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Archive for Oil/Vinegar/Dressing

TIP OF THE DAY: Beware Of Fake Italian Olive Oil

bottle-question-mark-fake-livefreelivenatural

The odds are high that your bottle of
imported “extra virgin in olive oil” isn’t,
especially if it’s a major supermarket brand
and/or sold in bulk. Photo courtesy
LiveFreeLiveNatural.com.

 

“Is this for real?” a reader wrote, sending us a link to an article about fake olive oil. While we’ve covered this topic previously and also here, it’s worth revisiting. There’s a lot of fake imported oil claiming to be Italian olive oil.

In fact, fake olive oil has been a major scandal in Italy for decades. People have gone to jail for oil fraud, although that doesn’t stop the practice.

Unscrupulous Italian distributors import oil from Morocco, Spain (the largest producer of olive oil), Tunisia or elsewhere; bottle it in Italy and sell it a Italian olive oil. Sometimes, it’s a blend of a lower-quality Italian oil cut with non-Italian olive oil. Or it can be another oil entirely, such as soybean oil labeled “olive oil” on the manifest.

Totally fake olive oil can be made by mixing cheap vegetable oils with beta-carotene to disguise the flavor, and chlorophyll to provide the green color many people believe (erroneously) indicates higher-quality olive oil.

If the olive oil is bottled in Italy, it is not illegal to label it “Packed in Italy” or “Imported from Italy,” terms that easily deceive consumers. While a different country of origin is supposed to be listed on the label, often it is not. Italy is, in fact, the world’s largest importer of olive oil. Much of the oil sold as “Italian olive oil” isn’t, based on tests conducted in the U.S.

 
A special branch of the Italian police is trained to detect bad oil; but as in most inspections of most product categories in any country, there are too many products and too few inspectors. Even when fraud is found, producers—many of whom have connections to powerful politicians—are rarely prosecuted. [Source]

 
EVEN IF IT’S OLIVE OIL, IT MAY NOT BE “EXTRA VIRGIN”

Just because the label says “extra-virgin olive oil” does not mean that’s what’s in the bottle. In fact, it may not even be 100% olive oil. It can be a blend of lower-quality vegetable oils that may include less than 20% olive oil.

The “extra virgin” label has strict IOC (International Olive Council) requirements; namely, that the acidity of the oil is less than 1%. If the acidity is between 1% and 3.3%, the oil is called virgin olive oil; and the higher the acidity, the lower the grade of oil (here are the grades of olive oil). Much olive oil sold as “extra virgin” isn’t.

A 2010 study by U.C. Davis, one of America’s top agricultural universities, found that 69% of the imported “extra virgin” olive oil sold in California supermarkets did not qualify as extra virgin (the results can be extrapolated to the rest of the country). That means your chance of buying real extra virgin is less than 1 in 3. Here’s the full report.

The Executive Summary begins:

While there are many excellent imported and domestic extra virgin olive oils available in California, our findings indicate that the quality level of the largest imported brand names is inconsistent at best, and that most of the top-selling olive oil brands we examined regularly failed to meet international standards for extra virgin olive oil.

Of the five top-selling imported “extra virgin” olive oil brands in the United States, 73% of the samples failed the IOC sensory standards for extra virgin olive oils, analyzed by two separate IOC-accredited sensory [tasting] panels.

The fraud typically comes from supermarket brands, store brands and club store brands that sell in big volume. There is nothing harmful about the olive oil, but it isn’t of the quality of the Italian olive oil you think you’re paying for. If you’re buying it for it’s heart-healthy benefits, you may not be getting them.

In 2010, a class action lawsuit in California targeted 10 major olive oil brands: Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Filippo Berio, Mazola, Mezzetta, Pompeian, Rachael Ray, Safeway Select and Star. It also names 10 major supermarket chains and big box stores that allegedly sold substandard oil as “extra-virgin.” This includes olive oil mixed with cheaper types of oil, lower quality olive oil and olive oil degraded by heat or age.

Artisan oils from smaller brands are typically what they claim to be. They don’t sell in enough volume to interest the fraudsters.

 

GREEN COLOR DOESN’T MEAN BETTER OLIVE OIL

Consumers have come to believe that green olive oil is better quality. So another trick fraudsters use is to color yellow olive oil green with chlorophyll.

While some green oils are top quality, the color of the oil is determined by:

  • The ripeness of the olives at harvest; for example, unripe, green olives yield green-hued oil and ripe, purple-black olives produce golden-toned oil.
  • Some olive varieties produce greener oil, just as some varieties of grapes produce deeper or lighter hues.
  • The International Olive Oil Council does not consider color as a factor in its blind grading of olive oils. In fact, oil is tasted from blue glasses to obscure the color.
  •  
    The fake can be discerned through lab analysis, although the retailers themselves don’t conduct these analyses. Read more at OliveOilSource.com.
     
    HOW TO DETERMINE IF OLIVE OIL IS REAL

  • Look for a label from a certifying agency, for example, the International Olive Council (IOC) for imported oils and the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) for California oils. Oils with these labels of authenticity generally undergo strict quality control testing.
  •  

    extra-virginity-230

    What started out as an exposé in The New York Times is now an even more informative book. Photo courtesy W. W. Norton & Company.

  • Buy American-grown and -made olive oil. U.S. growers and manufacturers are generally held to stricter standards than companies that export to the U.S. California and Texas are the top two producing states. Olive oil is also made in Florida, Georgia, Hawaii and Oregon.
  • Look for the Non-GMO Project seal. The Non-GMO Project rigorously evaluates products before bestowing their seal.
  •  
    And by all means:

  • Buy directly from olive oil producers when you’re in an oil-producing region.
  •  
    Here are two “tricks” that are not 100% foolproof:

  • Avoid the “fridge test.” Dr. Oz perpetuated the myth that authentic olive oil will thicken and become cloudy in the refrigerator. Although some will, many varieties of oil will react that way. Here are details.
  • Avoid thw “flame test.” Real olive oil is flammable because of its low smoke point. But numerous other oils also have low smoke points. Here’s a chart. Thus, advice to light the oil with a match to see if it burns is no more accurate than the fridge test.
  •  
    Want to learn more? Get Tom Mueller’s book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.
     
    And for free, you can read through our informative Olive Oil Glossary.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Infused Oils

    You may see a proliferation of infused olive oils at the market. But you might want to infuse your own:

  • When you don’t have the space to store multiple bottles of oil.
  • When you don’t use infused oils often enough and the they go stale.
  • When you’d prefer an infused oil other than olive oil.
  • When you’d like to save money.
  •  
    Here’s a tip from Sunbasket, a West Coast service that delivers the best foods from the best farms along with personalized, easy recipes.

    Speaking of easy: Infused oils are easy to make. The technique we describe below takes only minutes, not weeks of infusing.

    WHEN TO USE INFUSED OILS

    Infused oils can add a rich, complex boost of flavor and aroma to nearly anything you prepare. We use them to:

  • Make more flavorful salad dressings.
  • Drizzle over pasta, meat and seafood.
  • Dip bread.
  • Cook eggs.
  • Grill vegetables.
  • Add flavor to baked goods.
  •  

    olive-oil-pour-spout-flavoryourlife-230

    Drizzle flavored olive oil on pasta, meat or fish. Photo courtesy Flavor-Your-Life.com.

  • Replace the pat of butter (cholesterol) on potatoes, rice and veggies.
  • Sauté and stir-fry (but don’t deep fry—remember the smoke point).
  • And just about any occasion when you use cooking oil.
  •  

    WHAT FLAVORS TO INFUSE

    Most of the oils in the market are infused with herbs, citrus or garlic. Basil and rosemary are the most popular herbs, but also consider using cilantro, dill, oregano, parsley or thyme.

    For citrus: blood orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin or exotics (calamondin, kaffir lime).

    For spices, just look on the spice shelf and find what piques your interest. How about chile, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, nutmeg or star anise?

    For aromatics: garlic, ginger, lemongrass or scallions.

    How about nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios or walnuts?

     

    olive-oil-pouring-flavoryourlife-230

    Add flavor to grilled vegetables. Photo courtesy Flavor-Your-Life.com.

     

    QUICK-INFUSED OIL

    While many infused oils are made by soaking herbs in oil for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, a quick and easy infused oil can be make on the stove top in minutes.

    Since you’re adding flavor, there’s no need to splurge on an expensive oil. If you’re infusing olive oil, use one that has mild flavor—not too peppery or fruity (unless you want those flavors in the final product). Or, pick a neutral cooking oil like canola (the different types of cooking oils).

     
    Preparation

    1. HEAT 1 cup of your favorite oil over very low heat in a sauté pan, skillet or nonstick pan.

    2a. FOR HERBS: Add three sprigs of fresh herbs and a lightly smashed clove of garlic. Let the herbs cook in the pan until they’re just starting to brown, but not burn.

     
    2b. FOR SPICES: Cook until the oil just starts to bubble.

    2c. FOR NUTS: Use nuts that are raw and unsalted. Cook until they’re just starting to brown.

    Cooking any of these on the lowest heat possible will give the oil time to pull out the flavors while not burning.

    3. COOL and strain the oil with a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Then funnel the oil into a glass bottle with a tight-fitting cap. Store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

    4. REMOVE the oil from the fridge 20 minutes before using, to bring it to room temperature. Or, use it as soon as it’s made.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Oil & Vinegar Sprayer

    evo-oil-sprayer-230

    Spray on oil and vinegar. Photo courtesy Delta.

     

    Just in time for summer cook-outs and picnics, we were sent samples of the large and small Evo Oil Sprayers.

    They’re different from misters: The spray is less fine and wider. The company claims that the spray nozzle is no-clog (a complaint with the finer-spray misters); so far, that’s been true for us.

    Today’s tip is: If you’re not yet using a mister/sprayer in the kitchen and for grilling, now’s the time to try one:

  • On cooking and baking pans and grill grates, instead of misters or aerosol-propelled (chemical) sprays. You also use your own quality oils, and can vary them (canola, olive, peanut or herb-infused, for example).
  • To evenly spray vegetables before roasting.
  • To spray butter- or herb-flavored oil on grains, popcorn and vegetables.
  • On salads, to save calories and the waste of vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl.
  •  
    Available in two sizes, 8 ounces and 18 ounces, Evo is an option for people who aren’t happy with their current oil sprayers/misters. (We gave up on misters after trying to unclog two different brands.)

     
    The smaller size package consists of two bottles ($24.08). You can use one for oil and the other for vinegar; the bottles are different colors so you can easily tell which is which. We combined different oil and vinegar combinations into each bottle: one a balsamic vinaigrette, one a red wine vinaigrette.

    The large bottle ($19.99) comes with changeable silicone neck tags that identify five different kinds of oil plus balsamic vinegar (although you’d think that the color of the latter would be a dead giveaway). A funnel (provided) twists on to the bottle for easy filling.

    The Evo sprayers are made of high-quality plastic and are top-rack dishwasher safe; the sprayers are easily hand-washed in soapy water. Both components are BPA-, DEHP- and latex-free.

    The sleek ergonomic design is by Michael Graves Design Group, the architectural firm that has designed a variety of housewares including the iconic Alessi Michael Graves Kettle with Bird Whistle.

    Get your sprayers on Amazon.com, for yourself and for house gifts.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking With Coconut Oil

    If you like coconut, have you cooked with coconut oil?

    We’re not talking about hydrogenated coconut oil, a trans fat long been used in American processed foods, which has been phased out of use over the past few years.

    We’re talking extra virgin coconut oil, which is 90% saturated fat but of a type that metabolizes in the body similar to an unsaturated fat. It thus does not increase LDL (bad) cholesterol.

  • Pressed from the fruit (the “flesh” or “meat”) of the coconut, coconut oil is very popular in India and throughout Southeast Asia. It adds a hint of coconut flavor and aroma to cooked dishes.
  • If you don’t want the coconut aroma and flavor, you can use refined coconut oil. But since we only use coconut oil for that hint of coconut, why bother when there other neutral oils in the pantry?
  •  
    At room temperature, coconut oil solidifies but turns liquid as soon as it hits the heat (or if your room is warmer than 76°F). Don’t put it in the fridge: It will turn rock-hard.

    You can find liquid coconut oil, which is fractionated coconut oil that has had the good-for-you lauric acid removed so it doesn’t solidify. It stays liquid, even in the fridge. Use it on your hair and skin if you want, but not for cooking.

       

    Coconut-oil-dr-bronner-230

    The same coconut oil that is used to cook is also used as a beauty product to make skin soft and hair shiny. Photo of virgin coconut oil—Fair Trade, organic and certified kosher—courtesy Dr. Bronner.

     

    DIFFERENT TYPES OF COCONUT OIL

    When you’re in the store, you may discover a confusing list of options, including extra virgin coconut oil, virgin coconut oil, expeller-pressed coconut oil, the aforementioned liquid coconut oil, and generic products simply called “coconut oil.”

    Go with the virgin or extra virgin. According to Health Impact News, they’re the same thing. There’s no industry standard for “extra virgin”; it’s simply better marketing that leverages consumers’ preference for extra virgin oil oil.

    Here’s a detailed explanation of the different types of coconut oil.

     

    Coconut-and-oil-w-coconut-PhuThinhCo-230

    Refined coconut oil is pale yellow in color; unrefined (virgin) coconut oil is white.
    Photo courtesy Phu Thinh Co.

     

    WAYS TO USE COCONUT OIL

    Manufacturers use coconut oil in candies, cookies, whipped toppings, nondairy creamers and other foods. At home, we use it to add a hint of coconut flavor in:

  • Baked goods
  • Sautéed veggies: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, root vegetables, potatoes
  • Stir fries
  • Sautéed chicken or fish (if you’re making a breading, use half bread crumbs and half flaked unsweetened coconut)
  • Stir fries
  • Marinades
  • Popcorn drizzle (add flaked coconut and toasted almonds!)
  • Bread spread (a vegan friend uses it to make delicious cinnamon toast)
  • Grains, as a butter alternative (we love what it adds to rice, regular and fried)/li>
  •  
    The same coconut oil that is eaten is also used as a beauty product. You can use it to soften skin, shine hair or as a massage oil.
     
    BAKING WITH COCONUT OIL

    You can replace other oils or butter at a 1:1 ratio in baked goods. For shortening, replace 1 part with 3/4 part coconut oil.

    Solid coconut oil will mix like softened butter with other ingredients are at room temperature; but to be sure to please the gods of baking chemistry, we melt it first.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Use Miso Paste

    sweet-white-miso-crumbsandtales-230

    White miso paste, also called mild or sweet
    miso. Photo courtesy CrumbsAndTales.com.
    Try their recipe for carrot, miso and ginger
    salad dressing.

     

    Almost everyone who has been to a Japanese restaurant has had miso soup. But today’s tip includes other things to do with miso (MEE-zoe).

    Thanks to the popularity of miso, you can find at least one type of miso paste in many supermarkets and all natural foods stores (Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, for example).

    Miso is a paste made from soybeans and grains (typically barley or rice), koji (a fungus that serves as a fermenting agent) and sea salt. It can ferment from a short time (for mild homemade miso) to three years (for red miso). The result has the consistency of hummus.

    The fermentation produces an enzyme-rich, living food that contains many beneficial microorganisms. However, it also has a relatively high salt content.

    Miso should be refrigerated and added to cooked foods just before they are removed from the heat.

     

    TYPES OF MISO PASTE

    Different types of miso paste are available in Japanese markets (like Sunrise Mart in New York City). Natural food stores typically carry the three most common.

    The deeper the color, the higher the percentage of soybeans and the stronger the flavor.

  • White miso paste, shiromiso, is the most common form. It has just a small amount of soybeans; the majority ingredient is riceor barley. White miso is also called mild miso and sweet miso, and is used mostly in salad dressings and marinades. It is also incorporated into Japanese and vegan desserts.
  • Yellow miso paste is stronger than white miso. It is a combination of barley and rice, and the most versatile of the varieties, used for glazes, marinades and soups.
  • Red miso paste is the strongest, fermented the longest to a deep red or deep brown color, made from mostly soybeans. The more percentage of soybeans, the longer the fermentation and the deeper the color. It is used to add heartier flavors to vegetables asparagus, eggplant and kale; dips, sauces and spreads.
  •  
    WAYS TO USE MISO PASTE

    In Japan, miso soup is a culinary staple, whisked into dashi (stock) and enjoyed at any meal, starting with breakfast. It is also used to give an earthier flavor to noodle soups, such as ramen and udon.

    It is also used as a condiment/seasoning:

  • Braising meats, seafood (try miso-braised cod) and vegetables (try eggplant and mushrooms)
  • Compound butter: East meets West (how to make compound butter)
  • Dips and spreads: season with spices and use with crudités and rice crackers
  • Dressing: whisked into a dressing for salads and cooked vegetables
  • Grilling, as an overnight marinade and a glaze (coat corn on the cob, wrap in foil and grill)
  • Pickling, for a sweeter variety of vegetables pickles
  • Sauces: misoyaki is a variant of teriyaki
  •  

    Americans have incorporated miso into Western cuisine, from gravy to risotto and quich. For inspiration, pick up a book like The Miso Book: The Art of Cooking with Miso. It not only has many recipes, but shows you how to make your own miso paste from scratch.

    Start by making miso soup and salad dressing with the recipes below.

    RECIPE: EASY MISO DRESSING

    Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil (peanut, vegetable)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons white miso
  • 1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey or 1/4 teaspoon agave
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  •  

    miso-soup-2-sushiloungeNJ-230

    A familiar bowl of miso soup. Photo courtesy Sushi Lounge | NJ.

  • Optional additions: chili flakes/sriracha, grated fresh ginger, peanut butter
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WHISK the ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Taste and add more honey or vinegar as you prefer.

    2. STORE leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

     
    RECIPE: EASY MISO SOUP

    Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant dashi granules*
  • 1/4 cup red miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried seaweed, reconstituted in water and drained
  • 1/2 cup cubed tofu
  • 2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
  •  
    Preparation

    1. ADD the water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the instant dashi; whisk to dissolve. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the tofu and seaweed. Simmer for 2 minutes. While the soup simmers…

    2. SPOON the miso paste into a bowl. Ladle 1/2 cup of the hot dashi broth into the bowl and whisk until the miso paste melts and is the mixture smooth.

    3. TURN off the heat and add the miso paste to the pot. Stir well. Taste the soup and whisk in another 1-2 tablespoons of miso paste as desired. Garnish with green onions and serve immediately.

     
    *This is the easy version; the soup will be ready in 10 minutes. When you have time, try a recipe that uses homemade dashi stock, made from fish and kelp. For quick recipes, dashi is also available in a bouillon cube format.

      

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