We recently were talking here (and in our SpicyBytes newsletter) about The Mediterranean Diet.
Unlike other diets, which focus primarily on limiting fat consumption, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes instead choosing healthier types of fat. The Mediterranean diet steers cooks away from saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans fats), both of which are thought to contribute to heart disease.
Instead of using shortening and butter as primary fat sources, the Mediterranean diet features olive oil as the main source of dietary fat. Olive oil is mainly monounsaturated fat — which is a type of fat that can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (sometimes called “bad cholesterol”) levels, when used in place of saturated or trans fats.
“Extra-virgin” olive oils (the least processed forms) also contain the highest levels of protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects. Olive oil and some nut oils (roasted French walnut oil, roasted sesame oil, avocado, etc) also contain beneficial linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid, which is good for your brain) along with healthy unsaturated fat. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides, and are associated with a lower incidence of sudden heart attacks.
Olive Oil is great for salads and sauteeing. But how do you bake with olive oil? Is that even possible?
In a word, YES. You can definitely bake with olive oil instead of butter or vegetable shortening. We do it all the time.
Here are a couple of tips and thoughts to get optimal results with your baked goods made from olive oil.
Taste. The flavor of olive oil is different from butter or shortening. You might want to choose the lighter olive oils in sweet baked goods, and save the greener, more peppery, stronger olive oils for more savory cakes and breads. Of course, our flavored olive oils (Blood Orange, Eureka Lemon, Persian Lime) are an excellent match with chocolate and other sweet desserts and pastries. Some of our customers even like to use “spicy” flavored oils like Chipotle or Harissa Olive Oil in baked goods for an unexpected kick.
Price. Olive oil generally costs more than vegetable oil. However, you may find, as you use olive oil in place of animal and hydrogenated fats in your cooking, that a smaller amount of olive oil is needed to provide the desired effect, whether that is as shortening in a baking recipe, or as fat for sauteeing and salad dressings.
Smoke point. Oils vary in how they handle heat. Olive oil has a lower smoke point than canola, peanut, or grapeseed oil. It can break down and catch fire at high temperatures. However, on the Mediterranean Diet, you won’t be deep-fat-frying many dishes. For most cooking on the stove, at the grill, or in the oven, this isn’t a great concern.
An additional benefit is that many of these recipes which use olive oil in place of animal or hydrogenated fat also are dairy free, sometimes even vegan, and generally lower in “bad” cholesterol, for guests at your table who have those special dietary needs.