EVOO [Extra virgin olive oils]

As plants native to the Middle East and the Mediterranean, olive trees have one of the longest food histories among all known foods. In addition, olive oil was not exclusively used as a food but also as medicine, lamp fuel and in other ways.

While olives were originally found only in the Middle East, over time they have been grown in Greece, Italy and France. In recent years olive trees have also been widely cultivated and the fruits enjoyed in cuisine worldwide from Australia and New Zealand to the United States. Today nearly 50 countries produce olive oil commercially and over three million tons of olive oil are currently consumed each year.

Olive oil is made from the crushing and then subsequent pressing of olives. Olive oil is available in a variety of grades, which reflect the degree to which it has been processed. Extra virgin olive oil is derived from the first pressing of the olives and has the most distinct flavor and strongest overall health benefits.

Extra virgin olive oils can naturally range in color from pale yellow to golden to light and dark shades of green. There is no guaranteed relationship between the quality of EVOO and its color — in other words, high-quality versions of EVOO come in all colors and low-quality versions of EVOO come in all colors. Taste and aroma are far better ways of evaluating EVOO quality than color. If the EVOO you are looking at is dark green in color, it’s often because olive leaves have been added to the olive crush prior to the pressing of the oil.

Since olive oil can become rancid from exposure to light and heat, there are some important purchasing criteria you should follow to ensure buying a better quality product. Look for olive oils that are sold in dark-tinted bottles and make sure to store the oil away from heat.

Because EVOO is monounsaturated fat it tends to decrease the chance of oxidation, meaning it will not break down with time. On the other hand, EVOO includes much more actual fruit particles, making it burn more quickly than lighter olive oil. So enjoy your EVOO in salads and dressings but don’t use it for cooking. Adding it to baked goods is another great way of boosting flavor and enjoying its health benefits.

Olive Oil Crackers

These light and tasty crackers go well with your favorite dips and they’re a lot better for you than chips.

  • 3 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for rolling
  • Cornmeal for the pans

Whisk together the flour and salt. Add the water and olive oil. Mix the dough at medium speed for about 5–7 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook attachment. The dough should be just a bit sticky to work with.

Shape the dough into a large ball. Cut into twelve equal-sized pieces. Gently rub each piece with a bit of olive oil, shape into a small ball and set aside. Cover with plastic wrap or a dishtowel and let rest at room temperature for 30–60 minutes.

While the dough is resting, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare two pizza stones if you have them by dusting with cornmeal. Alternately, line two sheet pans with parchment paper and sprinkle with cornmeal.

Working with one piece at a time, shape and stretch each ball into a flat strip, using a rolling pin to flatten it as much as possible. Cut into strips or squares using a pizza cutter or pastry wheel. Place crackers on the pizza stone or prepared pan. Repeat with all the dough balls. Prick each cracker with the tines of a fork to prevent puffing and place in the oven. Bake until deeply golden, about 10–12 minutes and remove from oven. Cool and serve or store in airtight container for a few days.

Many ingredients are prone to infestation. Please consult a local Rav for specific guidelines on how to avoid transgressions related to insects.

Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to peppermill@hamodia.com. This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.