If you’re a fan of Italian food, you know that good olive oil is integral to a properly prepared dish. This week, we’re digging into the history of olive oil – and, perhaps most importantly, how to select a quality olive oil for your own kitchen.
Olives have been a major part of the Mediterranean economy for thousands of years. Olive trees, traditionally a symbol of peace, have been cultivated along the Mediterranean coast for centuries, with the first documentation of olive trees popping up more than 6,000 years ago. In fact, historians have found stone tablets dating back to 2500 B.C. that reference the olive plant, suggesting that the plants may have originated in Greece. One thing is certain: Throughout the Mediterranean region’s rich history, the olive has been a symbol of wealth, fame and peace.
A Cultural Symbol
For thousands of years, olive oil has played a fundamental role in culture, trade, technology and the economy. Homer mentioned olive oil in The Iliad, referring to it as “liquid gold.” That’s because, in ancient Greek times, olive oil was a basic staple in daily life. In those days, olive oil was used in both cooked and uncooked dishes, which typically contained grains or flour that were rubbed with olive oil for consistency. In fact, the ancient Greeks are credited with inventing the first salad dressing, which was comprised of olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and honey.
Other Uses for Olive Oil
While olive oil was – and still is – a major part of the Mediterranean diet, it also had a variety of household uses. In the early days of olive oil, it was used as a main source of fuel for lamplight and was especially highly prized for religious ceremonies. Olive oil was also used as a beauty tool, with members of the upper crust (no pun intended) using olive oil to moisturize their bodies, sometimes even bathing with it. Olive oil was also generously applied to athletes participating in ancient Greek games. In addition to being used as a base for perfumes and cosmetics, olive oil eventually became a remedy for a host of health problems. Hippocrates was the first known medical practitioner to use olive oil-based ointments to treat wounds, calling it “the great healer.” By the Middle Ages, olive oil had become a well-known remedy for everyday ailments like sore throats, cuts and bruises.
How to Select the Best Olive Oil
While the history of olive oil is fascinating, it’s definitely still a major part of today’s culinary culture. So, how do you select the best olive oil for your kitchen? With varieties including extra virgin, light, filtered and cold-pressed, it’s hard to know where to begin. Ultimately, to select the best kind of olive oil for you, you have to consider a few basic principles. Start by unpacking common olive oil jargon. For instance, many people know to look for “extra virgin” on the label even if they don’t know what it means. Extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, is extracted via a mechanical pressing process, which doesn’t require chemical solvents. When in doubt, stick to EVOO – and, while you’re at it, avoid buying EVOO that’s more than a year old. Finally, it’s important to buy olive oil that is bottled in dark-colored glass containers. This keeps light and chemicals like BPAs out of your oil, which keeps it fresher longer.
If you’re looking to enjoy some high-quality olive oil and Italian food in Springfield Missouri, Bambinos Cafe is here for you. Our pasta dishes come with plenty of fresh-baked bread that’s best when enjoyed alongside olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Check out our full menu online, or call our Delmar location at 417-862-9999 or our Battlefield location at 417-881-4442.