We meet with author Alice Alech to learn more about her recent book “The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil” and to discuss the benefits of this magical elixir.
“A beautiful French woman, Jeanne Calment, lived to be 122 years old. Toward the end of her life, when asked the secret of her longevity and her relatively youthful appearance, she has two words: “olive oil”. This supercentenarian French lady was alert right until the end of her life.”
Using this as a starting point, olive oil enthusiast and expert Alice Alech decided to delve into this fascinating subject and recently co-authored “The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil”. To learn more about the amazing health effects of the “green nectar”, we had the chance to ask Alice a few questions.
Hello Alice, thank you for meeting with us. First of all, can you tell us a little about your background?
I guess you must mean my professional background.
I am a healthcare worker by profession, a radiographer (x- ray technician). I lived in Australia for a while where I went on to study mammography: X- ray imaging of the breast, on both well women and women with breast cancer.
I started writing non-fiction a few years back and am enjoying it more and more. Hopefully, this will mean less travelling to the U.K for work, more time in Provence and writing.
Where does your interest in olive oil come from?
Entirely by accident, a few years ago, when I started writing for the online newspaper OLIVE OIL TIMES, covering news on olive oil activities in France. I got to meet olive oil producers, growers, men and women who were passionate about their work and what they produced. Then I found myself looking into the health aspects of extra virgin becoming more and more intrigued. On meeting and collaborating with olive oil expert Cécile Le Galliard we realised we had the same idea — a guidebook, not only on the health benefits of olive oil but exploring the role olive oil plays in the Mediterranean diet, cooking with, and buying, olive oil.
Your book talks about the 7 wonders of olive oil. What are they?
The Health section of 7 Wonders is based on scientific research where we talked to the researchers involved in various studies. The seven amazing health benefits include:
– Anti inflammation
– Cancer Prevention
– Skin rejuvenation
– Healthy bones
– Alzheimer’s disease prevention
– Reduction in risk for diabetes
– Stroke and heart attack prevention
Since olive oil is so good for you, why is the Mediterranean diet so neglected these days?
I think one of the reasons why this eating pattern is neglected these days is because we don’t make healthy eating a priority. This may well be because we are caught up with work, with other activities and are too busy to take the necessary time to shop and prepare food. Often, the choice for something quick (fast food) or eating out, seem a more comfortable option. Don’t forget though that although we refer to “the Mediterranean diet”, it’s more of a lifestyle than a diet. Most diets today have strict rules as to what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat. With the Mediterranean diet there are no food restrictions.
Where does France rank in terms of production and consumption?
Though France produces excellent olive oil; it is a really small producer and has to import 95% of its consumption. France simply does not produce enough olive oil to compete with the giants Spain, Italy, and Greece; it produces only around 4,700,000 kg/per year.
It seems that the Mediterranean basin is no longer the only centre for olive oil production?
Granted, the EU produces about 80% of the world’s olive oil, but olive oil production has taken off enormously around the world. You’ll find olive tree cultivation in South America, the United States, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, and China.
As consumers, what should we look for when buying olive oil?
For those of us who live here in the South, it’s so much better to buy from the producer themselves, they are usually very willing to spend time explaining how to appreciate olive oil, and will let you taste before you buy. If you can’t get to a producer easily then watch out for the following when you buy:
– Make sure you buy extra virgin. Extra virgin on the label means that the oil meets the required chemical and organoleptic standards.
– Check the Certification and country of origin
– Look for the harvest date. This will tell you how fresh the oil is. Look for a date within the last year.
Look for the following:
PDO – Protected Designation of Origin is the European certificate that tells you that the product comes from a particular country in Europe. The oil was produced and processed in the same place.
DPO or DOP – Denominazione d’Origine Protetta is the Italian version of PDO.
AOC – Appellation d’Origine Controlée is the French term for PDO.
PGI – Protected Geographical Indication is not as stringent as PDO and means that one stage of production, processing, or preparation took place in the geographic region.
You include some recipes in your book. Do you have one, in particular, you would recommend to someone trying to switch to a Mediterranean diet?
Cécile and I did not want complicated recipes for this book and certainly did not see 7 Wonders as a cookbook. We wanted to provide simple basic recipes, such as homemade mayonnaise, so much better than the bought stuff. For a more Mediterranean touch, we included recipes such as Tapenade.
Your book also explains how olive oil can be used outside the kitchen. Can you give us a few examples?
Let’s look at some ways we can use olive oil on our bodies.
– As a face mask: Mash half an avocado with some olive oil and make into a paste. Smooth it onto your face and leave for about fifteen minutes or so, then rinse.
– To energize a tired face: Mix some olive oil with a few drops of lavender oil and rub onto your face. Cover with a hot flannel and relax for a few minutes.
– To help with wrinkles: Before going to sleep, massage your face with a mixture of oil and lemon juice a couple of times a week.
– To avoid mosquito bites on vacation: Buy some local olive oil, mix with lavender oil and some citronella, and rub on exposed skin.
You wanted “out of the kitchen tips” but here’s something I learned from Cécile and now include in my breakfast routine, a great way to start the day: Olive oil and honey on toast – simple nourishing and healthy.
Can you tell us what plans you have for the future now that the book is out?
Cécile and I now need to promote 7 Wonders of Olive Oil especially in Europe and perhaps, later on, translate our book into other languages. It will take time but we are looking forward to the challenge.
Finally, you live in Provence, what do you like so much about the South of France?
I guess it would have to be the weather, how easy it is to get fresh produce and being in the open air. After living in big cities for a long time, it’s wonderful to be living here in the South.
Thank you very much Florence for inviting us to talk about 7 Wonders of Olive Oil.
Many thanks to Alice for taking the time to answer our questions. To find out more about her work, you can visit her website, and, of course, buy her book, “The 7 wonders of Olive Oil”, which is available on amazon.
Lead image via pexels.com; photo of oliviers © RIVIERA BUZZ; all other photos courtesy Alice Alech