Lay Off Those Expensive Beauty Treatments And Turn To All-Natural Olive Oil

From the days of Cleopatra, olive oil has been a sacred element of a woman’s beauty regimen.

The last active pharaoh of Egypt used it on her skin, her hair and her nails. Centuries later, another legendary beauty, Italy’s Sophia Loren, raved about her olive oil baths. Truth be told, women all over the Mediterranean have passed down olive oil beauty secrets for centuries.

Olive oil is redolent in vitamins, minerals and natural fatty acids, and is perfect for sensitive skin. Olive oil has long been a powerful anti-aging ingredient in skin care products. Rich in antioxidants, it staves off skin aging, the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, while it also nourishes, rejuvenates and protects the skin.

Olive oil hydrates the skin, helps it maintain elasticity and softness, and actually aids in skin-cell regeneration.

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Following are some easy suggestions to use olive oil in your daily beauty treatments:

  • Get scrubbing: In her book “The Passionate Olive,” Carol Firenze recommends using extra virgin olive oil as an exfoliator for dry, flaky skin. She suggests mixing olive oil and sea salt so as to make a scrub and massaging it into the skin with the fingertips.
  • For nail care: To ensure that your cuticles stay moist, rub some extra virgin olive oil on and around the dry nails to help give them a healthy sheen.
  • Pre-shampoo hair treatment: Thank Cleopatra for this tip, because olive oil has been used as a hair treatment since ancient Egyptian times. First, warm the olive oil in the microwave or in hot water. Then apply it generously to the ends of hair and scalp. Leave it in for up to 10 to 20 minutes, before shampooing it out.
  • Lip balm: Combine coarse sugar with a teaspoon of olive oil for a chapped-lip fix. You can also add a splash of lemon juice for added flavor and acidic exfoliating properties.
  • Eye-makeup remover: It’s counter-intuitive, but slathering olive oil all over your face will not clog pores. In actuality, the oil grabs onto other oil-based products, making it a great pre-cleansing step to remove stubborn eye makeup. It is also said to smoothen out lines and wrinkles.
  • For shaving legs: Run out of expensive shaving cream? Head to the kitchen and slather legs with olive oil before applying the blade. You’ll ward off razor burn and bumps with the help of a natural lubricant.
  • Earwax remedy: If you suffer from earwax buildup, use olive oil to flush out the excess. For 3-4 nights, put a few drops in your ears before bed and it will do wonders.

So forget those expensive treatments, fancy moisturisers and other beauty aids. If you want that glow on your skin, look no further than your kitchen. Grab a bottle of olive oil and go natural.


California Produces 99 Percent Of The Nation’s Olive Oil — Thanks To 18th-Century Franciscan Missionaries

Olive culture has ancient roots, as fossilized remains of the olive tree’s ancestor were found near Livorno, in Italy, dating from 20 million years ago.

Beginning in 5000 B.C. and until 1400 B.C., olive cultivation spread from Crete to Syria, Palestine, and Israel; commercial networking and application of new knowledge then brought it to Southern Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt. Until 1500 B.C., Greece — particularly Mycenae — was the area most heavily cultivated. Olive trees were planted in the entire Mediterranean basin under Roman rule.

Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced olives to the Western Hemisphere during the 15th and 16th centuries. And by the late 18th century, the Franciscan missionaries were establishing groves throughout California.

 

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California’s climate is perfectly suited for growing olives. The state’s generally hot and dry summers are ideal for growing olives with optimal oil and antioxidants. California is home to a wide range of olive varieties. For example, Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley creates a delicate balance of flavor from its six olive varietals grown on property to create its Tuscan-style Holman Ranch Olive Oil. They include: Frantoio (a fruity olive oil with an even balance of pepper and bitterness); Leccino (delicate oil with a mild, fruity flavor); Mission (flavor varies depending on the time of year it is harvested); Coratina (a strong, peppery flavor with a hint of sweetness); Pendolino (a mild, delicately flavored oil that is pleasing to the palate); and Picholine (a delicate, subtle flavor with a touch of saltiness).

Of course, simply having the right climate to grow olives does not translate to quality olive oil. A lot of knowledge and care goes into harvesting, milling and storing artisan olive oil. Generally, olives are harvested between the months of November and January; but knowing when to harvest each varietal to produce the desired flavors takes skill.

For example, younger fruit that is still green will produce a bold, grassy, herbaceous, and peppery or spicy flavor; in contrast to a ripe black fruit that yields a milder, buttery, floral, and only slightly peppery taste.

All together, there are 350 different crops produced in California. Within this demographic, there are more than 100 olive cultivators. These cultivators are spread across the myriad of soil types, climates and microclimates that California has to offer, thus creating a virtually limitless range of flavor possibilities for the olive oil they produce.

 California produces 99 percent of the United States crop, a $34 million industry. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the Golden State’s liquid gold began to win acclaim, after a secular generation of growers realized that the Mediterranean-like landscapes and climate zones that led to quality wines could do the same with olives.

Now sunny, inland spots on the Central Coast such as Carmel Valley, Corral de Tierra, Paso Robles and Edna Valley are blooming with olives as well as grapes, and olive oil tasting rooms have begun to open.

And there is no stopping this oil boom.


‘Light’ Olive Oil Is A Sham — And Four Other Myth-Busting Realities About Nature’s Perfect Food

By now everyone knows that olive oil boasts remarkable health benefits as a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Even though olive oil is commonly found in most American kitchens, mystery and confusion still surround its use.

 

 

 Here are some common mistakes you may be making when it comes to olive oil:

  • You buy the “light” version to save calories: All olive oils have roughly the same amount of calories and fat (about 120 calories and 14g fat per tablespoon). “Light” refers to the color and flavor of this oil, which is highly refined to make it more neutral than other types of olive oil.
  • You are reluctant to cook with extra-virgin olive oil: It’s true that extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point than other types of olive oil. This is the temperature where oil begins to smoke and impart an unpleasant odor and flavor (peanut oil is 450 degrees, for example). Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point around 410 degrees, so it’s perfectly safe for sautéing at medium temperatures. Extra virgin is the purest form of olive oil, and contains the most health supportive oleic acid so there’s no need to use it only for salad dressing.
  • You throw away olive oil that tastes slightly bitter: Don’t toss out that oil because it may not have gone bad. A slightly bitter taste can indicate the presence of antioxidants. With a fresh extra virgin olive oil, you should taste olives, of course, but also some grassy, fruity or even peppery notes.
  • You only use it for special occasions: If you’re saving that nice bottle of extra virgin for special occasions, perhaps to dribble onto a summer tomato salad, you’re doing a disservice to the oil — and your guests. Olive oil is best used when fresh — both in terms of flavor and nutritional value. Olives are fruit and after 3-6 months from the harvest date the oil is no longer fresh.
  • You store it in a warm place: Olive oil can quickly go rancid, so you want to store it away from heat and light. Dark-colored glass bottles or tin containers work best for storage, but don’t store next to the store, or on a window sill. If you store olive oil in the fridge, it will often solidify, which isn’t a bad thing. But don’t think that solidification means that your oil is high quality. Recent studies have debunked that myth. The best way to ensure your oil is good quality is to look for seals on the bottle from the USDA Quality Monitoring Program, the North American Olive Oil Association, the California Olive Oil Council, or the Extra Virgin Alliance.

California Olive Oil Producers Opening Up Their Groves For A Close Up Look At A Fresh, Pure Product

For decades Americans have assumed that the only olive oils worth buying come from the Mediterranean, shipped across the Atlantic from Italy, Spain or Greece.

But in the last few decades, California producers have mounted a major new effort to bring back the domestic olive oil industry, planting thousands of acres, building new mills and producing oils that can be fresher, purer and cheaper than all but the finest imports.

 

The California olive oil trade, started by 16th-century Spanish missionaries, was almost dead 20 years ago, with only a few small producers doing business along the Pacific Coast and in the wine country.

Today, the state produces 99 percent of the extra-virgin olive oil consumed in the United States and 4 percent globally, according to the California Olive Oil Council. With that heightened reputation for freshness and quality, olive oil tourism in California is growing, with several producers opening their estates to the public.

For example, Seka Hilla in the Capay Valley, two hours northeast of San Francisco and run by the Indian tribe Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, has three oil varieties and shows guests how they are made. The tours include an oil sampling, a visit to the mill where the olives are pressed and bottled, and a stroll through the 82-acre orchards. Tours are free and arranged through the company’s website.

Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley tends its owns olive grove on a south-facing hill at its vineyard estate. The 100-tree grove — with multiple, mature cultivars, including Frantoio, Leccino, Mission, Coratina, Pendolino and Picholine — produces quality olives milled at a certified organic facility. Many guests at Holman find it fascinating to take a walking tour through the grove, particularly near harvest time in December.

Such tours are worth adding to a travel itinerary, according to Curtis Cord, publisher of the online Olive Oil Times. “The smaller producers in California are creating beautiful oils in exceptionally picturesque settings so you get double appreciation from each one you visit,” he said.

The rise in California olive oil comes at time when scrutiny still shrouds the foreign oil market. False labels and adulterated oil are common at many levels of the import marketplace. The American trade, much smaller and less prestigious, has not offered the same opportunities for fraud, and has remained relatively clean. This has given New World producers the opportunity to stake a claim that they can provide the purest oil.

Come see — and taste — for yourself.


From The Fridge Test To Deep-Frying, Five Surprising Answers To Common Questions About Olive Oil

American consumption of olive oil has been rising steadily for decades, but how much do we really know about this wonder food? Here are answers to five common questions about one of the world’s most healthful foods:

  • Does the fridge test work? There is much debate about whether much of the extra virgin olive oil on the market is authentic or fake. To test the legitimacy of a supposed olive oil, folks swear by the fridge test, that calls for chilling the bottle for a few days. The belief has long been that if the oil begins to solidify, it’s true extra virgin olive oil. Pure monounsaturated fat, also known as oleic acid, solidifies at 39 degrees. Since olive oil is primarily oleic acid (about 70-85 percent, generally), the fridge test should work. Certain original olive oil adulterants, including sunflower and safflower oils, are mostly polyunsaturated, so adulterating olive oil used to be easy to spot. Now, with high-oleic canola, sunflower and safflower oils,, adulterated olive oil can still solidify in the fridge. So toss out any oils that fail the test, but it’s no longer full-proof.
  • Does light olive oil have fewer calories and fat than regular olive oil? Unfortunately, no. This marketing term does not refer to the calorie or fat gram count, but rather the ratio of extra-virgin olive oil to refined olive oil. All olive oil has 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, even if the label describes it as light or extra light. Light refers to the color and flavor of the oil, not its calorie or fat content. If you look closely at the label on the bottle, it should say this.
  • What does the color of the oil tell us? Olive oil naturally comes in a range of colors, from pale yellow to deep golden to green, and might change slightly over time as it oxidizes. The more chlorophyll present in the oil, the greener the product. Green oils tend to be higher in antioxidants and have a more intense peppery flavor with just a hint of bitterness. Color also depends on the olive cultivars, the degree of maturation of the olives and factors relating to the production processes. The bottom line? Color is not an indication of quality.
  • Are cloudy olive oils safe to consume? Olive oil can appear cloudy for many reasons, but mostly it’s indicative of an unfiltered oil (which just means the sediment and pulp was not removed). Cold olive oil also can take on a cloudy appearance. The sediment in unfiltered olive oils is nothing more than pieces of olive that actually add flavor to the oil, and poses no threat. To clear olive oil that has become cloudy because of temperature, just leave out at room temperature. The saturated fat that congealed in the cold will settle naturally.
  • Is it possible to fry foods in olive oil? Most people will not fry with olive oil, warning of its lower smoke point compared to peanut or corn oil, which are more often used for frying. Once oil reaches its smoke point, it can release toxic compounds that should not be consumed in large quantities. However, refined olive oil has a smoke point of 486 degrees, making it suitable for deep frying, but it’s not advisable to fry using extra-virgin olive oil.

Buying Pure California Olive Oil One Sure Way To Avoid The Dreaded ‘Agromafia’

oilive oil

While millions of consumers all over the world are buying and paying top dollar (or euro) for olive oil labeled “extra virgin,” we know now that a disturbing amount of that oil bought off the shelf isn’t the real deal.

That’s the conclusion of the National Consumers League, that tested 11 olive oils and found six of them labeled “extra virgin” failed to meet the extra virgin definition set by the International Olive Council.

 This follows the shocking 2010 study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, that found that 69 percent of imported olive oil labeled “extra virgin” didn’t meet the standard for that labeling. The study suggested that some of the oil had been oxidized, some had been mixed with cheaper olive oil or cut with oil made without olives, some were made from overripe or damaged olives or olives that had been processed or stored incorrectly, or some combination of these issues.

This is nothing new. Olive oil fraud has gone on for the better part of four millennia. The difference now is that the food supply chain is so vast, so global, and so lucrative that it’s easy for the disreputable producers or shippers to either introduce adulterated olive oils or mix in lower quality olive oils with extra-virgin olive oil.

Much of the focus centers around Italy. The news program “60 Minutes” recently reported that Italy’s olive oil business has been corrupted by organized crime. The Italians have dubbed these villains the “Agromafia,” the masterminds behind an estimated $16 billion annual business. The olive oil business, the program reports, is more lucrative for the Mafia and other criminals than running drugs. A gallon of authentic extra virgin olive oil costs about $50 to make, while a fake gallon can be created for about $7.

Journalist Tom Mueller, author of “Extra Virginity: The Sublime and the Scandalous World of Olive Oil,” estimates that half the oil sold as extra-virgin in Italy and 75-80 percent of the oil sold in the U.S. doesn’t meet the legal grades for extra-virgin oil.

A few years ago, Italian police discovered that 7,000 tons of olive oil sold as “100 percent Italian” extra virgin olive oil were actually a blend of oils from countries such as Turkey, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia. The oil was sold in Italy, as well as the U.S. and Japan, for a profit estimated to be in the “tens of millions of euros,” according to the State Forestry Corps, the organization that uncovered the fraud.

To give consumers confidence they are purchasing 100 percent extra virgin olive oil, the California Olive Oil Council created the CCOC Seal Certification Program. Using stricter standards than international requirements, only the best California olive oils qualify for COOC certification. Following every harvest, the council assesses every member’s oil to ensure that it qualifies to display the COOC seal.

The COOC’s evaluation criteria are stricter than those of the International Olive Oil Council, and call for a 0.5 percent oleic acid (monounsaturated fat) content to the IOOC’s 0.8 percent. (The lower the fatty acid content, the lower the chance of rancidity).

Extra virgin olive oil is never better than when it is first pressed. Unlike wine, it does not need time to mature. That gives an impressive advantage to California producers — who can deliver olive oil to the consumer immediately after harvest, and much more quickly than producers overseas.

The bottom line? In order to ensure quality and authenticity, it’s prudent to purchase California olive oil.  It’s guaranteed to be extra virgin … and extra fresh.

 


New Study Shows That Women Who Consume Olive Oil Show Lower Rates Of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second-biggest cancer killer of American women, after lung cancer. Here are the sobering statistics: According to the American Cancer Society 39,000 American women will die from breast cancer this year, with nearly a quarter million new cases diagnosed.

A ray of light comes from recent studies at the University of Navarra in Pamplona in Spain. More than 4,000 women volunteered for a long-term trial that focused on the regular consumption of extra virgin olive oil as part of a Mediterranean diet.

The results showed that women exposed to such a diet experienced a lower risk of breast cancer. Women who participated in the study who added extra-virgin olive oil to their diet had a 62 percent lower risk of breast cancer over the study’s five years.

The diet is characterized by an abundance of salad, fruit, vegetables, nuts, a little fish, a little lean meat, a small amount of cheese — and olive oil, of course. Wine is also served at meals. The volunteers in the trial, however, were given extra counseling, and a weekly supply of either extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts.

The 4,282 women in the trial were, on average, about 68 years old and obese, with an average body mass index of 30.4 — just over the line for clinical obesity.

After a median follow-up of 4.8 years, scientists identified 35 confirmed incident cases of breast cancer, with the study detailed in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study’s already revealed some startling effects: The healthful diet with extra nuts and olive oil has been shown to help people live longer and avoid heart disease, cutting the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent, and it may also help preserve their brains.

Now breast cancer is added to the list — but only among those who got the extra olive oil. The women who got the nut mixture also had a slightly lower risk of breast cancer, but the results were not strong enough to be considered significant.

Historically, breast cancer rates have been lower in Mediterranean countries than in Northern or Central European countries or the United States. It took a lot of olive oil to get the protection; it had to make up 15 percent or more of calories.

What’s in extra-virgin olive oil that’s so special? Extra-virgin means the olive oil is squeezed mechanically, without the use of heat or chemicals that can alter its chemical properties. It usually has a stronger flavor than processed olive oil.

All types of olive oil provide a high supply of monounsaturated fatty acids, mainly oleic acid, as well as squalene, but extra virgin olive oil also contains various biologically active compounds, such as the polyphenols oleocanthal, oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and lignans.

Oleic acid may act directly on cancer-causing genetic mutations, studies have shown. Squalene may help reverse damage caused by oxidation, which is a damaging chemical reaction linked to both cancer and heart disease.


Next Time You Make A Toast, Say “Salud” With A Shot Of Olive Oil

When we drink a shot of booze it’s customary to say “salud,” or “to your health,” which is ironic because we all know that alcohol is not exactly full of health benefits.

Why not substitute a shot of olive oil instead? Crazy? Not really. Drinking a shot of premium olive oil every day is not only good for the heart, but may also aid in weight loss and pain relief.  Since food preparations vary and olive oil is not always needed in recipes, drinking olive oil is one way to ensure that you get your daily olive oil enrichment. Drinking at least 1 tablespoon allows you measure exactly how much you consume each day.

Heart health

Drinking 2 tablespoons every day may reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Olive oil contains monosaturated fat, which is a heart healthy type of fat. A 2008 study conducted by M.I. Covas and published in the October issue of Inflammopharmacology notes that olive oil is effective against oxidative stress, which is linked to several diseases including cardiovascular disease. It also lessens overall blood cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, which performs an important role in avoiding the fatty deposits to develop.

Weight loss

A daily shot of olive oil may also facilitate weight loss. A study by Mary M. Flynn and Steven E. Reinert published in the June 2010 issue of “Journal of Women’s Health” studied two groups of women on diets. One group was on a low-fat diet and the other on an olive oil-enriched diet. In the olive oil group, 80 percent of participants had a weight loss of at least 5 percent. In the low-fat diet group, only 31 percent of participants had a weight loss of 5 percent. The researchers concluded that a supplement of olive oil to a regularly balanced diet brought about a greater weight loss than the low-fat diet. 

Pain relief

Oleocanthal, a compound in extra virgin olive oil, suppresses pain pathways much like the pain reliever Ibuprofen, according to a report in the British Journal of Medicine. Fifty grams of olive oil is equivalent to 10 percent of the recommended daily dose of Ibuprofen, notes the journal.

Other health benefits

A few generations ago, people took a shot of olive oil every breakfast as part of their diet. Especially for those who work out all day under the sun. The compound oleocanthal can also help decrease the risk of certain cancers such as breast cancer. 

Other studies show that olive oil can minimize the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers found that it helps solidify and mineralize bones, and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Though still unproven in complete scientific studies, olive oil is also touted as an effective anti-depressant.

Use caution

Drinking olive oil might pose a health risk to select individuals. It’s high in vitamin E, and drinking large amounts of olive oil might cause an accidental vitamin E overdose, which in turn impairs your ability to form blood clots. As with any other supplement, you should consult your doctor before taking it regularly.

Consumption

If you’re finding it difficult to drink olive oil, try adding a tablespoon to a homemade fruit smoothie. Alternatively, drizzling soups and salads with olive oil boosts your intake without the need for drinking it directly.

*** Note that many store-bought, commercial olive oils are over-processed and do not contain these health benefits. Only high-quality, extra virgin olive oil will do the trick.

 


Create Fancy Flavors By Infusing Olive Oil With Herbs, Aromatics

We all know that olive oil is great all on its own. After all, it’s a healthful, all-natural product made simply with one ingredient — pressed olives.

Flavored vinegars and oils

But making your own infused olive oils is an equally simple DIY process to put some pizzazz into your kitchen. Look no farther than your pantry or produce drawer for everything you need to create a personalized, inexpensive food product. Olive oil can be infused with dried herbs, spices, aromatics, citrus, even nuts. The end result is fantastic for making special salad dressings, drizzling over a dish of pasta, or simply as an appetizer with chunks of fresh, crusty bread. Making it is easy — and the end result is a great gift to share with friends.

Start with the best ingredients you can find or afford. Using good quality olive oil, fresh herbs, and organic ingredients will give you a cleaner and stronger flavor in your finished olive oil.

Wash all the ingredients going into your oil and let them dry completely — preferably overnight. Bacteria can’t grow in the olive oil itself, but it can grow in the water left on the ingredients going into the oil, and carelessness can lead to potential foodborne illness.

Here are some general tips:

  • Always keep flavored oils refrigerated. Infused oils last about 1 month when stored properly.
  • Allow flavored oils to sit out at room temperature for approximately 20 minutes before each use.
  • Don’t use flavored oils for deep-frying because leftover particles will burn.
  • When gifting flavored oils, include storage instructions as well as serving suggestions.

Choose your flavoring

Use one or two ingredients for a simple blend or a variety for a complex concoction. You will need about 2 tablespoons of flavoring agents (in total) per cup of oil.

When it comes to spices, you can flavor oil with either whole or ground spices. (If you want to use ground, buy the spices whole and grind them at home for the freshest flavors.) Some of the more popular infusion spices include cloves, curry, star anise, cardamom, mustard, cumin, fennel seed and paprika.

There are two ways to infuse spices into oil: on the stovetop or in the oven. Once the oil is infused, strain it using a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, then funnel the liquid into a bottle.

On the stovetop, heat the oil in a medium saucepan with the spices for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is lightly bubbling. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely before straining.

Or place the oil and spices in a small pot on a baking sheet in a 300-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove the mixture from the oven and allow it to cool completely before straining.

Infusing olive oil with herbs

The most important rule for making your own herb-infused cooking oil is always to use fresh herbs: They have a purer flavor than their dried counterparts, and will give your oil a more vibrant color. Thoroughly wash and dry your herbs before getting started.

Soft herbs such as basil and cilantro should be blanched, shocked, drained, and blended with the oil in a food processor before being heated. Blanching the herbs will give your finished product a much more vibrant color than if you just blend them. Woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme can simply be heated directly in the oil to infuse their flavor. Warm the herbs and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the oil is lightly bubbling. Remove from heat and let the oil cool completely.

Flavoring with aromatics

Oil infused with garlic, onion, or other aromatic fruits or vegetables is delicious for both dipping and cooking. It’s important to thoroughly wash and dry your aromatics, even after you’ve peeled them, to remove all traces of dirt and impurities. Help release their flavors and fragrances by roasting aromatics before heating them in oil. Then, in a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the aromatics in the oil for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is lightly bubbling.

Unlike herbs, leaving the aromatics in the oil after bottling will not result in cloudiness. In fact, they will continue infusing the oil, and their flavors will grow stronger over time.

Go nuts with olive oil

To make a nut-infused oil, start with nuts that are raw and unsalted. Save time by buying nuts that have already been skinned or blanched. Cooking the nuts in oil will impart a rich, savory, roasted flavor, but keep in mind that the resulting infused oil will taste different from actual nut oils, which are created by pressing oils out of crushed nuts.

Whatever infusion method you choose, the end result will be a tasty, aromatic alternative to regular olive oil — and perhaps a unique gift for the upcoming holiday season.


Substituting Olive Oil For Butter Creates Deliciously Moist And Sophisticated Cakes

When it comes to baking secrets, using olive oil in place of butter in cake recipes is deliciously surprising — unless you’re from an olive oil producing country such as Italy, Spain or Portugal. In those countries bakers have known for centuries that extra virgin olive oil produces a sophisticated cake with a crackling crust and a aromatic, oil-rich center, which, if it held any more moisture, would be pudding.

Extra virgin olive oil adds a subtle depth of flavor and richness to cake, which is perfect for vegan baking. The end result is not too sweet, but it still tastes indulgent. And because olive oil is loaded with antioxidants and healthy fats that protect against heart disease and high cholesterol, we can all feel better about having that extra slice (or three).

Olive oil doesn’t help with leavening, but it does supply moistness. In cakes using butter and shortening, the fat is usually creamed with sugar to aerate the batter. But oil doesn’t hold air bubbles the way a solid fat will, so olive oil cakes get almost all their leavening from other sources, such as baking soda, or whipped egg whites.

Where oil outperforms butter is in its ability to coat flour proteins, which reduces gluten formation and keeps the crumb extra tender. The greased proteins can’t grab water to make gluten, and this means more unbound water is left in the cake, making it quite moist.

The type and quality of the olive oil is up for debate among cooks. Most don’t mind using a more complex, extra-virgin olive oil, knowing that it will add to the cost but also provide a more exotic flavor that people who eat it notice but can’t quite detect. Others prefer the grade that’s simply called “olive oil” (this grade used to be called “pure” or “100-percent pure,” and some producers still label it that way). It’s cheaper and milder than extra-virgin (and some of the flavor nuances that make the best EVOO so special would vanish in the heat of an oven anyway).

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake

 

The following recipe was printed in Gourmet magazine back in 2006:

Lemon olive-oil cake

¾ cup olive oil (extra-virgin if desired), plus additional for greasing pan

1 large lemon

1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)

5 large eggs, separated, reserving 1 white for another use

¾ cup plus 1½ T. sugar

Special equipment: a 9-inch springform pan; parchment paper

Steps: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease springform pan with some oil, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Oil parchment.

Finely grate enough lemon zest to measure 1½ tsp. and whisk together with flour. Halve lemon, then squeeze and reserve 1½ T. fresh lemon juice.

Beat together yolks and ½ cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (¾ cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (mixture may appear separated). Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture (do not beat) until just combined.

Beat egg whites (from 4 eggs) with ½ tsp. salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then add ¼ cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.

Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Transfer batter to springform pan and gently rap against work surface once or twice to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1½ T. sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1¼ hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer cake to a serving plate.