May We Recommend: Olive Oil | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

May We Recommend: Olive Oil

Image by Angela Butsch from Pixabay

Eight olive oil facts for the eight nights of Chanukah.

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Olive oil is essential to the Chanukah story. The seven-branched menorah, or lamp, that burned in the Temple in Jerusalem in Biblical times was lit with it – no surprise given that the land of Israel was filled with olive trees. Olive oil is simply the juice that was pressed out of the olives that grew on those trees.  For more than 2,000 years, Jews around the world have found ways to incorporate olive oil into their Chanukah holiday celebration.

Before you stock up on your requisite cache of olive oil to use this Chanukah, some things to know about this golden liquid.

  1. Olive oil is good for you. You can feel virtuous when using it in your holiday feasts. Olive oil is a miraculous elixir, and it is considered to be a “healthy” fat. Olive oil is high in the “good” stuff, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). According to the Mayo Clinic, MUFAs have been found to lower total cholesterol. And olive oil is rich in antioxidants and other compounds that protect against disease.
  2. Olive oil likes to be cool and kept in the dark. Both facts don’t add up, given that olive trees grow in warm and sunny climes, like Israel, Greece, Italy, Spain, and California. And while the trees thrive in the sun, the juice of those trees stays freshest when shielded from sunlight and stored in a cool place.  Buy olive oil that comes in dark glass bottles and keep it in the cabinet, not next to your stove top. No to clear glass and plastic bottles.
  3. You can fry with it. According to the food scientists at America’s Test Kitchen, olive oil has “…a smoke point of 410 degrees…fine for most cooking applications.” Most people don’t fry with it simply because it would make for very expensive latke.
  4. Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t age well. Don’t save it. Use it! Once you have opened a bottle, use it up within 2-3 months.  When you buy the olive oil in your supermarket, check the “harvest date” and the “best by” date.  You want olive oil that hasn’t been sitting around for long. Young (oil) is good; old is bad.
  5. You can bake with it, too. Try making challah with olive oil rather than vegetable oil. Or cakes made with olive oil. Sprinkle some on vegetables before roasting for a healthy, tasty dish. And before roasting chicken, massage olive oil into the skin for a moist, flavorful bird.
  6. When selecting which olive oil to buy, keep it simple. Look for oil that comes from one place and is bottled close to the source.  Be wary of olive oils that hail from several countries and are then combined in yet a different location. The best oils are picked and processed in short order.
  7. Combine high end with low. Olive oil is more expensive than other kinds of oil, like vegetable oil. Experts suggest that, when cooking with olive oil, you use the relatively less expensive supermarket olive oils for cooking and then finish your dish with a splash of the pricier oil. The experts at America’s Test Kitchen tested supermarket olive oils and came up with two that delighted time and again – California Olive Ranch Destination Series Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil (it comes in a square-shaped, green glass bottle) and Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Original, Rich Taste. For the more high-end oils, which you might use in dressings or as a splash on top of bean dishes, experiment with some of the finer oil you might find in fancy food shops. The difference between the supermarket oils and the more expensive stuff comes down to the quality of the olives themselves, how quickly they were pressed and how the oil was preserved once pressed. 
  8. Don’t let the color influence you. Flavorful olive oil comes in all colors – dark green, light yellow, and everything in between.  Taste different olive oils, as you would wine, to find the flavor that you find most appealing. The color of the oil should not be the deciding factor.

Enjoy that miraculous oil this holiday season – in your Chanukah lamps and in your Chanukah feasts. Experiment with different oils to determine what you like, those that are robustly flavored or others that are more delicate. 

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