Thursday, 5 January 2012

Replacing butter with olive oil (Αντικαταστώντας βούτηρο με ελαιόλαδο)

I'm not against using butter in my cakes and pastries, but it's very expensive to buy good butter in Greece. Whether local (Cretan) sheep's milk butter, or Greek cow's butter (eg Olymbos), or imported butter (eg Lurpak), butter costs about 10 euro a kilo. Olive oil costs about half the price, which is why I use it in all my cooking.

Every single dish on this table was prepared with olive oil, including the dessert (halva).
 We produce enough olive oil for our own needs - but only every second year. Olive trees are alternate-bearing, which means they don't produce enough fruit one year, while the next year they are laden with fruit. Olive oil once commanded high prices but now the price has dropped to about 2 euro/kilo for the producer. When we don't make enough olive oil from our own trees, we buy it straight from another producer at 2.50 euro/kilo (bring-your-own containers). Buying olive oil from the press will cost about 3-3.50 euro/kilo (bring-your-own containers), which is still much cheaper than the cost of olive oil from the supermarket, where olive oil packaged in metal containers will cost you more than 5 euro/kilo when bulk-buying. The only place in Greece where prices lower than 4 euro a kilo for 'extra-virgin' olive oil have been seen were at LIDL supermarket. It sounded too good to be true; go figure. (The fraud, which made use of labels worded 'Crete' and 'extra virgin', didn't take long to be detected.)

Olive oil chocolate chip cookies using the well-known Nestle Toll House recipe

Greeks use on average 26 kilos/year of olive oil. In Crete, this figure is higher; in my family alone, we need 150 kilos of olive oil per year - divide that among five people, and that comes out to 30 kilos/person. When you ask yourself how on earth we can go through so much olive oil per person per year, when the average consumption for other countries is much much much lower, and the global average is just half a litre per person per year, just think about how and where we use olive oil. Everything you make using butter can be made with olive oil.
  • stews, soups and roasts
  • cakes and biscuits
  • pastry and pie making
  • dipping our bread and feta cheese (twice a day, every day, all year round)
  • salads (both hot and cold)
  • frying (everything)
  • greasing all cooking vessels
Still not convinced that all these activities warrant the use of so much olive oil? Well, if you aren't eating any ready-prepared food apart from bakery bread, then you have to roast/stew/fry everything yourself. The need for so much oil comes form the amount of cooking we do at home - we eat very little ready-prepared food. You need some kind of fat to make your food tasty. If olive oil is all you use (no butter, no mayo, no prepared dressing), then you will use a lot of olive oil! If I continued the practice of lighting the kandili, I would be using much more!

Over the years, I've gotten quite good at making desserts using olive oil, especially using non-Greek recipes that usually call for butter. One of my most popular recipes is for olive oil cake/biscuit icing.

Wherever butter is stated in a recipe, I use the same amount in olive oil instead. The taste difference is minimal when you use a high quality product, and in my household's case, we only use organic extra-virgin olive oil. The only real difference in their use is that one is a solid while the other one is a liquid. Because of the different texture, you may sometimes need to experiment when using.

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