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Have you ever felt that you needed a guidebook when shopping at the grocery store? With so many different varieties of the same product to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one to buy. In the world of olive oil, many types stock the shelves; let’s find out which one is at the head of the class.

Olive oil is graded on taste, acidity level and processing method. The top quality olive oils are obtained from the first pressing of the olives. These olives are cold-pressed, which means they aren’t heated or processed with chemicals. They are unrefined. While heating produces more oil, it also decreases the flavor and health-promoting antioxidants. “Extra virgin olive oil” is the highest quality of oil because it is unrefined, made from the first pressing. It low in acidity and has a distinct fruit flavor. Use it for dips, salad dressings or for drizzling over fish.

“Virgin olive oil” sits just below extra virgin in the hierarchy of oils. It’s also unrefined, but it is slightly more acidic. It has a more mild taste and is good for stir-frying, grilling or roasting. Lower quality oils include “olive oil,” which is a blend of virgin and refined oils, and “light olive oil,” which is highly refined. Both of these oils should only be used when flavor isn’t wanted. All olive oil has the same amount of calories and heart-healthy fats (even “light olive oil” which only refers to it’s lighter color and flavor), but the unrefined, virgin and extra virgins, have more antioxidants.

Store olive oil in a dark glass bottle in a cool place since exposure to air, light and heat can lead to oxidation and rancidity. An open bottle of olive oil will keep at room temperature for 18-24 months, but research suggests that health-promoting compounds degrade around 12 months. You now hold the guidebook to include this Mediterranean staple in your diet!

Dipping Oil

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

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½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon coarse salt

½ teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 cloves garlic, minced

Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use. The flavor is best if you make this several hours before using. For safe food handling, use within 2 to 3 days.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 250 calories, 29 grams fat, 290 milligrams sodium, 1 gram carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 1 gram protein

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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