those who didn't grow up on the Mediterranean, olive oil probably wasn't a
staple in the pantry. Bland vegetable oils, hydrogenated vegetable fats,
butter, margarine and lard have always been the preferred fats in lands
where the olive doesn't grow. Only in recent years has olive oil acquired
For much of Spain, where lack of grazing land meant no
animal fats, the use of olive oil has flavoured cooking ever since Roman
times. The Spanish word for oil, aceite, comes from the Arabic which
means "juice of the olive". Olive oil is the only oil which, extracted by
mechanical and physical processes, can be consumed without any further
refining. This is know as virgin oil or aceite de oliva virgen, a
completely natural product containing all the flavour, aroma, vitamins and
other nutritional attributes of the fruit from which it derives.
is classified by degree of acidity, the percentage of oleic acid. The higher
the degree of acidity, the stronger the oil's flavour. Extra virgen
is allowed an acidity of not more than 1°, fino between 1° and 1.5°.
Virgin oils with greater acidity are generally considered too strong-tasting
and are treated with refining procedures. What is called aceite de oliva
puro, pure olive oil, is actually a mixture of virgin oil and refined
olive oil. This may range from an acidity of 0.4° to 1°. It still has the
real olive flavour, but without the fruitiness so prized in virgin oil. The
higher the acidity, the lower the price.
All other vegetable oils are
extracted by means of chemical dissolvents, followed by a distillation
process to remove the dissolvents. None is edible at this point and must
undergo refining. This consists of neutralization, bleaching, deodorization
and winterization. Each step, especially the ones involving heat, changes
the composition of the oil and destroys the natural vitamins and
antioxidant, which must be replaced as additives. Most other vegetable oils
are cheaper than olive oil, which, because of its labour-intensive
cultivation and picking, will never be price-competitive.
After olive oil,
the most extensively produced oil in Spain is sunflower, aceite de
girasol. Safflower oil, aceite de cártamo, is little found in
local markets. Buy it in health food shops. Peanut oil, aceite de
cacahuete, and soy oil, aceite de soja, are sporadically
available. Corn oil, aceite de maíz, has become very prevelant, but
is by no means cheap. Rapeseed oil, aceite de colza, is little used
as a cooking oil, but has many industrial uses. Aceite de semillas is
an authorized mixture of any of these oils except olive and soy.