I don’t know about all of you, but I love Olive Oil. It is my go to cooking oil (and salad dressing oil, and bread dipping oil….
However, there are many misconceptions about extra virgin vs. regular olive oil and the fat content of olive oil. Therefore, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Joanne Lacina the Executive Vice President at Sun Grove Foods, Inc. to get the Skinny on Olive Oil once and for all! (Sun Grove Foods, Inc. is a major importer, producer, and distributor of olive oil from all over the Mediterranean). Joanne is particularly fond of olive oil from Greece.
So, here it goes: The Skinny on Olive Oil
*How did you end up in Greece? How did you become interested in Olive Oil?
Joanne: I flew to Greece on a whim in the Spring of 2006 with a one-way ticket, $800 to my name, and a 4-week plan to take an English teacher training course. While I did end up working at the school for a while afterwards, it was getting out into the countryside, meeting the locals, and seeing the business first-hand that really ignited my passion for olive oil – that and eating all the fresh local food drenched in the stuff, of course! From the rolling hills of olive groves, to the integral use in the cuisine, you can’t help but fall in love with it. Once you taste a really fresh olive oil straight out of the crusher, still warm and merely a few seconds old, you will never forget the experience and always be wanting more. Olive oil has since become my passion, my career, and my mission.
*I am sure you get this question a lot, but can you explain the difference between Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Olive Oil?
Joanne: This is an important question, and actually more complicated than one might think. In order to avoid getting too technical, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is basically 100% pure fruit juice and totally unprocessed. Not only does it need to meet very strict chemical parameters, but must have perfect aroma, flavor and color as determined by a certified tasting panel.
The regular ‘Olive Oil’ that you see in supermarkets is an entirely different product. This oil is generally a combination of 90% refined oil, which is derived from low-grade olive oil that has been chemically and thermally treated, and 10% low-quality Virgin Oil, offering very little health benefits or flavor.
*Most people think of Italy when they think of olive oil, why do you think we should be paying more attention to olive oil from Greece?
Joanne: Greece is the third largest producer of olive oil but is the number one producer of extra virgin olive oil. While Italy is the largest exporter of olive oil, it is well-known that they export far more oil than they produce. In order to meet this demand they must buy oil (often cheaper, lower grade olive oils) from other countries where it is then ‘bottled in Italy’ and too often sold as ‘Italian’ Extra Virgin Olive Oil. While there are a lot of fantastic, genuine Italian oils out there, unfortunately they can be difficult to distinguish on the supermarket shelves.
Oil from Greece is mainly one variety, the Koroneiki, and is a wonderfully balanced oil with notes of green grass and artichoke. It is sweet and fruity with a lovely peppery finish which we have found to have wide appeal in consumer taste tests. Greece has been producing oil for centuries and has the largest consumption of olive oil in the world, yet for whatever reason, fell a little behind on the international marketing scene and is just now establishing a wider presence. Also, because Greece produces so much oil and has less recognition than high-end Italian oils, the price tends to be more competitive as well. I always tell people, 99% percent of the time when you buy a Greek oil, you know you are buying something genuine and flavorful.
*What is the most creative way you have seen olive oil used?
Joanne: I was recently at a trade show in Verona, Italy where a company was giving out dark chocolates filled with a creamy olive oil center. The combination of chocolate and olive oil was surprisingly very delicious!
*At about 14 grams of fat per tablesoon, olive oil is pretty fattening. Can you explain why this is GOOD fat?
Joanne: I can give you the scientific reason as well as my personal thought on this subject. Scientifically, olive oil is made-up of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids which are thought to help lower your total cholesterol and risk of heart disease, help normalize blood clotting, and may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which is positive for those with type 2 diabetes. I addition, extra virgin olive oil contains high levels of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant proven to reverse cell damage.
My personal belief is that olive oil is just not a ‘stick-to-the-hips’ kind of fat. When I first moved to Greece I was horrified at the amount of olive I saw my food swimming in at every meal. I thought, “I’m going to get so fat eating all of this fat!” but soon enough I was eating just like the locals and pouring the delicious olive oil over everything. To my amazement, and with very little effort on my part, I ended up losing more than 20 pounds in the two years I lived there. Ever since, olive oil has been a major part of my daily diet and I’ve never gained back a pound. I think that is something science has yet to explain.
*What is your favorite recipe using olive oil?
Joanne: One of my favorite recipes using olive oil is a traditional Greek dish called Boureki. It’s made using simple ingredients and easy to prepare – great for busy moms!Recipe: http://cookingwitholiveoil.blogspot.com/2010/05/greek-boureki.html
*And…Where can we find your olive oils?
Joanne: Right now the majority of our oils are found mostly in select supermarkets in the North East. We are however, gearing-up for the launch of an extensive online retail site – www.OliveOilLovers.com where we have personally selected some of the best oils from Italy, Spain and Greece and can be purchased directly by consumers. We’re on schedule to launch the site in June of this year, so stay tuned!
Joanne has graciously agreed to share two bottles of their fabulous Olive Oil.
How can you win?
LIKE Skinny Mommy on Facebook & Leave a comment here indicating which two bottles you want:
Italy (La Civetta), Spain (Gran Molino), and Greece (Myrto) or the Mediterranean regional blend (Barbaggiani).
Giveaway closes May 25th.