First published March 2007, last updated August 2012
Our use of olive oil dates back prior to 3500 BC and today over three quarters of a billion olive trees are cultivated around the world.
One of the amazing things about olive trees are the conditions in which they can grow. While originating from the Mediterranean, there are thriving olive industries in many countries – including Australia. I’ve seen them thrive in some very harsh conditions over here.
Olive oil grades
In case you’ve ever wondered about the various olive oil grades, here are a few of the common ones:
Extra-virgin: comes from the first pressing of the olives; the best quality
Virgin: has an acidity less than 2% and no refined oil content
Pure olive oil: Usually a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil. Refining is carried out using charcoal or other chemical filters.
Extra light: More of a marketing term than a grade. Usually highly processed, may be mixed with other oils, or may be just pure olive oil grade. The “light” refers to flavor rather than caloric content.
Pomace, cake or lampante: not intended for human consumption, and generally used for industrial purposes, such as soap making or lamp oil.
Non-food usage tips for olive oil
We’re familiar with olive oil in relation to cooking, but there are so many other ways it can be used; often avoiding the need to use synthetic chemicals, compounds and substances that aren’t very environmentally friendly. For these tips, you don’t need to use the best grade of olive oil and you may be able to use some other forms of oil e.g. canola.
- After polishing copper or brass, rub it with a little olive oil to slow down the reoccurrence of tarnish
- Can be used as a stainless steel cleaner; apply sparingly and buff with a soft cloth
- Rub small amounts of olive oil into wooden cutting boards to help prevent cracking, repel staining and marking
- Remove paint from hair or skin by dabbing a cotton ball dipped in olive to the affected area
- Use it as an alternative for lubricating hinges
- Olive oil can help unjam zippers – use a cotton bud (q-tip) to apply
- Apply a little olive oil to your shoes to restore their shine
- Old leather can be made more supple by rubbing in olive oil (spot test first)
- Coat garden tool blades with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent dirt sticking to them and to help prevent rusting. This works really well!
- Mix one part lemon juice with 3 parts olive oil to make a wooden furniture polish
- Rub into to fingernails before and after manicuring
- A small amount of olive oil applied after shampooing can substitute hair conditioner.
- Extra light olive oil can be used as a massage oil
- Olive oil can replace shaving cream or shaving oil
- Dip a razor into olive oil after use to prevent the blade rusting
- Can be applied to chapped lips to to relieve the dryness
- Use as a makeup remover
- Make your own castile soap
A teaspoon of olive oil can help soothe a tickling or sore throat (I’ve tried it and it has provided some relief) and in some cases if taken just before bed, some say it can alleviate snoring :).
Recently, I was messing around with some chemicals and being a little careless – I had a small amount of residue on the back of my hand and then wiped my forehead.
The result was irritated, very dry skin that started flaking. I didn’t have much on hand to treat it and wasn’t keen on the idea of going out in public looking like I had some terrible, communicable disease – then I eyed a bottle of olive oil in the kitchen.
To cut a long story short, the oil settled down the inflammation quite quickly. While I’m not recommending this for anyone, it did get me thinking about how widely different forms of vegetable oils are used.
They often form the basis of very expensive products that we may only use a couple of times which then go to waste – and waste is a dirty five letter word for anyone looking to green their lives.
Uses for old cooking oil
Most of the above tips are really only suitable for unused oil – so what should you do with used cooking oil?
It’s not really a good idea to pour it down the drain. Aside from potentially causing havoc with your plumbing, it’s just extra junk for wastewater treatment facilities to deal with.
Depending on what you’ve been cooking, oil can sometimes be recycled at home by placing a layer of paper towel into a funnel and pouring the oil in – the paper towel acts as a filter. The same sort of result can be achieved with a coffee filter. Note: never use oil you recycle if it has a rancid odor.
I’ve also read of people using it to get rid of old tree stumps – the stump soaks up the oil and then critters come in for the feast.
Paper coated with vegetable oils can reportedly be used as a mulch mat instead of plastic – but given the tip about tree stumps, I’m wondering if that would be like throwing a dinner party.
Used oil can also be used in DIY firestarters.
Failing all that, used vegetable oil is a valuable commodity as it forms the basis of biodiesel- so check with your local recycling center as they may be happy to take it. In fact, if you can involve your neighbours, you may be able to collect enough to make a few bucks for your efforts.
What non-food uses have you found for olive oil? Please share your ideas below!