When it comes to extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), most people would probably say that they are aware that it has health benefits or at least that it is "good for you". However, beyond that it is high in antioxidants, how much do you really know about EVOO? We recently went to California to witness the first harvest of the year from Cobram Estate, an award-winning EVOO producer near Sacramento. Here are the 5 coolest things we learned about EVOO on the trip: 

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1. Extraction is Half the Battle

Olives need to be heated to room temperature to extract the oil. In the process, whole olives are crushed (seeds and everything else included) and pressed. Once as much of the oil is extracted as possible, the rest goes out as scrap. 

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2. Unrefined is better

The oil-refining process strips out antioxidants and other goodness from the plant. This means that we end up with straight fats without the compounds containing all the health benefits. This is the key difference between EVOO and, well, regular OO. Extra virgin oils are unrefined and therefore maintain their naturally high levels of healthy compounds, leading to, as Cobram Estate puts it, "gloriously unrefined" extra virgin goodness. 

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3. It is safe to cook with EVOO

Contrary to the common belief of many, EVOO's smoke point is high enough for cooking and baking. It smokes at 200-250 degrees Celsius, which still works beautifully for sautéing, frying, and baking: these temperatures are roughly 120, 160-180 and around 180 degrees Celsius respectively.

What happens when you heat oil, you may ask? Chemical changes like hydrolysis and oxidation reactions occur, and toxic compounds are produced, the severity of which depends on the degree of unsaturation of the oil, temperature and frying time. EVOO's high levels of mono-unsaturated fat makes it very stable under high temperatures, thus does not readily create nasty compounds when heated like other common types of oils.

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4. EVOO makes your food healthier

Not only is EVOO itself good for you, EVOO's high levels of natural complex antioxidants also protect it while cooking and infuse into food during the cooking process. This exchange between the fat that we cook with (mono-unsaturated fats in EVOO) and the fat in food can lower levels of less-healthy fats in the latter. For example, raw chicken has more trans fat than chicken fried in EVOO, and cooking a schnitzel in EVOO can reduce its level of saturated fats compared to cooking it in less healthy oils. No wonder a favorite Korean Fried Chicken joint is frying their chicken in olive oil!

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5. EVOO's antioxidants are oil-soluable

Most antioxidants we consume (from berries, coffee and green tea) are water soluable. In contrast, EVOO's antioxidants are oil-soluable. Many of our essential cells such as brain cells are composed of fats so it takes a lot more water soluable antioxidants to protect these cells than oil-soluable antioxidants, making the antioxidants in EVOO much more readily available for use by our bodies. 

EVOO is truly a wonderful gift from Mother Nature. So, give your salad a generous drizzle or your stir fry a generous splash and feel good about it!