Olives, and Olive Oil, the oil that is pressed from these wonderful little fruits of nature, have long been lauded for their health giving properties - but why? Is there any substance behind the Olive's reputation, and if so, on what is it based?
The Mediterranean Diet
People talk about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. When you "drill down" into what it consists of, the Mediterranean diet is based on plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, an abundance of seafood, and lots of Olive Oil, used both for cooking and for drizzling on salads.
The Health Giving Properties of Spanish Olives
One of the largest Olive producing countries in the world is Spain, where they have an amazing variety of this product which Mother Nature lays on a doorstep; a product that according to the latest research, has the ability to modify almost 100 genes which can cause and inflame various conditions from heart disease to arthritis.
The Olive itself, and of course its oil, (in particular "Extra Virgin" Olive Oil), are one of life's most important ingredients for good health and long life.
There are 262 different varieties of Olives in Spain. Most find their way into shops, onto bar counters, and onto dining tables, not only here in Spain, but all around the world too. But despite the huge amount of choice, only 24 varieties of Olive are used for making olive oil, the liquid once referred to by Homer as "liquid gold".
The Largest Olive Oil Producer in the World
Spain is the largest manufacturer of olive oil in the world, exporting over 300,000 tonnes per annum. The variety is enormous, and the cream of the crop is extra, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The oil is produced from Olive trees that grow in Olive Groves all over Spain, from Andalusia to Catalonia.
Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil is like Fine Wine
The colours, flavours, and aromas are as different and distinctive from one another as can be, and connoisseurs of quality Olive Oils are just as fussy and precise about choosing their favourite oils, as wine connoisseurs are about selecting the best wines.
Andalusia – King of Spain's Olive Oil Producing Regions
In Andalusia alone there are an estimated 165 million olive trees! This region accounts for an enormous 75% of all Spanish Olive Oil production. In actual fact it cultivates more olives than anywhere else in the world, the province of Jáen producing more than the entire country of Greece, even though it only has 10% of Greece's land area.
The Different Grades of Olive Oil
There are several grades of olive oil. Starting with the top of the range, they are:
In essence, Virgin Olive Oil is made from the first pressing of the fruit. Other than having been picked and washed, the Olives do not undergo any other treatment prior to pressing.
The Difference between Ordinary Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There is a small, but nonetheless very important difference between Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, and Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil, as any Olive Oil connoisseurs will very quickly tell you. Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains a maximum 8% of Oleic Acid, and has a higher concentration of Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Chlorophyll and Magnesium. Some people say that heating Olive Oil causes it to lose some of its health benefits. This is not the case. Its health giving benefits remain intact, although it does however lose some of its flavour.
Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil is in fact made with olives that are slightly riper and it contains less than 2% of Oleic Acid.
The Improved Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
When it comes down to the health benefits of Olive Oil, there is a considerable difference between the benefits gained from extra-virgin as opposed to ordinary virgin. Recent research has revealed that Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) contains many more active inflammatories than Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil does. This is down to the fact that EVOO contains a higher concentration of phytonutrients.
As well as helping to improve heart health, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil also helps to lower levels of cholesterol, and reduce blood pressure. Recent research has also associated EVOO as helping to prevent many forms of cancer.
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