The Unrivaled Excellence of Portuguese Olive Oils
Identified as a health benefit by the ancients and now by modern medicine, olive oil is a subtle product whose quality and taste vary according to many criteria.
Like wine, olive oil is a complex product to understand. Here are a few keys
Why olive oil is healthy.
Numerous studies of eating habits in Mediterranean regions have revealed the health benefits of olive oil.
Proven effects against heart attacks.
Olive oil is composed mainly of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which play an important role in preventing myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease by lowering blood glucose and cholesterol (LDL) levels.
Olive oil also has an anti-coagulant effect, helping to control blood pressure.
Proven effects against cancer.
Rich in vitamins E, C and polyphenols, olive oil also offers antioxidant properties often considered a weapon against cell aging and cancer.
Nevertheless, olive oil also contains harmful saturated fatty acids, but their levels are much lower than those found in vegetable margarine or butter.
Today, olive oil is recognized as an excellent product, and consuming it in moderation has nothing but health benefits.
Olive oil quality criteria.
Olive varieties obviously have an impact on olive oil, but where the olive trees are planted is also very important, as are the methods used to harvest the olives, the manufacturing processes and any blends of different origins.
Vegetable fats generally come from seeds and are extracted using chemical solvents.
In this sense, olive oil is singular in that it comes from the juice of a fruit and is obtained by mechanical processes: the olives are taken directly from the olive grove to the press, where they are cleaned before being crushed, then centrifuged to extract the oil.
Refined olive oils are generally distinguished from virgin olive oils, and extra virgin olive oils are also distinguished from virgin olive oils.
Refined olive oils.
They are refined by chemical processes or heating to make them suitable for consumption.
Virgin olive oils.
This process offers a lower yield, extracting only 85% of the oil contained in the fruit. On the other hand, it guarantees better taste and better preservation of nutrients, notably the health-giving polyphenols.
Extra virgin olive oils.
To sum up, if you want a quality olive oil that has preserved all its health-giving qualities, choose a virgin olive oil and then, depending on your tastes, choose a very low-acidity extra virgin olive oil or a slightly more acidic virgin olive oil.
Taste criteria for olive oil.
Like wine, the taste of olive oil can vary infinitely. Is the oil the result of a blend or does it come from a single olive grove? Does the oil come from a single olive variety, or several? Are the olives harvested young and green or ripe? Were pressing and extraction carried out within hours of harvesting?
All these variables have a decisive effect on the taste of an olive oil.
The timing of the olive harvest influences the taste of the oil.
Olive harvest - Credit unknown
There are 3 main categories.
It characterizes oils produced from olives harvested a few days before full ripeness, when their color changes from green to mauve.
These are often the highest-quality oils, as they are the most aromatic and richest in polyphenols. In nose and mouth, herbaceous sensations dominate. Aromas of artichoke, bell pepper and green fruit are also present.
It is obtained from olives harvested ripe and black. The oil then has a softer, rounder flavor on the palate, with almond, red or yellow fruit, lime blossom or floral aromas.
The origin of olives.
Most industrial olive oils are the result of blending several oils from different regions (or even countries) and varieties, in order to achieve a quality and taste that is acceptable to the greatest number, but is therefore standardized.
These are not necessarily of poor quality, but they generally lack character.
Other olive oils are produced in quantities of just a few dozen hectolitres. They come from olive groves producing the same variety of olive on an exceptional terroir, are sometimes harvested by hand and pressed on site within an hour of being picked.
These olive oils are exceptional, rare and often expensive.
For example, this Extra Virgin Organic olive oil comes from the hundred-year-old olive trees of a small organic farm located in the heart of the Alentejo region, sheltered from all pollution.
This rare olive oil comes from 130 olive trees of the Galician variety. It is extracted directly from olives harvested by hand and pressed by mechanical means only.
A tasty olive oil with light hazelnut aromas and very low acidity <0.2%, a testament to its exceptional quality.
Olive oils from Portugal.
Today, although Portugal is a major olive oil producer (4th in Europe and 8th in the world), the country stands out above all for the number of its producers: there are still over 20,000 of them.
This unique characteristic enables us to maintain small-scale production, guaranteeing the diversity and uniqueness of Portuguese olive oils.
In fact, many Portuguese producers win prizes in international competitions every year, and in recent years it's not uncommon to see Portuguese olive oils take first place in international competitions from neighboring Spain.
Portugal has created protected designations of origin for its olive oils. Six regions are entitled to these designations.
This region produces the largest quantity of olive oil in Portugal, in a terroir of mountains, schist plateaus and valleys where the Douro flows.
Moura, Alentejo Interior et Norte Alentejano
How to use olive oil ?
Heat destroys 5 to 30% of the polyphenols in olive oil. While this is not dramatic, it does reduce its health benefits. So use cold olive oil mainly as a seasoning.
Some olive oils are real treasures, with a rare and subtle taste. It would be sacrilege to heat it up! So, enjoy it Portuguese-style by dipping a piece of fresh bread in it, drizzling it over a slice of toast while it's still warm, or on a slice of cod just out of the oven where it's been roasting on a bed of onions.
A true ceremonial event in Portugal, olive oil tasting even has its own accessories. For example, this olive oil tasting plate is made entirely by hand from fine stoneware and bathed in a translucent white glaze.
It is complemented by a piece of natural olive wood, carefully collected from a Portuguese olive grove. It comes with an original story, translated into Portuguese, English and French, by Joana Bértolo.