Evelyn asks via a handwritten letter:
“Does olive oil get rancid? Can I keep it on the counter after opened?”
The short answer is that extra virgin olive oil eventually becomes rancid, but it takes a long time, and it’s perfectly safe to store it on the counter. What you want to avoid are light and heat, so keeping it in an opaque container would be better than keeping it in a clear glass container. You do want to keep it cool but not cold enough to turn it solid, which is what will happen at refrigerator temperatures.
As a general rule, oils go bad because they oxidize, which is useful for protecting a cast iron pan, and when controlled properly protects stainless steel, but in oils that you’re planning to eat, oxidization is not a good thing.
Extra virgin olive oil is considered to be one of the better sources of fat for people because they contain a lot of antioxidants. Those antioxidants prevent oxidization in the oil just as well as they do in your body; maybe even better, as the body is a big complex system and it’s hard to get antioxidants everywhere. In the oil, the antioxidants are evenly distributed. So oxygen is not going to cause trouble.
On the downside, olive oil reacts to sunlight, because it is essentially an unrefined oil from a plant. Plants are green because the chlorophyll, the chemical responsible for photosynthesis, is green. The greener the olive oil, the more chlorophyll is in it. The more of those chlorophyll, the more sensitive to light it will be, so olive oil stored in sunlight will be subject to many chemical reactions that will not be good for the olive oil.
On the plus side, properly stored, a quality extra virgin olive oil will last for a few years. So: healthful, tasty, and long-lasting. What’s not to love? Another plus, olive oil makes for a great tasting party, too. You don’t even have to bring a gift, but a baguette would be nice.
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