What does an olive oil's intensity mean?
Introduction to intensity
A fresh, good quality olive oil offers a wonderful fresh aroma and upon sipping very fresh flavours and clean/non-oily texture. The experience also includes a wave of spiciness and elegant bitterness at varying levels of intensity. In general, olive oils having a more delicate flavour are extracted from either riper/later harvest fruit offering less complexity in flavours, and/or a variety that offers less intensity naturally which is normally due to its region of cultivation in more northern climatic zones of producing countries. It is antioxidants in olive oil that give the oil its bitter and pepper notes.
Flavours of very fresh, high quality olives are very diverse, with many different varieties of fruit in cultivation world-wide. As the fruit stays longer on the tree, more oil is accumulated but a point is reached where complexity of flavour and health-inducing components such as antioxidants decrease with further ripening. However, the benefit to some producers is that the fruit continues to produce more oil.
A basic rule of thumb is to use an intensity that matches the flavour intensity of the food ingredients used in a dish, with some variation depending on unique characteristics of ingredients. For example, blue cheese's strong pungency is beautiful with a delicate to medium intensity olive oil providing notes of fine herbs and leafy greens versus a stronger-tasting oil in a higher intensity that is also in the earthy style having flavour notes such as notes tomato and Mediterranean herbs.
What is "light" olive oil?
This class of olive oil may be consumed for a variety of reasons, such as: by some people thinking that it has less calories, by those that have tried low quality oils from low quality fruit and have not liked the flavour as well as its heavy/oily texture, or those that prefer a low intensity of flavour.
Please keep in mind that 'light' olive oil refers to olive oil that upon laboratory and 'taste' testing was deemed unfit for human consumption because of various defects/levels of oxidation or degraded fat. It has gone through a chemical process to eliminate these unwanted defects. It is not a lower-calorie version!
Unfortunately, this chemical refining process also removes the majority of extremely healthy minor components in the oil such as antioxidants and may leave some chemical residues.
Although after the refining it will end up with extremely low 'free fatty acids' typically referred to as 'acidity' in short, or degraded fat molecules, the only real benefit obtained from a refined olive oil will be the high level of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat characteristic of olive oil.
For those of you that are starting to experience quality olive oils and are not used to the natural flavours of high quality oils, we suggest starting with the delicate style. You will be amazed!
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