The Culinary Calendar - July

July is the month of olive oil, a crucial part of the Mediterranean diet.

Homer called it 'liquid gold' and in ancient Greece athletes ritually rubbed it all over their bodies. Throughout history olive oil has been more than mere food to the peoples of the Mediterranean.

Italy produces around 17% of the world's olive oil although they actually consume 30% of it; around 14 litres per person every year. Much of their own production is exported - the United States and Canada are big fans of Italian olive oil.

There are several grades of olive oil, the best being extra-virgin. This comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. The Mediterranean countries are the biggest producers of extra-virgin olive oil and 45% of Italian production is of this quality. It's commonly used on salads, added at the table to soups and stews and for dipping.

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats - most notably oleic acid - and evidence suggests that a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats in the diet is linked with a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.

So, whether you're using it as a salad dressing, drizzling it on your pizza, dipping your bread in it or rubbing it all over your body like an ancient Greek athlete*, be reassured that olive oil not only tastes great, but is also extremely good for you. And how many things in life can you say that about?


* Extra virgin olive oil actually makes a good moisturiser, is effective as a shaving oil and is widely used in cosmetics and soaps. Clever ancient Greeks!