies. Its other purposes were obviously for food as well as medicine, religious rituals, fuel in oil lamps, soap making, and skin-care supplements.
The Medici Family tried very hard to promote cultivation of the olives in Tuscany and it is because of them that Tuscany remains one of the most significant oil producers around. Today, the olive industry is still this region’s most dependable food and cash crop since prehistoric times. The olive tree is extremely hardy and can thrive close to the sea unlike other plants that may be damaged by the underlying salt in the soil. The oil is produced by grinding whole olives and extracting the oil. It requires very minimal cultivation and technology to collect and process it into oil and it has about a year long shelf life only adding to its long list of positive characteristics.

The main types of olives that are grown in Tuscany are Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo and Pendolino. Moraiolo is one of the most important varieties out of them all, producing fruity oil with a very intense flavor that can often leave a sharp after-taste.Leccino produces a delicate almond flavor and doesn’t necessarily have strength in taste, causing the flavors to fade almost immediately after eating it. This is the reason that this particular oil is usually mixed with Moraiolo oil. Frantoio makes very fruity oil that tastes strongly of olives and Pendolino produces a similar taste to the Leccino but it has even less body. The quality of an olive oil is determined by its free oleic acid content. The acid content of an extra virgin olive oil must not exceed 1%–this is considered the best quality, and comes from the first pressing (deep green in color). Virgin olive oil comes from the second and third pressing and olive oil is blended for native and refined oil.
Oil is very high in calories since it is purely fat, however it is still healthy for you. The olives have a large range of antioxidants that cannot be found in other oils and that can be helpful to the human body. One antioxidant that is present is called hydroxytyrosol and it plays a significant role in many of the health benefits that olive oil offers. Studies have offered information showing that the oil has a protective effect against certain types of malignant tumors in the breast, prostate, endometrium and digestive tract. There is also evidence that higher proportions of monounsaturated fats in your diet, a fat that is very present in the olives, is linked with a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. Oil is also a part of the food pyramid and an important part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Olive oil is an extremely key asset to the traditional recipes of Tuscany and it can be used for a wide range of things. Olive oil is important for frying and sautéing vegetables for the classic ribollita soup. It is also a main ingredient in the tomato mixture for bruschetta, as well as a salad dressing for mixed greens or panzanella. It is a staple ingredient for almost every single type of sauce as well as preparing meals like artista alla fiorentina.
Without olive oil, it couldn’t even be imagined where the world of cooking would be today. It is used in almost every single recipe ever created and is a very flexible and diverse ingredient. Its health benefits, long shelf life, accessibility, simple production, and great taste are all reasons why olive oil is so prominent in the world’s typical diet and will continue to play a large roll in everyday life.