Tag Archives: Olives

Folk Remedies and Olive Oil

Still not convinced on how olive oil was an important component of Mediterranean culture? Here’s a list of various ways olive oil was integrated into everyday life.

Note that I do not advocate nor claim the efficiency of these claims.

  • Hair: People used olive oil as a conditioner of sorts. After shampooing one’s hair, they would rub in a mixture of olive oil, egg yolk, lemon juice and a bit of beer. They left it in for about 5 minutes before washing out.
  • Dandruff Preventative: By mixing in olive oil and eau de Cologne into your scalp, then rinsing out, one wouldn’t have to worry about the white flakes. See, even in the past people were vain enough to worry about dandruff.
  • Dry Skin: This is probably not a Mediterranean remedy, considering it consists of mixing avocado with olive oil. Supposedly if you mix these two items together and use it as a face mask for 10 minutes, you’ll have moisturized skin.
  • Wrinkles: A forerunner to Oil of Olay…if you mix olive oil and lemon, and then rub into your face before bedtime, it is told that it will lessen the effects of aging.
  • To Soften the Skin: Oil and Salt mixed together, massaged over the entire body and then washed off, will give you softer skin. Apparently people have always worried about bad skin.
  • Fingernails:Olive oil to strengthen your nails? Your soaking in it! Of course you have to then paint your nails with white iodine. Sort of a two step process.
  • Tired Feet: Hardly news here…people using olive oil to massage the tootsies.
  • Aching Muscles:Mix olive oil with pungent herbs, like mint and/or rosemary will soothe those sore backs and arms once massaged in well.
  • Acne:8 oz of Olive Oil and 10 drops (no more, no less) of lavender oil, rubbed into your skin, will, legend tells, prevent acne.
  • Reduce the effect of Alcohol: Plan on drinking but don’t want to get too drunk too quickly? Drink 2-3 spoonfuls of olive oil before hitting the bars.
  • High Blood Pressure:Boil 24 olive leafs in 8 oz of water for 15 minutes. Drink. Repeat processes twice a day for two weeks. It is said that this will lower your blood pressure.
  • Burns: That lavendar/olive oil combo mentioned above? It also works well for minor burns…and yes that would include sunburns.
  • Constipation: Well… I’ll just let this page speak for itself. Read it when you’re not eating.
  • Annoint Kings and other Royalty: Wish to be of royal lineage? Annoint yourself with olive oil and say a small prayer. Not really a home remedy, but I thought the idea was interesting.

Needless to say, some of these seem obvious (I like the alcohol one myself, I may need to try it out), others seem dubious…rubbing oil in your face to prevent acne? I thought they were interesting as trivia items, and not much more.

Many thanks to Anne Dolamore’s book The Essential Olive Oil Companion for the majority of these tidbits. Yes, I purchased a book about olive oil…I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Well, maybe just a little.

What to look for when Buying Olive Oil

It’s a bit intimidating, to be sure. Here you are, walking down the baking aisle of your local grocery store, when you come across the oil section. There are the familiar bottles of corn and vegetable oils. Down on the bottom shelf you should find a Crisco or two. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to locate a hunk of lard.

And then…

…and then you run into a huge section of olives oils. Some are canned, some are in green bottles. Some cost as little as five bucks, other as much as thirty. Then there are the terms on the bottles themselves. Just what the heck are you supposed to buy?

Fret not, mon amis! I am here to provide you with a rough guide of various terms and meanings which will help you decide which bottle of olive oil will fit your need.

First…Look at the label. You should see one of several terms and phrases which will help you determine the odds of getting a good bottle of oil. These terms are actually standards which a great many oil bottlers adhere to.

Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. There can be no refined oil in extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin oil typically has a noticeable green color. Extra-Virgin oil typically comes from the first pressing of the olives, and is usually nothing more than the juice of the olive. Not a bad thing to have around.

Virgin olive oil with an acidity less than 2%, and judged to have a good taste. There can be no refined oil in virgin olive oil. There can be oil, however, from second or even third pressings of the oil. Sometimes first pressings of lesser quality olives also get the “Virgin” label.

Olive oil is a blend of virgin oil and refined virgin oil, containing at most 1% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor. This is typically the chemically refined stuff you find at lower and lowest prices in the store.

WARNING: Through the use of technology, there are some producers who can take lesser quality oil and chemcially remove acidity. By the letter of the law, they would then be “Extra Virgin” but there’s no mistaking the difference in taste between a $20 bottle of Extra Virgin and a $7 dollar.

What is cold-pressed olive oil? “Cold Pressed” is simply a technique used in pressing the oil out of the olives. Heat can break down oils, so there are several techniques used to prevent said break downs. The maximum temperature allowed in “Cold Pressed” techniques is 100 degrees F. If you see this on the label, you may not be assured of a good tasting product, but you can be assured that the producer has taste in mind when it comes to their oils. So this is a good thing to keep in the back of your head when shopping.

What Unfiltered Olive Oil? Exactly what the name implies…sediment from the pressing is not removed from the oil. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as some folks believe that the sediments add further flavor. Others think this is nonsense. If you find an unfiltered bottle, give it a try and make your own decision.

There are other variables that play into the quality of the oil. What region does it come from? Are the olives hand picked or mechanically pciked? What season were the olives harvested? What kind of olive was used in the pressing? How soon were the olives pressed after the were picked?

A lot of questions to be sure. But not a lot of answers. It is unlikely you will be able to figure out any of these answers from grocery store oils. However, the oils that come with a higher price tag may be able to answer several. But that’s why their more expensive…more resources are being applied to gather such information.

If you take anything away from this post, it is to experiment. Have more than one oil in your home in order to figure out what your preferences are. Put words to the tastes you experience. Compare them with other oils and with other people’s experience.

If you want to take away another thing from this post – it’s my recommendation for a cheap olive oil. Try Colivita. Although I experiment with other oils from time to time, I never feel bad if my only option in a store is Colivita. It’s not a complex oil, but it’s not supposed to be. This is the oil I would use for frying. I didn’t even need a free sample from Colivita in order for me to say that.

I’m not the only person who recommends it. Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s also mentions it in his book.

This should get you started on your olive oil hunt. Remember, there’s a difference between olive oils used for cooking, and olive oils used for taste. If your looking for cooking oil, Colivita. If your looking for taste, experiment using the advice from above. Be wary of Extra-Virgin Olive oil at $7 a bottle. Splurge on a $20 or $30 bottle if you can and compare the two. It’s through comparison that you’ll start to understand the differences in taste.

From there? Experiment, experiment, experiment.

Olive Oil

Some believe that crude oil is this world’s most valued and influential commodity.

Not I. I fall firmly in the group of people who believe that Olive Oil has done more for our world than crude oil ever will. Humanity has been using olive oil as food, cosmetics, religious tools, cleansers and lighting fuel since 5000 BC. How long has crude oil been an influential liquid?

Olive oils came from the Mediterranean area. Specifically it’s difficult where to figure out who, exactly, figured out you could do so much with the oil, but we’re pretty sure it was the greeks who made olive oil commercially available to the masses. They were so dependant upon olive oil for their economy that in the 6th century BC, Solon, the great Athenian legislator, drafted laws protecting the olive tree, hoping to ensure that no one would cut down the trees intentionally.

Did I mention the virgins before? I don’t think so.

It is said that in ancient Greece, on some olive farms, only virgins could pick the olives, probably under the idea that an unsullied person could treat a fruit better than someone who has gotten some. *shrug* All I know is that 90% of my high school class could have never worked as an olive picker in Ancient Greece.

Here in America, we’re weren’t much of an olive oil nation until we started getting immigrants from the Meditteranean in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. Before that, we were pretty much a “Lard” and “butter” country, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s nice to have options. However, in the 1700s, it was the Franciscan missionaries brought the first olive trees to the new world, placing them throughout Mexico and what is now California. So when the Italian and Greek immigrants began demanding olive oil, there were already resources to draw from at a much lower cost than if they were to import it all the way from Italy, Spain or Greece.

Olive oil is probably the fat that I cook with most often. So expect a few extra notes and recipes about this topic over the next week or so.



If you’re a fan of both olives AND olive oil, a tapenade is a perfect recipe for you. Not only do you taste the olives, but if you choose an upper tier olive oil, the flavor of the oil stands out as well.

There’s truly not much to this recipe, which makes it a convenient dish to make for parties. This recipe also begs to be altered, and there are many variations besides the ingredients I list below. Think of it this way…any food item that has been stuffed into an olive on a commerical basis can be put in a tapenade. Pimentoes, anchovies, garlic, even parsley all make wonderful additions to this dish.

Also, avoid the canned olives for this recipe. Canned olives seem to have less taste than bottled.

  • 2 cups of pitted black olives.
  • 1/4 cup Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Capers

Place the olives in a food processor. Pulse a second or two at a time until you have a thorough but coarse “paste”. You don’t want the cut of the olives to be too thin, although I’ve known a person or two who actually prefers their tapenades this way.

Place olives into a small mixing bowl. Add the olive oil and combine slowly with a spatula. Add the capers and mix in as well.

Serve on bread, crackers, or any other item that works well with spreads.

That’s it. Pretty simple, huh?

Baked Orzo with Tomatoes and Olives

Baked Orzo

This is a nice dish. The creaminess of the orzo goes amazingly well with the acidic nature of the tomato and the alkaline nature of the olive. It’s all about balance my friends.

Keep in mind this isn’t an exquisite recipe. It’d be one I’d serve my family on a Saturday afternoon while they’re in the living room watching DVD’s. Think of it along the lines of a baked ziti.

You will, however, dirty up some dishes. So get your lazy family away from the DVD’s long enough to have them clean up the kitchen.

  • 16 oz orzo pasta
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions (about 1/2 of a medium-large onion)
  • 2 cups chopped celery (5-6 stalks)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28oz can of whole plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 lb of sliced and pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/2 lb of sliced provolone
  • 1/2 lb of diced mozzarella
  • 1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • Italian Parsley (for Garnish)

Make the orzo as recommended by the directions on the box or bag. When complete, pour into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Meanwhile, in your largest skillet (or even a stock pot), heat up the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and garlic, and cook until the onions just start to turn translucent. Add the pasta and fold in well.

Add the whole tomato and olives. Fold in well. Add 1/4 lb of the sliced provolone and 1/4 lb of the diced mozzarella. Mix in well. Spoon pasta mixture into 10″ by 15″ baking dish (a 4-qt dish if I recall correctly). Pour diced tomatoes over top of pasta and place remaining cheese on top of that. Dot with fresh basil sprigs. Place in oven for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to set for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Serves 8-10

Olive Hints and Tips

In my never ending quest to know everything about everything, I supply you all with information deemed relevant for the post at hand: in this case, olives. It’s not everything you need to know, but it is all I could dig up over the past few days. Use this information for good, and not for evil.

  • The chemical that makes raw olives bitter and inedible is called glucoside oleuropein. To remove glucoside oleuropein, one either puts the picked olives in lye, salt, brine, or repeated baths of water.
  • If you purchase canned olives, you’ll increase their shelf life if you transfer them to a glass container and then refrigerate them. The brining solution in the can may react to the metal and give the olives an off taste.
  • White film found ontop of olive brine is perfectly harmless. Skim it off and rince off any film from the olives.
  • You can extend the life of olives by floating a small layer of vegetable oil ontop o fthe brine’s surface.
  • Avoid olives that are sold dry.
  • Discard any olives whose flesh tends to fall away from the stone without any coaxing.
  • Olives should be firm. Discard any that are soft.
  • A cherry pitter does an admirable job of pitting olives. Or you can press the flat side of a knife against several olives on a kitchen counter, giving the blade a small “thwack” to coax the pits out.
  • Other people have used rolling pins to remove olive pits (similar to the knife method mentioned above). Personally? I think this is equivilent to using a chainsaw to remove to trim one’s hedges.
  • Place excessively salty olives in milk for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to remove some of the salt. Others recommend simmering the olives in water in a covered dish for tem minutes, draining when done.
  • Remember, green = unripe; black = very ripe.
  • Often the more ripe the olive, the less bitter.
  • General rule of thumb? Green olives go with meat and pasta dishes. Black olives go with salads and make great tapanades. Stuffed olives (be it onions, pimentoes, anchovies) go with martinis and hors d’ouevres. There are exceptions obviously, but it’s a good place to start.

Tasting Notes: Ascolane Olives

Ascolane Olives Typically I don’t like to add pictures to my Tasting notes, only because my hope is that when I refer to these posts later, the words themselves will remind me of the experience. But the olives I picked up were such a vibrant color of green, nearly perfect in the way they looked, that I thought it best to document that as well.

These are Italian olives from the Castellino company, which through me off at first, making me think these were called castellino olives. In fact, this is how they were advertised in the store where I picked them up. Alas, there is no such thing. But I was able to track down the correct variety through pictures and Castellino’s product list.

‘Ascolane’ has become something of a generic term for stuffed olives – these however, are not stuffed olives. In this case Ascolane is the actual name of this Italian olive variety from the “Le Marches” region.

Eyes:Well, look for yourself! Green, large and pitted. The color is like a darkened Granny Smith Apple green. A Very vibrant green for an olive, in my opinion.

Nose: Yes, I’m smelling olives. Sometimes I even weird myself out. A slight salty-citrus smell, it reminds me of limes. The brine aroma is also there, also adding to the sharp aroma.

Taste: It’s somewhat difficult to determine what the actual olive tastes like, because a fair amount of the taste of the olive is determined by the brine used to remove the bitterness of the unripe fruit. So when your tasting an olive, you’re actually tasting what the olive bottling company believes the taste of the olive should be.

In this case, Castellino has produced a very sweet olive, unlike the salty Spanish green olives we Americans are accustomed to. Yes, there’s a saltiness to the Ascolane, but only enough there for you to notice it. It doesn’t overwhelm at all. The texture is solid and “crunchy”…well…as crunchy as the meat of the olive can get. There’s a bit of a metal taste as well which may be natural, or may be imparted when the olive is transported in bulk across the world.

Overall: If you close your eyes when you eat this olive, you could almost imagine it being a black olive. If you’re not one for strong green olives, this would be your olive of choice. I may not pick this up again, but only because I like my olives a little stronger. Call it personal preference if you wish.