How to be an informed consumer of olive oil

Israel’s 2010 olive harvest is shaping up to be the best in years. Here’s how to enjoy it. For good olives, you need to go to a good shop. For everyone who loves olives as much as I do, I …

Israel’s 2010 olive harvest is shaping up to be the best in years. Here’s how to enjoy it.

Olives for olive oil
For good olives, you need to go to a good shop.

For everyone who loves olives as much as I do, I have very happy news: the 2010 olive harvest in Israel is sizing up to be the best in years. Now, everyone who knows me, knows that I can jabber for hours on a topic I love, so against my nature, I must try to get to the point. So this will be a short tutorial about how you can become an informed consumer of both olive oil, and olives.

Let’s face it – pure olive oil ain’t cheap. And if a deal looks too good to be true, it undoubtedly is. Here’s how you can test to make sure your olive oil is 100 percent pure, and not a mixed blend, or worse yet, that old Middle-Eastern trick of cheap soya oil colored with spinach juice to give it a beautiful bright green glow.

Take a glass of water. Add a spoonful of your oil to the glass.

All the oil should remain in one unbroken pool- not break up into different globs or separate droplets on the surface. This test is fully accurate, and is used by every professional to test for purity, and requires no expensive or fancy equipment, either.

I am lucky to have a very good friend, Yomi Levi, who just happens to be one of the top experts on olives in Israel, and during a chat over Turkish coffee, he told me about the many variables which can determine the quality of the oil. Best olive oil is of course, cold pressed, with a very low acidity content- 0.2ph being the very best, up to 0.8.

Only buy oil with quality certification

Higher than this means that the oil was extracted using chemical or heat processes, which increases the acidity, and decreases the quality.

And you should ONLY buy Israeli olive oil with the quality certification guarantee stamp, this ensures the quality has been checked carefully, under strict standards.

He also reminded me that to maintain the health benefits of olive oil, to NEVER heat it above 35C, and never to fry with it.

Now, in order to get really top-flight olives, you must have top-flight olive guys, and in my case that is Yomi and his brother Eitan and their shop, Maadanya Yom Tov, at 43 Levinsky Street, in Tel-Aviv. It has been here, started by their grandfather and dad, in the same location since 1947.

Here, you can find many varieties of olives, from artisan-grown Syrian, Tassos, Kalamata, Atlas, Bar Nea, and many others, which they personally select, and they travel themselves to the orchards to oversee the harvest every year.

They also have lots of special items from all over the world, and they always have time to share their enthusiasm and their knowledge about olives and other delights, with their clients and friends. Visiting the shop is like going on a mini holiday with my favorite brothers.

And if you feel like an olive-fueled adventure out of town, you can visit the Galil Olive Harvest Festival, meet Druze and Jewish olive growers, and even press your own olive oil! It’s on until Nov. 6.

Use a truly top grade olive oil as you would use herbs, or salt – to add the perfect finishing touch to a dish.

The most common types of olives grown in Israel for oil, are Syrian, which have a pleasantly bitter, spicy flavor, and Bar Nea, which are more delicate and refined.

Using olive oil to enhance your foods

In Greece, which is one of the world’s largest olive producers, there are centers where merchants can go and choose olives from hundreds of different varieties, and taste how different amounts of salt, oil, or spices, can affect the finished product, and order their choices prepared exactly as they desire – assisted by tasters and curing experts with the training and skills of a Sommelier.

I can’t leave without giving you a few tips about using top grade olive oil to enhance your foods. Take organic lemons, carefully peel them, making sure to remove all of the bitter white pith, then blend with extra virgin olive oil in a blender, let sit overnight, and strain. Use to finish grilled, raw, or roasted fish, or for all types of vegetables.

Gently heat fresh crushed rosemary in olive oil, let it sit overnight, strain, and use for marinating and finishing all types of meats, especially lamb, and grilled fruits and veggies.

For shrimp and other seafood like crab and lobster, also for delicate raw white sea fish (like locus, bass, musar, etc) dishes: Split a fresh vanilla bean, add it to a bottle of olive oil along with a star anise, let infuse for a week. Drizzle seafood with this right before serving.

And most useful of all: Before going out drinking, drink two tablespoons of olive oil, this prevents you from getting, ahem, “too tipsy”, and also prevents hangovers.

So enjoy the olive harvest, and experiment, taste, and experience for yourselves this precious culinary treasure!

Chef Rima Olvera

Rima Olvera is a well-known chef working in Israel.

Rima Olvera writes about food in Israel in her blog Chef Rima’s Notes.