Monday, November 30, 2009
How Olive Oil Can Be Like Those Freaky Child Beauty Queens
Dear Tricia, Does light olive oil have less calories than other olive oils? What's the difference between that and extra virgin? Is one better than the other?
Its pretty easy difference, actually. Extra virgin olive oil is olive oil in its purest, most immaculate and angelic state, and light olive oil is a wanton whore. Okay, not really. I just felt like calling an inanimate object a wanton whore. Its been that kind of day.
Light olive oil doesn't have less calories than regular olive oil. All fats, no matter if its butter, Crisco, vegetable oil, whatever... it all has 9 calories per gram (about 120 calories per tablespoon of olive oil). So if you're just counting your calories and not looking at the health benefits of different oils and fats, you're wasting your time because its all the same.
When oil is pressed out of olives, the fat molecules break down into their basic fatty acid components, called "free oleic acids." The more free oleic acids you have running around, the lower the quality of oil. Lots of free oleic acids also mean the oil will burn at a lower temperature and no one likes burned oil. Its nasty and it will ruin Christmas.
Extra virgin olive oil is allowed to have up to .8% free oleic acid content to be called extra virgin and it has a very specific flavor profile and aroma. Supposedly this is the best of the best kinds of olive oils because its made from "perfect" olives that are pressed immediately after they're harvested, and it doesn't have a lot of free oleic acids. And because of the low acidity, it has a high smoke point so it won't burn easily.
Virgin olive oil is the oil after its first pressing with no added colors, flavors, or other refined oils. It is allowed to have 4% free oleic acid content, meaning its got a lot more of those guys floating around that make the oil burn faster than extra virgin.
Light or Extra Light olive oil is usually a blend of super refined (and treated with chemicals) olive oils that give it a really light flavor and color. At this point, most of the flavor has been taken out entirely so it doesn't really resemble olive oil anymore. There are no exact regulations that light olive oil has to follow to be called "light."
So, if you compared these three olive oils to beauty pageants, extra virgin would be Miss America, virgin would be first runner up in the Miss America pageant, and light olive oil is one of those freaky 6 year old southern beauty queens with the fake teeth, giant hair, and accompanying stage mom. I'll take Miss America, please.