Ask a Spanish culinary expert what their top ingredient is, and you may be surprised at how many tell you olive oil. A good olive oil is worth its weight in gold on the Iberian Peninsula. With a history dating back thousands of years, it’s surprising just how many innovative ways of using aceite de oliva regularly come up in and around Barcelona. Today, you can dine on exquisite dishes featuring olive oil as a star ingredient, or sample it on its own to fully appreciate its rich taste and texture. Or, for the most devoted, you can literally immerse yourself in it with a spa treatment.
Spain is home to 34 ‘Designation of Origin’ regions for olive oil, reserved for the very finest in wine, food, and condiments in the country. Barcelona’s autonomous community of Catalonia boasts five D.O. areas alone. There are also plenty of individual producers that create wonderful olive oils, for a total of over 1.6 billion litres produced annually, more than any other place in the world. Anyone looking for the treasured product in Spain will be spoiled for choice.
Depending on what you want to use the olive oil for, you should consider different types. For a dish where the olive oil features strongly (say, for salad dressing), choose an extra virgin olive oil – the highest grade available. If you’re going to be using large amounts for cooking, you can use refined olive oil.
The best olive oils are often kept in dark glass bottles, which protect them from exposure to light. Another indication of a good olive oil is that the label specifies the type of olive used to make it (such as arbequina or manzanilla).
Olive oil served alongside fresh bread. Photo by City Foodsters, courtesy of Flickr.
To understand what makes olive oil so beloved in Mediterranean countries, you should try it in its purest form for yourself. Barcelona is home to a range of shops that specialise specifically in olive oil. Many of these shops also sell related accessories, typically high-quality ingredients, pouring tools and decorative storage options.
One of the best shops is Oli i Sal, which means ‘oil and salt’ in Catalan. It’s easy to feel the owners’ love for olives here. The shop is not only filled with exceptional produce, but you’ll also find books, oil bottles, special vinegars and salts that complement the natural taste of the olive oil. You can also attend one of their olive oil tastings to learn how to truly savour the goods, and receive personal guidance on how to find the right olive oils for you.
Another excellent place to buy olive oil is Olisoliva, inside the Santa Caterina market. Here, you’ll find a range of quality olive oils, many of which come in ideal sizes that can be easily packed during your travels. The friendly shop owners will help you safely wrap the purchases for transport. In addition to an unbeatable selection of Catalan olive oils, you’ll also find special vinegars, salts and sauces.
A variety of olives for sale at the market in Barcelona. Photo by Creative Commons, courtesy of Pixabay.
Although the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of olive oils is food, the ingredient has long been used as a beauty product too. Packed with antioxidants and hydrating properties, olive oils are an essential element of beauty treatments at some of Barcelona’s most luxurious establishments.
Curious? Head to The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental and try the face and body treatments using top-quality olive oil. We suggest you try the Barcelona Spring ritual, starting with a wild mint and sage foot massage, followed by a scrub made from olive oil and salt, and finish with a full body massage. Or, try the Detox and Revive treatment, which uses olive grains to exfoliate and restore your skin. The result is divine.
Another option is to buy olive-oil based products to incorporate into your regular skincare routine. Orolíquido is an inviting shop in the Gothic Quarter which not only sells olive oils for culinary purposes, but also hosts a range of skincare and cosmetics made with olive oil. Purchase an assortment suited to your skin and indulge in liquid gold year-round.
Golden green olive oil. Photo by Creative Commons, courtesy of Pixabay.
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