Go Greek or Go Home
BY DEAN KARNAZES
The best olives on earth come from the best place on earth. Greece! You can probably tell I’m a bit biased (okay, a lot biased). But trust me on this, when it comes to superior olive oils, Greece is the place.
Why so? There a couple ways I could answer that question. The first is to explain that many elements must combine to create a truly superb olive fruit, which in turn creates a uniquely distinctive olive oil. The quality and composition of the soil matters, the amount and intensity of sunlight makes a difference, patterns of rainfall and fluctuations in humidity contribute enormously to the finished product, and even the nearby microbiome can play an important role! Of course, to me the best of the best olive oil comes from the remote villages in the hills of Greece. There, the old traditions are still used to produce an heirloom, artisanal oil that is impossible to reproduce. We’re talking about small quantities of a rarified olive oil that is loaded with polyphenols, dark in color, viscous and full-bodied, and tastes like a romance novel in your mouth. As you can probably imagine, they don’t stock this stuff on Amazon.
So what’s a Greek to do? Thankfully there are outlets where you can find high-quality Greek olive oils without having to scale the mountains of Greece (not that I’m discouraging that). When choosing an olive oil from Greece, the first place to start is by making sure it’s labeled, “Made in Greece” or “Product of Greece.” This must be clearly marked on the principal display panel (FDA speak for somewhere on the main part of the label that is viewable when looking at the product on a shelf, or on a screen I guess nowadays).
Once you’ve confirmed the product is made in Greece, the next important thing to ensure is that it’s extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). This matters because EVOO is cold-pressed (heating olive oil can reduce its quality) and there are no additional ingredients, just pure olive juice (i.e., no solvents or additives are used in the extraction process).
A couple of other things to consider when selecting an olive oil: Is it organic? My preference is yes. Many of the higher quality olive oils from Greece are organic, and those are the ones I choose. Is the orchard regenerative? That’s not a term you hear often, or maybe you’ve never heard it before, but be sure you will in the future. A lot of the modern-day Greek olive farmers are going regenerative using things like solar to power their operations, but I’ve been to older establishments where horse or mules turn the stone presses (or even people!). They’re making the olive oil all by hand, and it tastes like it. Those are the places I love.
A couple final practical matters: always try to store your olive oil in a dark container (preferable) or a dark location (still works). Light can breakdown the oil and reduce the quality. Same with heat. There’s an old Greek saying about olive oil, “Drizzle don’t sizzle.” Pouring some fresh organic olive oil over a salad makes sense, but heating it above 180 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t. Best to choose another partner for your fry pan.
Good quality EVOO is something I consume daily. With that, I also take most of my fat-soluble supplements, which are aided by the oil. Hammer Nutrition ENDURO D is a product I use daily, as is PREMIUM INSURANCE CAPS, which contains other fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and E. Taking your supplements with a good source of fat is also a good idea in general.
I never thought I’d consider myself an olive oil snob. I remember watching my grandfather and all his old Greek friends arguing over who made the best olive oil. Turns out, some of that oil must’ve rubbed off on me.
Dean Karnazes is an ultramarathoner and Hammer Nutrition Athlete. His latest book is, A Runner’s High.