I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while and it’s been dragged because I haven’t made up my mind about the best Turkish olive oil. Now my cupboard is crowded with bottles of olive oil and I have to stop buying now and write up the post and get it over and done with. If anyone is in need of olive oil, please come around and take one. 🙂
Olive oil is essential in the Turkish cuisine and culture, especially in the coastal regions. 80% of olives trees grow along the Aegean Sea and some of them date back to thousands of years. While the olive trees of Vouves in Crete and Sisters known as the olive trees of Noah in Lebanon competing for the oldest living olive trees, the Aegean coast are full of old olive trees, too. Outside the Mediterranean, olive oil is used sparingly only by drizzling over food or dipped with bread. But here, it’s the main oil for all kinds of cooking and used generously. Mr.O‘s dad always mops up the last bit of oil at the bottom of salad bowl with bread, and I, too, do it but sometimes when bread is too much, I just grab a spoon and finish off a meal with a heavenly mouthful of liquid. That’s when I feel luck.
My mind is still trying to make sense of how I had ended up in this part of the world, just like that? Life plays a trick on us sometimes as we all know but this one is the most challenging one to comprehend. The first year I came here, I thought to myself, my childhood dream, the Mediterranean living had come true.
How I bursted into tears driving over the hills with the backdrop of olive groves and the sea in surreal blue colour!
There’s no shortage of olives in Turkey but most of the olives end up as table olives as seen at breakfast and a lot of them even go to other countries, such as Spain, whose olive harvest has reduced due to the climate change, and Italy, which has been importing olives from Turkey for some time as their consumption far exceeds the production. However, the taste and quality of olive oil vary from country to country, and just like sommeliers, there are olive oil experts and tasters.
In Turkey, the quality of olive oil is slowly improving as more and more people are becoming aware of quality issues. Do you remember the packets I used to get delivered from Mr.O‘s ex-boss, who was getting into farm-to-plate business? Like me, many people who have parents or relatives living in the countryside have the perks of getting fresh home-made olive oil, apart from all other fresh produce. But sadly, their children leading a busy city life don’t have time to cook to appreciate it and it all ends up in the garbage bin.
Last week, I went to Eataly to buy another bottle of Turkish olive oil after hearing from a gourmet friend that she had bought a nice fruity olive oil from there, but I ended up treating myself with a big platter of prosciutto and mozzarella, and home-made ravioli, instead of buying the oil. I enjoyed it so much since it’d been a long time and forgot about the oil Anyway, what I was going to talk about is actually the Italian olive oil I tasted there, fruity and grassy olive oil. I know one can’t determine the quality of olive oil by its colour and grassy taste, but that’s what people mostly associate with good olive oil and that’s what makes certain brands win a medal at olive oil competitions.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found grassy fruity extra virgin olive oil here yet, and, truth to be told, you won’t. And the reason is? I don’t want to give away the answer so easily, so please read on to find it out. 🙂 However, the good news is whatever the olive oil you get here is a great value, when you compare how much a good bottle of olive oil costs; I used to pay $20-40 in Australia. But here, nope, I’m in the county of olives after all. And I’ve read on Olive Oil Times, that the Turkish olive oil will earn more international attention because of the tax relief on Turkish olive oil exported to EU countries.
After having tried all brands I could finally find – OMG, I’ve been literally drinking the amount equivalent to an espresso cup every day, – I came to the conclusion that there’s no such a thing as grassy peppery extra olive oil; the one produced in a small quantity by Taris, which is what the Turks see as a ‘monopoly’, might be close, but I haven’t tried so I can’t comment on that. You can’t avoid their products and that’s what I’d been using without knowing at the beginning of my time in Turkey. I stopped by a Taris store on Bagdat street and could see how they’ve succeeded in marketing their products internationally. I’m sure I’ll be buying their products again since I haven’t detected any defects in terms of taste; one particular bottle even pleased me. Maybe, that’s why Monsato was successful? However, I have my own ethics against big corporates and I just wanted to ask one question; do we really need olive oil in a fancy ceramic bottle? Some might say yes, well, but not for me. So…let’s move on.
The first year I visited one of the famous olive oil production areas, Ayvalik and Küçükkuyu, and again last year to stop by Dhara Olive Farm, which I’ve written about before.
The most common olives type comes from Gemlik, but I prefer olives from further down south, below Izmir and especially, the green Bodrum olives, which are in a long oval shape and fruitier with a little bitterness, are the type I enjoy the most. I love bitterness and tannis as you know. Because the olives are slitted and cured in brine, normally lots of salt here, you need to soak them in water to desalt a little. The degree of saltiness varies from shop to shop, so when you find what you like, you should stick to it. Luckily I’ve found my favourites. The word I use the most frequently here is probably “Az tuzlu”, which means “less salty”. If I may add one more, “Poşet istemiyorum”, which means “I don’t want a plastic bag”. It’s leave this subject for another time. 🙂
What you see in the photo is half of what I’ve tried so far, counting those that I’d tried since I came to Turkey, which means before this experiment. The bottles tested are all in a similar price range, between 18TL and 22T, except the small Taris bottle (double price).
So let’s begin with 5 major terms that will help you a lot in choosing good olive oil (Zeytinyağ). It can be quite confusing so I warn you to concentrate.
1. Naturel Sızma: equivelant to what we know as extra virgin, which means the oil that flows by gravity
2. Soğuk Sıkım: cold pressed
3. Taş Baskı: stone press
4. Erken Hasat: early harvest for green and fruity aromas (the one I look out for)
5. Çiğ Yağ: naturally dripped without pressing, which shouldn’t be confused with Naturel Sızma
I tasted olive oil with two other Turkish people and the two terms Naturel Sızma and Çiğ Yağ created a debate but were finally made clear. That’s why Kilye brand describes it as extra extra virgin olive oil. At first, I thought they made a mistake in writing. So the word, Birinci clarifies the difference between the natural and cig yag.
So what did the verdicts say? Are you ready? Let’s just dismiss Taris and Komili, and get to the others. Let’s also skip Dhara since I’ve already written about it. Now it’s down to Kilye (acidity low) , Raya (0.8%, organic), Taris Kidonia (0.3%) and Nar(0.8%, early harvest).
The verdicts picked Kilye for its smooth and buttery taste, however, I was more inclined towards Raya because of the slightly green tone of aroma and peppery taste. Above all, I got a heck of cough with the first sip of it. OMG, it was so intense, surprising me beyond comprehension. I had to taste it again and again for the next few days to confirm whether the coughing was caused by what is said to be oleocanthal in olive oil or a flaw.
But why this particular olive oil has the noticeably higher amount of the property more than all others I’ve tried?
1. Perhaps, a different type of olive, coming from Kusadasi?
2. The stone-mill method squeezed out the most goodness out of the olives?
Whatever the reason is, it sounds good anyway and oleocanthal is good for Alzheimer’s like coconut oil. There are pros and cons between pressing olives in a traditional stone mill and modern steel press, so you need to be aware of that as well. The biggest disadvantage is the oxidation in the stone-mill pressing as it takes longer time, exposing olives to more oxygen.
The Taris Kidonia, an international medal winner and the most expensive among all, wasn’t quite up to scratch as it didn’t have any distinctive characteristics worth mentioning. However, having the lowest acidity, it must be a superior quality and perhaps because of that, the aroma and taste is mild. So I wouldn’t use it for salad dressing for sure. If it doesn’t add or enhance flavours in dishes, there’s no point in using it just for the sake of the need for oil.
So what’s happened to the norm of grassy peppery fruity oil we all tend to talk about? In truth, not in Turkey. Since the Turkish like to use it in all kinds of cooking and lots of it, they don’t like olive oil with strong aromas. Also, ripe olives gives more oil so they harvest late, and also, it’s not the Kalamata type that we tend to prefer.
I actually found a bottle made with ‘green olives(Yesil Zeytin)’ by Taris but it was a clear bottle so I didn’t bother to get it. Do you think I’m being too paranoid? Well….
The least favourite by all was Nar, which was quite disappointing, considering that they’ve won an international medal, though not the exact bottle but one level up, and I’d looked forward to tasting it so much from the beginning.
One more note, I also did a fridge test and Kilye only took less than 10 minutes to start crystallising, while others took a day or so. Would you say that’s the sign of purity? We can’t be sure, can we?
Also, I’ve just finished Kilye by using it in making tapenade, and I noticed sediments, apparently particles of olive flesh, at the bottom, which tells that it’ unfiltered. I wonder if that contributes to the somewhat green and somewhat sweet aroma in the olive oil and, interestingly, I got drawn to that unique aroma after several uses, which I can’t describe with words but somewhat reminds me of my Aegean trip. Perhaps, it’s because it comes from Canakkale? I love Canakkale! I’m going to buy another bottle of this for another experiment along with the recommended bottle from Eataly, which means that there will be an update on my post about olive oils.
To some people, it might be a wasteful experiment to do but, as Mark Twain travelled as an innocent traveller, I wanted to prove things for myself instead of simply nodding to reviews on food magazines, especially at the time where marketing and advertising drives our decisions. Now I have several bottles to choose from for different purposes; or simply, dip a nip of fresh bread in, suck the oil, savour and chew, and repeat until you think you’ve had enough, but won’t be able to stop yourself if the olive oil is so delicious. Yummy! What a way to entertain myself, huh? Surely, better than trying out clothes! I hope my ramblings in this post made any sense to you.
I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge,
because I have so much more of it.
Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and
gradually approach eighteen.