Pretty much everyone knows that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is very healthy. But, which one specifically? Spanish olive oil? Italian olive oil? Tunisian? Californian? If Italian, then what varietals? Correggiolo, Leccino, Pendolino, Moraiolo, or Rossina? It’s enough to make one’s head spin.
Well, it turns out that some varietals such as the Greek Koroneiki olive might make an olive oil that is superior to others because of their specific ingredients. Let’s see how this little but mighty olive can help us on the path to health and well-being.
When I started looking more in-depth into cancer-fighting foods, I discovered Dr. William Li’s book “Eat to Beat”. In it, the author lists many foods and the scientifically proven ways they help ward off cancer and other chronic diseases. It is in that book that I first came across the name Koroneiki. Until then, I thought all olive oils were pretty much the same. Not the case!
The Greeks consider Koroneiki olive ‘the queen of olives’ and it is recognized globally as one of the preferred varietals for oil production. These accolades are primarily due to Koroneiki varietal’s superior amount of valuable, disease-fighting antioxidants.
While Koroneiki olives themselves are very small, they contain very high levels of polyphenols, the natural antioxidants found in plants and other compounds that may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.The Olive Table
What are antioxidants and why do we need them?
Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that form in our bodies when we exercise or when we are under acute stress. We also get exposed to free radicals from the environment. Outdoor and indoor pollution, sunlight, cigarette smoke, and blue light are all bombarding our bodies with free radicals.
These free radicals, when not kept in check, cause “oxidative stress” which can lead to changes even on the cellular level. Oxidative damage plays a major role in the development of many illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
In order to keep such harmful effect of free radicals in check we need antioxidants. Vegetables, fruits, dark chocolate, cocoa, green tea, and olive oil are all excellent sources of polyphenols which are some of the best antioxidants out there.
Antioxidants are molecules that protect our bodies from the damage caused by free radicals. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant that is found in abundance in extra virgin olive oil.Dr Ryan Wynn
What are the active ingredients in olive oil?
According to Dr. Mary Flynn, the prominent researcher of all things olive oil-related, there is a multitude of health-bringing actives in olive oil. They include:
- Phenolic acids and Oleuropein derivatives
These are the compounds that make EVOO superior to refined oils (which lack them).
These compounds help against LDL (cholesterol) oxidation and act as an antiangiogenic agent, which may inhibit cell growth and invasiveness of cancer.
One of the most crucial of these compounds is Oleocanthal. It’s “been shown to have anti-inflammatory action through inhibition of cyclooxygenase enzymes” – COX1 and COX2 (this is particularly important for the prevention of colorectal cancer).
Koroneiki olive oil has higher levels of specific phenolic ingredients like oleocanthal and oleacein – something that we don’t find often in the major varietals. European researchers analyzed 2500 samples of olive oils from around the world to check the type, the amount, and the concentration of polyphenols they contain.
After screening the samples, they found that the Greek olive oil is higher in oleocanthal properties, due to its different varieties as well as soil and environmental conditions.The Greek Reporter
These are phytoestrogen compounds with potential anti-cancer activity.
They are compounds that are highly anti-inflammatory and protective.
- High amount of vitamin E
Vitamin E is a known antioxidant, crucial for both health and beauty.
Tocopherols, also known as vitamin E, are known to prevent lipid oxidation. α-tocopherol is a well-known antioxidant, which acts in a variety of ways to scavenge free radical species in the body.The Olive Wellness Institute
- Oleanoic acid and Maslinic acid
Those are compounds with potential action against inflammation, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Let food be thy medicine
Just imagine – garden fresh tomatoes straight off the vine, some goat cheese or feta, sprinkled with a generous amount of EVOO and a helping of freshly baked bread to dip in the goodness! Add wine and good company. Could there be anything better for an alfresco dinner under the stars?
But olive oil is not only delicious food but also medicine. Since ancient times, medicine men were praising olive oil for its health and beautification benefits.
Here are some of the scientifically proven health benefits of consumption of EVOO (from Olive Wellness Institute):
- Reduction of Overall Mortality
- Prevention of Heart Disease
- Prevention of Diabetes
- Reduction in Overall Cancer Incidence
- Prevention of Neurodegenerative Diseases
- Prevention of Depression and other Mood Disorders
- Reversal of Fatty Liver Disease
- Prevention of Overweight and Obesity
These amazing health benefits of olive oil come from the phenolic compounds (polyphenols), and their antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Here is a short video wiht a summary of the health benefits of EVOO.
How much extra virgin olive oil should you consume?
A University of California, Davis study confirmed that daily consumption of at least two tablespoons of EVOO can lower blood pressure, compared to oils rich in polyunsaturated fats or refined olive oil.
EVOO with a higher total phenolic content may be more effective than EVOO with a lower phenolic content in lowering blood pressure.Olive Oil as Medicine: the Effect on Blood Pressure. UC Davis Olive Center
UC Davis team researched also the olive oil’s potential to ward off heart disease. Here also, they found tremendous benefits of consuming this oil.
Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) a day may decrease the risk of heart disease by improving blood levels of lipids and lipoproteins.Olive Oil as Medicine: The Effect on Blood Lipids and Lipoproteins. UC Davis Olive Center
The best olive oil in the world
Now that we know how beneficial olive oil can be for our health, which olive oil to choose? Which two tablespoons of the “liquid gold” are the best?
Maybe it is too much of a claim, but in my view Koroneiki is indeed the best olive oil out there. If not the best in the world, then definitely the best Greek olive oil.
But don’t take only my subjective taste. Experts seem to agree. According to the 2019 EVOO World Ranking (EVOOWR), Greece took home 447 awards from 21 international olive oil competitions, earning 34 designations as “EVOOs of the Year.”
What are the best ways to use olive oil?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is super versatile. Use it fresh in salads. Use it in cooking and baking, use it in deserts. And these are only culinary uses. Olive oil can also be a lifesaver when applied topically to skin and hair.
Here are some of the possible culinary uses:
Use it for salad dressing
That is a no-brainer. Use the freshest, greenest, the most aromatic Koroneiki olive oil to dress your salads. The simpler the better. And if you combine Olive oil with lemon juice and garlic, a whole new dimension of healthy opens.
Simple Greek Salad Dressing
- 2 TBS Koroneiki Olive Oil
- 1 TBS freshly squeezed lemon
- 1 mashed garlic clove
- Salt and pepper to taste
If you eat a salad daily, there you go! You just got your daily two tablespoons of olive oil just over lunch or dinner.
Cook with it
Extra virgin olive oil may also be the healthiest fat to cook with, but it is better to use it only for light sautéing and frying over medium heat. EVOO has a relatively low smoke point (410 F) and loses its benefits at higher temperatures.
Sautéing with olive oil is an excellent idea because preparing certain vegetables with it seems to make them even more nutritious by increasing their polyphenol content. Additionally, EVOO helps us digest and absorb plant carotenoids, which are anticarcinogenic, as well as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D from, for example, fish.
Marinate with it
Marinating meats and fish in EVOO will make them healthier thanks to added antioxidants.
Bake with it
Since we bake mostly at 350 F, olive oil is perfectly fine to use in baked goods when the recipe calls for liquid oil. It will add a bit of a peppery taste so it might make sense to adjust sweetness or other taste profiles.
Make olive oil gelato
This is one of my favorite desserts ever. I tasted it first way back in a fine Italian restaurant in New York (owned by a now disgraced famous Italian chef:). It had this wonderfully nutty-grassy taste from the olive oil and was served with a sprinkling of Himalayan salt on top. Simply divine! Since that time, I make it a few times a year when I want something special for the family or guests.
Drink it straight
Maybe a more controversial idea, but doable for sure.
Mix EVOO with lemon juice for extra benefits
You probably heard of the benefits of drinking water with lemon juice first thing in the morning. It can help flush out toxins and rev up your gut to prepare for heavy lifting when you start eating actual solid food.
Now, adding a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil to the mix will add more health benefits, one of them helping against constipation and another boosting your immunity. More benefits of drinking olive oil and lemon juice include better skin and nail health, detoxification, and better joint health.
Try an olive oil, lemon, honey elixir
Olive oil and lemon juice benefits are impressive enough. Add honey to the combo and you’ve got yourself a powerful anti-microbial elixir. Mix them up in a jar and keep in the fridge for up to three months. Take a spoonful daily to prevent colds and to bolster up general immunity.
Where and how to buy
Of course, it is not very practical to get on a plane and go to Greece in order to buy the freshest Koroneiki olive oil right from the farmer. So, what are the alternatives? Some good options are available online and in specialty stores. The Taste Atlas provides some options for ordering Greek olive oils online, and many of them are made from Koroneiki olives.
Wherever you get it from, it is important to watch out for some things:
Taste it first
If at all possible, try to sample the oil before buying it. Fresh EVOO has specific taste notes. They can be fruity and grassy or herbaceous, or more nutty and buttery. Tasting olive oil is much like tasting wine. You look at the color, you smell it, and then you taste it and look for these specific notes.
A typical tasking note might look something like this:
Our Koroneiki EVOO has a robust fruity nose with a strong, peppery finish. It’s characterized by aromas of fresh grass and artichokes.California Olive Ranch
Olive oils with higher phenol content will have more of a bitter or peppery taste. Fun fact: the fresher the olive oil, the more polyphenols it contains. How to tell if it’s fresh? It should tickle your throat.
When tasting extra virgin olive oils, looks for those that produce a ‘tickle’ at the back of the throat, or even better, result in a cough or two. The more coughs, the fresher and healthier the oil is!The Olive Table
Look for quality seal
Best olive oils are tested and approved by national and international olive oil associations. Some of them include the International Olive Council, California Olive Oil Council and the North American Olive Oil Association. A seal of approval form one of these denotes quality, purity, lack of adulteration, and possibly freshness.
Get olive oil in a protective container
Olive oil can easily oxidize when exposed to light, heat, and air. In order to prolong its freshness and medicinal qualities, it must be stored either in opaque containers like tins or in a dark-colored glass.
Store the oil in a dark and cool place
There is no need to refrigerate it but store it in a dry and dark cabinet. The biggest no-no is to have the olive oil sit near the kitchen stove or oven.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a staple in my kitchen. I usually get it in Costplus World Market where I discovered this gem – Anoskeli Extra Virgin Olive Oil. There are plenty of others online.
I use it for pretty much everything aside from deep-frying, which I do not do much anyhow. As you can see, EVOO is very versatile. And the health benefits are so tremendous that I often think of my EVOO as medicine as much as a delicious addition to the food we eat.