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We've all heard that olive oil is good for you. It's a key part of the healthy Mediterrranean diet, it lowers your bad cholesterol and raises your good. My local grocery store devotes a large section of their oil aisle to olive oil. Filtered, unfiltered, extra-virgin, plain, cold-pressed, Italian or Spanish. Some of the containers are metal, with colorful rustic scenes painted on them, other oils show off their emerald hue or amber gleam in glass bottles. All the choices look good, but how to decide?

A good deal of that decision depends on what you want to do with the oil. If you want to use it on salad, or to dip bread, or anything that doesn t require cooking, go for the cold-pressed extra-virgin. By definition, its acidity will be less than one percent, and its flavor will be pure and clean. This oil is taken from the very first pressing of olives, and has not been touched by heat-and you shouldn't heat it either. Since it breaks down at about 140 degrees, you will lose all flavor if you use it for sauteing your onions.

If the oil you select is green, you know it has been taken from young, underripe olives. The flavor can be very full-bodied, sometimes peppery. The golden oils are taken from more mature olives- their flavor is more rounded and subtle. Lately, there has been a rising popularity in unfiltered olive oil, with tiny bits of olive sometimes still in it. This cloudy alternative should be reserved for uses where the extreme olive flavor can really shine through. Do not cook with this type, since heating destroys the very flavors that make it distinctive.

Although Americans frequently associate Italy with olive oil, Spain is the number one producer, sending quite a bit to Italy. If your store carries it, try some Spanish oil. The flavors range from almond-like to ripe fruit, both excellent embellishments for a salad or dipping sauce. Italian oils from Tuscany have a distinctive peppery taste, which makes them very intriguing. The oils from the Apulia region are more subtle, but very definitely olive flavored-great if you really like olives themselves.

For simple frying or sauteing, go for simply a virgin olive oil. The flavor will be simple and straightforward, since it comes from a later pressing of the olives. Try not to buy it in a metal container in this instance, since the oil can take on a metallic taste if left in the container too long. No matter what type you choose, store in a cool and dark place to reduce the chances of rancidity. Oils are best within the same year they were produced, but it is difficult to find such new oils here in the U.S.. After two years, flavor changes will have almost definitely occurred, and should not be bought at this point.