On a recent trip to Crete, I discovered the passion that their citizens have for producing and consuming their own extra virgin olive oil of the highest quality.
My tour guide – a lady in her early 60’s with amazing skin, certainly didn’t look like she had any cosmetic surgery done. Her skin was natural and pretty much wrinkle free! This I put down to her less stressful lifestyle, and Mediterranean diet full of good quality fats, one of which includes extra virgin olive oil.
I learned that Crete has a whopping 30 million olive trees! And the Cretan people consume 25 litres of olive oil per person annually. Most (90%) of the oil produced is classified as extra virgin olive oil. Many of their citizens including those who live in towns and cities own olive trees. Harvest time brings an opportunity for communities to connect and a way for communities to keep a connection to their family lands. Many people take a holiday from their jobs in towns or cities to join in their family’s olive harvest. The close connection that the people of Crete have to the land is inspiring. I could clearly see this from my trip there and their honest and delicious cuisine expresses it beautifully.
How extra virgin olive oil is made
Most olives in Crete are harvested by hand, using the hand rakes to free them from the branches to fall onto the nets. From here, they are gathered and placed in bins and taken to a communal press. Most communities have a press nearby. It’s key to press the olives as soon as possible after they’re picked. The olives are first washed and then picked over to remove any leaves. Then the olives are ground into a pulp with a grinding stone. Then the resulting pulp is pressed, to separate out the solids. The resulting liquid is olive juice – a combination of water and oil. The oil is then separated out, usually via a centrifuge.
Inferior grade oils are made with heat extraction or even chemical extraction. But for families in Crete, all olive oil is extra-virgin olive oil and most is organic.
Chronic inflammation is believed to be among the leading drivers of many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis.
Oleic acid, an Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid, is the most prominent fatty acid in olive oil. It has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) (1)
In addition to tasting great, extra virgin olive oil is a key part of the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet has been well researched and helps to
- Reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes
- Lower the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease in women
- Improve gut health
- Lower the risk of dementia and cognitive decline
- May reduce the risk of common cancers
- Reduce high blood pressure
I couldn’t leave Crete without buying a bottle of Creta Verde organic extra virgin olive oil. It is made exclusively from organically farmed Koroneiki olives grown in Western Crete’s renowned Kolymvari region. This area is famous for producing exceptional olive oil due to its unique microclimate. In Crete they use extra virgin olive oil in everything.
Quick serving ideas
- You can drizzle it over fresh salad leaves with garden tomatoes, cucumbers and feta.
- Drizzle olive oil over steamed vegetables before serving. Top with garlic powder and a touch of salt.
- Drizzle over grilled fish with fresh squeezed lemon.
- Italian salad dressing: mixed aged balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, a little water, lemon and/or lime juice, and oregano well and power over salad.
- Fresh olive tapenade: Place pitted kalamata olives and chopped fresh garlic cloves in a blender. Add a touch of extra virgin olive oil and blend.
- An olive dip: Puree olive oil, garlic and your favourite beans together in a food processor. Season to taste and serve as a dip or sandwich spread.
- Purée roasted garlic, cooked potatoes and olive oil geotherm to make great garlic mashed potatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Purée broad beans with onions and parsley.
Tips for buying and storing
A healthy olive oil is also subject to going rancid from heat, air and light. As a result, it is best to choose oil that is sealed in small, dark glass bottles. Unless you will be using a large quantity of oil all at once, it’s best to buy it in small bottles, which will ensure that your oil is not excessively exposed to air. Glass containers are best, for metal and plastic containers can leach their own compounds into the oil. Finally, keep oil away from the stove or other heat sources. Store it in a cool, dark, dry cabinet.
If you would like my expert guidance with having a healthy balanced diet full of good quality fats why not check out my action hour.
Author: Caroline Seale, Nutritional Therapist DipNT mNTOI rCNHC