How to Assess Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is a staple of healthful Mediterranean cuisine.

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Extra virgin olive oil is a staple of healthful Mediterranean cuisine. A glance at olive oils in the supermarket reveals a bewildering array of choices. How do we choose the best oil for each use? On a recent afternoon at Annabelle, guests were treated to a seminar by olive oil sommeliers Tassos C. Kyriakides and Jill Myers. 'The variety of olive oils and their complexity can enhance a cook’s culinary curiosity, while its addition to cuisine can have a positive impact on consumer health parameters,’ Kyriakides says. To begin, pour oil into a (preferably dark) glass and warm it with your palms to room temperature; a good olive oil has fruitiness and a balance between spiciness and bitterness. As the group sipped six oils, cleansing the palate with green apple between tastings, a sense of the variety and complexity of the flavours emerged. The cultivar, terroir, and even adjacent foliage can affect an oil’s taste. Mild oils pair well with grilled fish and seafood, while robust oils pair well with red meat, aged cheeses, and stews. To emphasise their health benefits, Myers introduced three additional oils abundant in polyphenols, which have been shown in some small studies and lab experiments to help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. Kyriakides, a research scientist at Yale University School of Public Health, recommends a daily dose. Direct sunlight, heat, and oxygen all degrade the quality of olive oil, so the sommeliers recommend storage in a cool, dark space with the cap tightly sealed. As your appreciation of the variety of olive oils increases, you may find yourself adding bottle after bottle to the pantry!