Food52 members' take on the neverending olive oil debate

Some people love it, cook with it always, need their daily dose like coffee. They praise its health benefits and cooking versatility. Others stay far, far away for a multitude of reasons. As a curious health nut, I've got to ask...what do YOU guys think?

  • Posted by: KatyM
  • September 7, 2012


Lorenza September 13, 2012
Nutcakes caught my attention with the stats re per capita consumption of olive oil in the US, Italy, and Greece. I plan to put a. Post it note inside the cabinet where I keep my olive oils and keep track of my family's consumption until the New Year. I predict we will land somewhere in the 5 - 7 liters per capita. Olive oil is so fantastic. I keep several styles on hand for different applications with the most precious of the reserved for uses that let it be the "star". Buon Appetito
ChefJune September 13, 2012
I also don't know who's knocking olive oil. I love the stuff. I even use it for scalp treatments!

Cookingwise, I have an "all-purpose" one I use for most cooking, but several different ones for salads, drizzling, etc. I love the Arbequina sometimes, and several different Italian oils, not to mention Provence and California.

I also cook with butter, lard, duck fat, schmaltz, and grapeseed oil on occasion.
pierino September 13, 2012
pierino loves lard, schmaltz and duck fat too.
Linn September 13, 2012
Chef June, I can offer some explanation on this question. Fats have been labeled as "unhealthy" now for about 40 years. To this day, low fat / low calorie / low sodium is the standard definition of a "healthy" meal. Nutrition researchers have been actively re-evaluating the dietary value of fat and numerous studies have now been completed that question this lipid hypothesis starting about 10 years ago, but greatly accelerating over the last 3 - 4 years. Let' call it The Great Fat Debate. My personal hero is Walter Willet from Harvard who actually may have coined the phrase. Old habits die hard and the general population has learned the no fat lesson well. Too well in this nutritionist's opinion. Very, very slowly as cooks, food writers, recipe developers, and government regulators adjust attitudes about fat to reflect the new research findings, I predict the general population will follow. But it is going to take time. Ironic isn't it that those of us who used our common sense and went ahead using olive oil have probably been right all along. And just for the record, I also use butter, lard, and duck fat too on occasion. Good stuff!
nutcakes September 8, 2012
I use olive oil for the majority of my cooking. To me,it is a condiment and flavoring as well as an oil. From the Sept '12 issue of Consumer Reports:

A Healthy Fat
Olive Oil consists of monosaturated fatty acids. A diet that emphasises monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fats and trans fats may lower the risk of heart disease. Monosaturated fats may reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels and nornalize blood clooting, according to the Mayo clinic. Some research shows that those fats may imprive insulin levels and help control blood sugar. Olive Oil also contains antioxidants. Consume in moseration, olive oil has 120 calories per Tbsp, THE SAME as in other oils.

Also, from the same article: Americans consume about 1 liter per person per year, compared with 13 liters for Italians and 24 for Greeks.
Linn September 13, 2012
Those are interesting statistics. Using olive oil exclusively both for cooking, finishing, and salad dressings (and we have big salads most nights during the summer), my rough calculation is we went throught about 6 liters of extra virgin for finishing and salads plus another 4 liters for cooking. That is for two people and works out to roughly 5 liters per person. Just curious. Has anyone else out there done a calculation?
Sam1148 September 8, 2012
I'm actually all for less people using good olive it...more olive oil for me at cheaper prices.

And BTW: Stop it with pork bellies already, those things used to be cheap.
Greenstuff September 8, 2012
I love arbequina.

When I first read the question, I didn't think it could about fats or even about purity. Those are issues but not enough for anyone to run far, far away from olive oil. I thought it had to be something bigger, like in the '40s and '50s when some people thought olive oil tasted too "Italian." though I was pretty sure people had gotten over that one..
pierino September 8, 2012
Good timing on this question. I live on California's Central Coast which in addition to its wines is also an area that produces terrific, world class olive oils. Earlier this week I spent a morning at the estate of a local grower. His brand is Olio Nuevo and as president of the Central Coast Olive Growers he's kind of the Godfather here. What you ought to know is that to be described and certified as "extra virgin" the oil has to be tested for acidity under .8%. Ours are typically in the .5% range. There are international conventions that govern this stuff---although they are routinely violated in Europe. With some small producers their product might be wildly inconsistent from year to year. Larger ones will to have a consistant taste. And then you have the issue of organics and blah, blah, blah. Morons like Rachael Ray spew nonsense about "EVOO" without actually knowing anything about it.
One of the varietals being grown here is arbequina, originally from catalonian tree stock. This is a very assertive oil with a big punch you in the face olive taste but also a bit of grassiness. It's often blended into more "buttery" styles. Bottom line is that olive oil tastes good and it is good for you.
dymnyno September 8, 2012
Right! Most people don't know what "extra virgin" means. And, we have to be certified by the Olive Oil Council.
viblanco September 8, 2012
I didn't really answer the question, therefore, I am weighing in again. What I want to also say (and it is echoed already by other commenters) is that most oil and fats are fine for us. As a health nut myself, I recommend just staying away from a) processed oils (trans fats) and b) use in moderation. Moderation is the key. I forgot that I often use butter (some how I didn't count that as "oil"). So, go with what you like. Just make sure it isn't overly processed, it is fresh and don't go overboard. :)
dymnyno September 8, 2012
We have a lot of olive trees and produce our own olive oil so I use it all the time, except when I am cooking something at high heat. It is especially delicious because it is fresh and has been properly stored. Heat and sunlight are big enemies of olive oil. Olive oil is a healthy oil, but when using it for a recipe be sure and measure the amount that you are using.. It has a lot of calories!
Greenstuff September 8, 2012
Who are the people who stay far, far away, and what are their multitudes of reasons? I googled "people who eschew olive oil" but didn't get anything.
KatyM September 8, 2012
I've read a lot of articles putting down olive oil as unhealthy...personally, I enjoy it in moderation just like anything else (I asked the question.) People against it say that many forget that it's still a very fattening oil and cook too generously with it.
mensaque September 8, 2012
I love olive oil! Say it three times,fast!ahahah! I use it for everything,on everything. There's a comedian in Brazil named Jô Soares(check out his book"OXangô de Baker Street" published in English as "A Samba for Sherlock"),a big fat guy who on his talk show often says that his favorite midnight snak is a plate of cold white rice and black beans with lots of olive oil on top!See?It goes with everything!!!ahahah! Now,is it healthy?Healthy is what makes you happy!If you're going to eat it filled with guilt,don't.If you're gonna eat out of joy,go ahead!Little bit of everything...
Reiney September 8, 2012
I didn't realise there was a debate about olive oil? But at any rate, Chef Ono answers perfectly.
Kristen W. September 8, 2012
I tend to trust that there's a certain wisdom inherent in eating foods that people have been eating for thousands of years. That said, while I do use a lot of extra virgin olive oil (and make sure I use brands that actually ARE 100% extra virgin olive oil), I use other types of oil for dishes where olive oil isn't really the traditional choice (e.g. stir-fry, taco fillings, etc.), or if I'm cooking with really high heat. I usually try to use the fat that seems most appropriate to the cuisine or preparation, but since I like Mediterranean flavors, olive oil often winds up being the fat of choice. And I think it is indeed awesome.

Voted the Best Reply!

ChefOno September 8, 2012

I think life is about learning and joy. For me, food and cooking fall right into line with that philosophy. I believe if you're eating something -- or not eating something -- for "health", you're (1) doing it for the wrong reason and (2) as likely as not about to find out the truth lies somewhere else.

Good olive oil's taste has a place, as do neutral oils, butter and lard. And beef fat, sizzling at 375, crisping up my fries. On a toasted baguette rubbed with garlic, olive oil, yes. But dripping from a warm, fresh corn tortilla? Whisked into a tart lemon curd??? Life would be a mighty dull place with just the one choice.

Bill F. September 8, 2012
Olive oil is the root of all awesomeness.
viblanco September 7, 2012
Ah, so much contradicting information: eat more of X; no, eat less of X.
I use e.v. olive oil often, almost exclusively: salads, sautéing, coating for roasting or baking vegetables and so forth. The only time I do not use it is when I want an oil with no flavor (usually for baking) or when I'm doing very high temperature frying (which is rare, but, usually I go for peanut oil in this case).
Sam1148 September 7, 2012
In the 70's and 80's "Fat" was the hot, hot, new thing to remove from your diet.
So, people replaced things like butter in favor of whipped hydrogenated butter substitutes (IE: transfats). Well, that didn't work out so well.

Now, they're having a go at egg yolks.
Linn September 8, 2012
I use a lot of olive oil too. Also make my own vinaigrette. And yes, Sam1148 is absolutely right about the fat situation. Technically, eating too much olive make all our dishes "unhealthy" ... That will probably change however sometime over the next 2 years or so. What I think is important about olive oil is the press date. I buy direct from California and try to use the oil within one year of the press date. For cooking, I relax a bit. Still buy from California, but am less fussy about the date. Two or three years is okay with me.
darksideofthespoon September 7, 2012
To be honest, I don't even use olive oil. Just grapeseed and the occasional specialty one, like hazelnut oil. Though the restaurant I was a pastry chef at used it religiously, drizzling it over almost every dish that came out. Theirs was cold pressed, infused with lemon and it came out of California.
Sam1148 September 7, 2012
Eat and enjoy food of all moderation, balance and happiness.
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