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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Olive Oil -- In Season

Olive oil should be consumed all year round, but winter is the best time to savor its freshly crushed, robust flavors.

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The stronger the bite, the better. The compound called oleocanthal that gives olive oil its distinctive throaty sting is the very element that researchers have found to have anti-inflammatory properties. Internal inflammation is noted to have a key role in many modern diseases. To get the maximum nutritional benefit, skip over the "light", tasteless oils and go for strong, green and unrefined.

Olive oil is best consumed uncooked. Although not harmful when heated under the smoking point, its good-for-you fats and anti-inflammatory compounds become unwound when heated and will lessen the many health benefits for you. Try to incorporate raw olive oil into your diet everyday. Drizzle it over steamed veggies, in salads or on meats after cooking.

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Lemon
Browned chicken is gently braised in a punchy, spiced charmoula (lemon and herb sauce). The lemons and olives are added at the very end to maintain their nutritional value...

Tuscan Minestrone Soup
A bowl of comfort... yet the addition of fresh vegetables and a drizzling of olive oil just before serving ensures nutritional vitality for the soup...

Deciphering the Labels

Extra-Virgin: This is the finest quality olive oil and always comes from the first pressing of the olives. Extra-virgin oils do not contain any refined oils and cannot be produced with chemical treatments.

Virgin: Virgin oils are less superior to extra-virgin, but no chemicals are used in processing and no refined oils are added.

Pure: Not really pure at all, these labels refer to oils that are usually a mix of refined oil and virgin oil. "Pure" oils cannot claim to be cold-pressed or untreated.

Cold-Pressed: Oils become bio-chemically altered when heated. Cold pressing keeps the delicate oils intact, maintaining sound nutrition quality, freshness and flavor.

First-Pressed: This oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, giving the oil a rich, strong, flavorful taste and a fine balance of acids.

Light: In other words, refined. These oils have been treated to neutralize any strong flavors. Refined olive oil has gained popularity in the west for a few reasons: it has a hotter smoking point and it doesn't have a taste. It also subliminally suggests to consumers that it has fewer calories than regular olive oil. Refined olive oil has the same amount of calories, yet is devoid of its many nutritional benefits.


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