Buffs in the Kitchen: Olive oil — a guide

OLIVE OIL! Scream it from the Rocky Mountain mountaintops people. Olive oil is a gift from southern Europe that dwarfs all other artistic, cultural or linguistic exchanges. But don’t fact-check that.

Olive oil is the liquid fat extracted from olives and forms the primary ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Almost uniformly recognized, its health properties range from potentially preventing cancer and strokes to helping keep a balanced weight.

I guzzle the stuff. But not all of the verdant liquid-gold is created equal. While navigating the supermarket aisle, here are some things to look out for:

Extra virgin: No, this doesn’t mean it has never been kissed before. It does mean that it was made under a strict set of guidelines. These rules try to ensure the oil in the bottle tastes the best, but beware some bottle that tote the extra virgin label are frauds.

Virgin: A rare find. Honestly, I would buy a bottle just to say I spotted one like a rare animal on a hunt. This step down in oil quality is created in higher temperate extractions that use chemicals to squeeze every drop of oil out of the fruit. The extraction may render more product per olive, making a cheaper oil, but the less stringent processes used deteriorates the quality of its taste. But there is a plus side: the less luscious-tasting oil can handle higher heats without burning.

Extra virgin needs “happy heat,” the beautiful middle between high and medium, to not smoke. But the less quality, the higher the heat the oil can take.

Pure: Yet another step down the ladder, pure is a good oil to do high-heat cooking with. The taste is often light and contains undesirable notes of flavor.

Flavored: I was recently sent a bottle of garlic infused olive oil by a local Boulderite. “Look Out Here I Come” is a type of flavored oil that I usually stay away from. Why pre-package the flavors when using your own fresh flavors is an option? But I did find helpful uses for this bottle, and other flavored types of oil. In breads, I put a tablespoon or two in to make the dough more silky and to impart the garlic flavor without running the risk of having fresh garlic slices spoiling. I also use it in red sauce that I want to be a creamy puree, free of chunks of peppers or garlic. So, this bottle came in handy. However, I do not recommend flavored oil for raw use, as flavored oils are often a way to pass off sub-par oil.

Some recipes to spark your olive oil craving:

My mother’s salad dressing. I am taking this one right off my family dinner table.

-Two parts olive oil

-One part vinegar (I like pinot grigio best)

-Cracked pepper

-Hefty pinch of salt

-Extra: lemon zest and sesame seeds

Dress red cabbage, spinach, and tomatoes for a summery salad not to be resisted.


Classy mac ‘n’ cheese

Keep the boxed stuff for a rainy day; instead spring for a night of Italy’s finest.

-Fusilli pasta cooked in vigorously boiling salty water

-Two table spoons of extra virgin olive oil on “happy heat” (medium-high)

-A heap of grated hard cheese, such as parmesan or pecorino

-Half a cup of the pasta water (it has some beautiful starches in it)

-Cracked pepper

-Al dente (slightly undercooked) pasta goes into the pan of cheesy goodness.


The ultimate grilled cheese

-Sourdough bread sliced thickly

-Cheese of your choice

-Thinly sliced mushrooms

-Sauté herbs and spices of your choosing in olive oil

-Cook the sandwich in the fragrant oil


Contact CU Independent Multimedia Managing Editor Jackson Barnett at jackson.barnett@colorado.edu.

Jackson Barnett

Jackson Barnett is the editor-in-chief the CUI. Originally from D.C., his interests have turned eastward as an Asian Studies major. He hopes to take his writing, photography and Hindi language skills internationally to continue a career of reporting from South Asia. Follow him on twitter @JacksonWBarnett

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