Why Use Olive Oil? It's A Friendly Fat
Until recently, fat phobia struck all fats alike. Now we know that certain kinds of fats can actually be healthful. Olive oil is chief among the “healthy fats.” A primary player in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that actually helps lower cholesterol.
How to Choose an Olive Oil
The best extra-virgin olive oils are estate-grown and first cold-pressed. This means the olives are grown on the estate where they are picked and pressed without the use of chemicals or the application of heat, and only the juice of the first pressing are collected. This yields a flavorful, fruity oil with low acidity and deep color. These oils are, as you can probably guess, pretty expensive--as much as $100/bottle! You can usually find a less fancy but still tasty extra-virgin olive oil for around $10. Stores also sell olive oil without the extra-virgin label. This oil has a slightly more bitter flavor but can be used in cooking.
When to Use Olive Oil
Use your best olive oil when you are making salad dressing with it, or serving the oil as a dip for bread like they do in Italian restaurants. You can also use olive oil as a healthier option anytime butter is called for in cooking. However, be aware that olive oil has low smoking point and loses flavor at high heat. If you're frying foods at very-high temperatures, try light olive oil, a less-flavorful oil refined specifically to raise its smoking temperature. ("Light" in this case only refers to flavor, not reduced calories.)