Munich / Willstedt (dpa / tmn) – Konrad Bulik wants to get olive oil out of his “fat corner”. “We tend to compare oil extraction to the art of a winemaker,” says the founder of the arteFakt olive oil campaign from Wilstedt in Lower Saxony. For olive oil connoisseur and author Michaela Bugner of Munich, the oil was not as good as it is today. However, when buying, many feel overwhelmed.
The selection is huge and the term “excellent virgin” has swelled up in almost all of the bottles. So what should you look for when shopping?
Unfortunately, the quality is not recognizable by the label or the price, experts alike say. High quality can only be recognized by smell and taste.
Pure natural product or bulk synthetic goods?
According to European Union regulations, olive oil is divided into different quality classes. The highest level of “extra virgin” should be reserved for oils of perfect aroma and taste and with a minimum amount of fruit. In addition, there are “virgin olive oil” with mild flavors and “olive oil”.
The latter is a mixture of very sensory defective oil which needs to be refined with a small percentage of virgin oil. Refining makes the oil tasteless, but the biologically active substances lose nutritional value. “Native” means extraction using exclusively mechanical processes and without heat treatment.
Experts criticize that the biggest space for extra virgin olive oil is fake labeling these days. “EU regulation on olives dates back to the 1990s and has chemical analytical values that are very friendly to the industry,” says Bogner, author of SuperOlio. Conrad Bölicke also complains that many of the limit values are too loose. Olive oil that contains more than 0.4 percent of free fatty acids is not flavor-free. However, the law allows up to 0.8 percent for the upper class.
Michaela Bogner says a new generation of producers processes typical regional olives using innovative oil mill technology into highly essential oils. In Italy alone there are 540 ancient varieties of olives, but the oil is extracted only from 100 species.
The expert is an advocate of a new olive oil category, which – like her book – calls it “SuperOlio”: “Today, oils from major producers are in the same product category as those produced by industrial bottles. But these oils are two different worlds, which the consumer blogger on the label cannot see. This is a big problem.”
Recognition of quality requires knowledge and practice
As with wine, you need a full range of reliable information, right down to the individual producer, locations and types of olives, says Konrad Bulik. And you must know important things about oil. It states that it is mostly a fruit oil, not a kernel or seed oil.
In addition to the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the olive stone, olives convert fructose into monounsaturated fatty acids during the ripening process. Especially the latter, which contains polyphenols and vitamin E, are the reason why olive oil is considered healthy.
In order to be able to get acquainted with the quality, an accompanying tasting is recommended for beginners. Sharpen your sense of smell and taste and learn how pure olive oil smells and tastes.
At the start of their online tasting, Jörn Gutowski of Try Foods in Berlin or Michaela Bogner points out: Devouring is encouraged! After smelling, draw a small sip into your mouth containing a lot of oxygen. This creates a fiery, slapping noise. Do not be alarmed when swallowing as the bitter notes and peppery spices spread to the mouth and throat.
Fruity, bitter and spicy
Like wine, fruit oil is all about aroma. A good olive oil should have green herbal ingredients that range from grass to wild herbs to tomatoes and taste fresh. Anything that doesn’t smell fresh and plant-based is foul. They are prohibited from using extra virgin oils.
On tasting, pungent and bitter tones develop in the oral cavity, throat and larynx, from subtle and fleeting to strong and prolonged. This depends on the type of olive, the area of cultivation, the time of harvest and the processing technology of the ultra-modern mills. Grinding stones are a thing of the past.
Professionals classify the oil’s density into the categories of fruit, bitterness, and pungency. “The general rule is: the higher the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenol content in olive oil, the more intense and bitter the taste will be,” says Bogner. Thick fruit olive oils usually take a while to get used to, especially for beginners.
Mono-origin olive oil is best expressed by the characteristics of the olive variety and Terroir, that is, the entire natural environment. Some oils are also available as a blend. For this purpose, olives of different types are simultaneously harvested and processed in an oil mill. Bogner: “It is better to first produce oils of one kind, that is, to observe the optimal harvest time for each individual olive variety, and then to create a mixture.”
Higher quality can be heated
Legend has it that only refined olive oil can be heated. Experts unanimously assert that this is simply a mistake. Conrad Bölicke explains: Due to the high temperature stability of monounsaturated fatty acids, you can cook, roast, fry or bake in olive oil without hesitation. Regardless of whether it is refined, virgin or extra virgin oil. The burning point of olive oil is about 210 degrees Celsius.
However, the high price of high-quality olive oils and the loss of subtle aromas counteract this. The flavor and aroma of these drops are best when mixed or sprinkled over a dish just before serving. “When the oil is heated, the aromas evaporate. The sour and bitter components of the taste also subside,” says Michaela Bogner.
Everything in the kitchen
When cooking, professionals choose olive oil to match the density of the dish. Fruit oil goes great with lentil or bean stews, grilled steaks, or hearty stews like bolognese sauce. Konrad Böllek uses it to garnish his Greek salad made of feta cheese, tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. Or soak a piece of fennel in essential oil.
Medium-fruited oils are essential for grilled foods, whether it’s fish, seafood, or vegetables. Light fruit drops, on the other hand, heighten the aromas and flavors of gently cooked fish or chicken and smoothen the sauce for delicate leaf salads.
Michaela Bojner uses the strong, bitter notes of fruity olive oils to balance out the sweetness or richness of the dish. “These oils work great on creamy burrata with fresh figs, on top of vanilla ice cream, basil syrup, or on very starchy dishes like bean mashed potatoes,” she says.
Berlin cookbook author Rose Marie Dunhauser loves “simple pleasures that captivate in simplicity.” She dips white bread or bagels in olive oil and then dips it generously in one of her favorite spices: thyme. “This spice blend is made with wild thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt.”
Since she loves to eat salads and vegetables, she tastes olive oil with orange peel or lemon, garlic and rosemary to make a choice according to your taste. Another tip: cut an apple or pear into thin slices, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan flakes, season with sea salt and pepper. Serve with ciabatta and a glass of wine.
Bogner, Michaela: “SuperOlio”, Verlag Delius Klasing, Bielefeld 2019, 320 pages, €39.90, ISBN: 978-3-667-11454-9.
Donhauser, Rose Marie: “Cook with – Olive Oil”, Michael Fischer Edition, Munich 2017, 64 pages, €9.99, ISBN: 978-3-86355-791-1.
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