Selecting the Best Olive Oil

The land of perfect tomato sauce, prosciutto, cheese, gelato, and olive oil, Italy is a foodie’s paradise. I spent last week touring and tasting my way across the country. Northern Italy is all about the simplicity of flavors, highlighting the food in it’s purest form. And known for it’s health benefits of course. The Mediterranean Diet is touted as disease preventing and a cure for many of our modern ailments. I was most intrigued by the olive oil. Oils are quite fragile and if not processed properly, all the health benefits are nil. I wanted to find out why Italy has some of the best olive oil in the world and how it differs from other countries.

Driving through the Italian Veneto countryside, we finally arrived at the family-run Frantoio Bonamini Olive Oil Mill. A women greeted us enthusiastically and proceeded to give us a two hour personalized tour. She and her husband run the mill with a small staff of family members.

Many businesses in Italy are run by close-knit families with outsiders only welcome to help during the harvest season. We were led through a thorough history of olive oil production, equipped with beautifully preserved, ancient equipment. Then our host, Sabrina, compared her modern method to this process.
Best Olive Oil
Best Olive OilBest Olive Oil
Harvest begins in September and can go as long as December. The time of harvest determines the resulting flavor profile of the oil. At Bonamini, harvesting is done without machinery. Mats are laid under the trees and racks are run through the branches to loosen the olives from the trees. This seemed like tedious work as I looked out onto the acres and acres of trees. The olives are then processed within four to six hours. Once olives fall from their branches they begin to oxidize. The enzymes are very active during this time and increasingly degrade. A longer wait time between harvest and processing leads to higher acidity and fewer antioxidants.

The olives are then washed in cold water, and moved to a new machine for crushing in stainless steel drums. During the pressing, the oil is separated from the pits and the water. It is a sealed extraction method, which is best for preventing the continued introduction of oxygen, as well as light to the oil. One olive only produces a few drops of oil. Bonamini runs a zero waste facility, every once of by-product is reused. The pits become fuel for heating the buildings, the olive mash becomes rich compost, and the water is used for the fields. Processed oil is then stored in sealed, oxygen-free stainless steel drums to protect it from light and air. Then it’s bottled in dark tinted glass bottles and shipped out to customers. Each bottle has a two year shelf life if stored properly in a cool, dark place.
Best Olive Oil
Then is was time for the tasting. Olive oil tastings are performed with blue glasses to mask the color of the oil. Since we were in Italy I assumed this was purely for aesthetics, but no, the color of the oil actually has no bearings on it’s flavor. You begin by placing the little shot glass of oil in your left hand and cupping the top with your right hand. This warms the oil a bit to strengthen the flavors. Then take a sip, hold it in your mouth, and suck in air through your lips just slightly. The oxygen activates the oil and I was able to taste the sweetness on my tongue, and a grassy taste with a slight tingle in the back of my throat. This tingle is the polyphenols, the strong antioxidants present in olive oil.

During our tasting, Sabrina explained how Italian oil differs from all other producing countries. Only two types of olive oil are permitted for production, Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Olive Oil has been heated above 80 °F and therefore the antioxidant properties have been destroyed. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is cold pressed to preserve these delicate compounds. This is actually a government regulation applicable to all of the European Union, providing strict enforcement of olive oil labeling. Food products in Italy also come labeled with the Denominazione d’ Origine Protetta (DOP) or Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), which certifies that all components of the product are sourced from a particular region. Region determines flavor. So the olive oil produced by Bonamini carries the label, P.D.O. Veneto, similar to the way Champagne can only carry that name if produced from the Champagne region of France.

When I asked Sabrina to explain “light” olive oil or “extra extra” virgin oil oil, she just shook her head. In the US and and outside the European Union, there are fewer regulations in oil production. The only actual certification in the US is the Organic label. All others are determined by the producer. Olives can be grown organically and then processed with the heat method, destroying the oil’s health benefits. We were advised to research any olive oil producer before purchasing to ensure proper methods.
Best Olive Oil
Best Olive Oil
How to Select Olive Oil

►Olive Oil – Processed using heat that has oxidized the oil and destroyed the antioxidant properties.

►Extra Virgin Olive Oil – If from a European Union(EU) country, the oil is cold-processed, preserving the delicate properties. Carefully check with the producer’s methods if from a non EU country.

►First Press – From the first pressing of the olives, resulting in higher quality.

►Cold Pressed – Oil is never heated above 80 °F to preserve antioxidants.

►Stone Milled – Ancient method of extracting oil, rarely used now. Produces the least processed oil, although difficult to prevent oxidation from more exposure to air.

►Organic – Olives grown without the use of pesticides.

►Fair Trade – Payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as higher social and environmental standards.

►Extra Extra Virgin Olive Oil – The “Extra” extra is only a marketing ploy. 

►Light and Extra Light – All olive oil has the same amount of calories. Light refers to the flavor and is made from the second pressing of olives, resulting in lesser quality.

►Type of Bottle – High quality oil is sold in dark, colored glass bottles to prevent light and air from oxidizing it. Clear bottles are typically lesser quality and allow light in to damage the oil.

►Date Stamp – Read the back of the label to find a date stamp. Two dates may be presented, a bottled date and a harvest date. The harvest date is the one to look for. Olive oil has a two year self life from harvest date. If the bottled date is only present the oil could have already sat in the steel drum for months or up to a year before bottling. 

►Oil Color – When stored in a clear bottle, look at the oil color. Many of these may have been mixed with other oils, such as canola or sunflower as well as colorants.

►Country of Origin – Various statements of geographic origins may be claimed on the label when in fact the oil was grown in one place and processed in another country. Look for the DOP or POD to ensure full production was performed in the country indicated.

►Acidity Level – To preserve high antioxidant properties the acidity level must fall to a specific scale. See if the acidity level is indicated on the back label. Bonamini provides this on each bottle.

If you want to ensure your oil has the most nutritional benefit, use this guide, Flos Olei, created by Marco Oreggia.

Best Olive Oil
Frantoio Bonamini Olive Oil,,1/sid,0q1vd38i7d2096gqbu85l64qq7

Olive Oil Extraction,

Definition of Protected Designation of Origin,

The Jungle Effect, Daphne Miller M.D.

The Scam Of Olive Oil, And Its Antidote,

Marco Oreggia’s Guide to Reputable Olive Oil Farms,

Chopped Greek Salad

Greek Salad

My grandmother is Greek and Polish. Her Greek side always dominated in the family though. So you’d think I would have grown up eating delicious Mediterranean food, but sadly she wasn’t gifted with the domestic goddess gene. She could make three good dishes, moussaka, baklava and Greek salad. At major family gatherings we only entrusted her with the salad. She added a colorful variety of chopped vegetables and a yummy lemon olive oil dressing. I always looked forward to it.

In Greece, a salad is served with every meal. The trendy Mediterranean diet rises above the rest of the fads. It actually recommends eating real, whole foods and healthy fats at every meal. All of your foods are working for you.

Colorful foods used throughout Mediterranean cooking combats the aging process. More color equals more antioxidants. We’re exposed to free radical damage every moment of our lives, the air we breath and even sunlight generates free radicals. These wreak havoc on our bodies, damaging the fragile fats in each cell leading to less resiliency. Free radicals speed up the aging process. That’s where antioxidants swoop in to save the day.  Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, stopping harm in it’s tracks.

Antioxidants are best received from food. Plants contain hundreds of compounds which work in unknown ways. The science needed to discover them doesn’t exist yet, so it’s impossible to bottle them in supplement form. We simply don’t have the formula to recreate all that a plant feeds us. Antioxidants are made up of hundreds of elements and supplements only contain one to ten of these isolated components. Just one fruit of vegetable can contain more than 150 compounds. A famous study, the CARET study, showed that antioxidant supplements actually cause more harm in the body, offering little benefit. Dr. Michael R. Eades puts it perfectly, “It’s almost always better to pop the plant than to pop the pill.”

The recipe is as simple as it gets. With an abundance of antioxidants and healthy fat, you could eat a variation of it every day for a nutrition boost. Throw some fish on top and you have a complete meal.

Greek Salad

Makes 6 servings.

2 cups zucchini – chopped
1 cup carrots – chopped
2 cups tomatoes – seeded and chopped
1 1/2 cups avocado – chopped
1 cup cucumber – seeded and chopped
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
1/4 cup feta – crumbled (optional)

juice of 1 lemon – about 1/4 cup

1 tsp coarse sea salt
2 cloves garlic – minced
3 tbsp olive oil

►In a large bowl, whisk together lemon, garlic, sea salt and then drizzle in olive oil.
►Toss zucchini, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, avocado and olives together with the dressing in the bowl. Add in feta just before serving.


Risk factors for lung cancer and for intervention effects in CARET, the Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial,

Protein Power Life Plan, Drs. Michael R. and Mary Dan Eades,

Cherry Orange Cranberry Sauce

Cherry Orange Cranberry Sauce

My mom always had canned cranberry sauce in our pantry. You know the one I’m talking about. A cylindrical, molded block that slid perfectly out of the can and plopped onto the plate with no intention of ever losing it’s structure. We had it year round because it was one of my favorite after school snacks. Every 10 year old eats that right? I had a strange food palate.

I’d eat it in slices while watching early 90s reruns of 90210. SO addictive. The show and the sauce.

That canned stuff is thankfully far in my past. If I’d have only known what nasty ingredients were lurking inside. It contains four ingredients and two of them are sugar and more sugar. Cranberries, high-fructose corn syrup, water and corn syrup.

Traditional homemade recipes are not much better. They have at least a cup of sugar plus the orange juice, which is loaded with its own sugar too. All that sweetness could be reserved for dessert instead of included in the main meal. Orange juice adds enough sweet to balance the tartness of the cranberries so there is no need to add refined sugar.

My healthy version of cranberry sauce includes just one tablespoon of maple syrup plus fresh squeezed orange juice. Going from 1 cup to 1 tbsp saves a lot of excess sugar.

You get your money’s worth in nutrition with cranberries too. They have one of the highest levels of antioxidants. One cup of whole cranberries has 8,983 total antioxidant capacity, which is topped only by blueberries with up to 13,427.

Say no to canned cranberries this year. Make this recipe and save your sugar for the gooey butter cake.

Cherry Orange Cranberry Sauce

Cherry Orange Cranberry Sauce

Makes 6 servings.

3 ½ cups fresh cranberries
½ cup whole pitted cherries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
½ cup water
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp orange zest
¼ tsp cloves
1 cinnamon stick
¼ tsp red pepper flakes

►Combine cranberries and orange juice in a saucepan and cook all over medium-high heat until cranberries pop, about 10 minutes.
►Reduce heat to low and add in all remaining ingredients.  Cook for 5 minutes until mixture thickens.
►Stir occasionally to prevent sticking in pan.
►Remove cinnamon stick. Cool and serve.*

*This is a fabulous dessert option too! Just add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Complete deliciousness.