Villa Gabriella Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Review and Mango Mint Salad Dressing

I am on a constant quest to find the best possible and most affordable products.  It doesn’t take much to make a great tasting dish if you’re using quality ingredients.  

A few weeks ago I was invited by Villa Gabriella to try their extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  This is a company that is dedicated to offering certified organic products, crafted in limited quantities by small, family-run Italian artisans.

This company sounded like it offered everything I value about good quality products, so naturally I was exciting to give them try...and they didn’t disappoint.  

The balsamic vinegar was packaged in a dark glass bottle.  The label indicated 100% organic balsamic vinegar of Modena.  Certified by Suol e Salute SRL, USDA Organic and IGP Indicazione Geografica Protetta.  Produced and bottled in Modena, Italy with a best before date of August 2017.  The balsamic vinegar was deep brown in color with an intense aroma and a balanced sweet and sour flavor.  

The oil too came in a dark glass bottle.  The label stated extra virgin olive oil, hand harvested exclusively from Italian organic olives, cold pressed, 100% natural and bursting with flavor. The bottle also indicated 2014 harvest with a best before date of December 2016 and certified ICEA organic, accredited control body IT BIO 006 Italian agriculture.  The oil was green-yellow in color.  It had a mild and fruity aroma and a great full-bodied flavor with a peppery sensation.

I’ve learned that finding a good olive oil can be tricky.  There is a lot of fraud in the olive oil industry.  By definition, extra virgin olive oil is produced from the first pressing of the olive fruit, which results in a high quality oil with a great nutritional profile.  However, some companies pass lower quality oils for extra virgin olive oil, or add in vegetable oils.  

Extra virgin oil is perishable.  Its flavor and aroma deteriorate after milling and bottling, and the process accelerate once the bottle is opened.  Since most common at-home tests are unreliable, it is recommended to buy olive oil as close to the source as possible.  Since there are no mills in the Midwest, I have been relying on a trusted local specialty grocery store.  

Olive oil should be bottled in dark glass to protect it from light.  Once at home, store olive oil in a cool, dark place to protect it from rancidity.  

Good oil comes in many shades, so color is not necessarily an indication of quality.  Bitterness and pungency indicates the presence of antioxidants and other healthy components found in quality oils.  However these characteristics should be balanced.  Oil should smell and taste crisp, vibrant and lively.  

The label should read “extra virgin.”  Other terms such as “pure”, “light” or simply “olive oil” may indicate the oil has been refined, which diminishes the product's flavor and health benefits.  

A “best by” date or a date of harvest is a great indicator of freshness.  It is advised to only buy oils from this year’s harvest.  The “best by” date is usually two years form the time the oil was bottled.  Quality control certification can offer further assurance of quality.  

Finally, avoid bargain prices because genuine extra virgin olive oil is expensive.  Though a high price doesn’t always guarantee quality, low prices strongly suggest on inferior product.  

Bottom line: the best way to find a good oil is to find a company that you trust.  Consider Villa Gabriella.

Here is a simple, yet unique, salad dressing that I made used Villa Gabriella extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  A friend of mine, Irina, shared the recipe, which I modified slightly.  

Mango Mint Salad Dressing

½ champagne mango
¼ avocado
1 Tbsp coconut oil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
Few mint leaves
Sea salt/pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and process until smooth.  If too thick, dilute with additional olive oil.  Try it over a salad of fresh greens and strawberries.  

Green Smoothies

The idea of smoothies is not a new one.  The whole point with green smoothies is adding healthy greens to your diet, which perhaps many of us rarely eat.

Blended smoothies provide live enzymes, vitamins and minerals.  These nutrients are easily assimilated and quickly digested.  They help with cleansing and healing the body.  They are extremely alkaline, which makes them idea for balancing acidic foods (meat, daily, grains).  If you're not convinced yet, green smoothies are also delicious and very easy to prepare.

Greens provide protein, insoluble fiber, omega-3 and chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll is what gives greens their color and sometimes is referred to as liquefied sun energy.  The molecule of chlorophyll is similar to the heme molecule in human blood.  It supplies the body with oxygen, builds red blood cell count, helps prevent against cancer, provides iron, makes the body more alkaline, counteracts toxins, helps cleanse the liver, eliminates body odor, eliminates bad breath, and so much more.

According to raw food diet experts, greens contain all the essential minerals, vitamins and even amino acids (the building blocks of protein molecule) that humans need for optimal health.  The only nutrient not found in greens is vitamin B12, which is most abundant in animal products (meat, eggs, dairy).

Greens are naturally high in cellulose, which makes them difficult to digest and absorb. One would have to thoroughly chew and greens and have sufficient stomach acid for complete digestion and absorption to take place.  In general people don’t chew their food well and tend to have low stomach acid due to mineral deficiencies, particularly zinc. Liquefying the greens in a smoothie takes care of these shortcomings.

Green leaves contain different kinds of alkaloids, compounds which are poisonous in large amounts, however, in small quantities can actually strengthen the immune system.  It’s really important to rotate the type of greens you use to avoid accumulating the same type of alkaloids. Try to get as much variety as possible.  It is not necessary to rotate the fruits however doing so will enhance the variety of flavor and nutrition provided.

On the question regarding juicing vs. blending: juice requires little digesting and is absorbed immediately into the bloodstream.  There’s a place and time for juicing but it’s missing an important nutrient – fiber.  Fiber helps to clean out built-up toxins in your body by improving elimination.

Vegetables divide into several different groups of plant food for example, roots (carrots, beets, radish, etc.), flowers (broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, etc.), and non-sweet fruit (avocado, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.).  Greens are not vegetables; they are in a category all by themselves.  

Green smoothies should be made with a combination of greens and fruits (sweet or non-sweet). Do not combine greens with vegetables as most contain too much starch. Vegetables such as carrots, beets, broccoli, zucchini, daikon radish, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, eggplant, pumpkin, squash, peas, corn, and green beans are not suitable for smoothies due to their high starch content, which will cause fermentation and gas formation to occur.

Non-starchy vegetable (or non-sweet fruits) such as tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, avocados, and celery are okay.  Low-glycemic sweet fruits are also great and include berries, cherries, apples, plums, and grapefruit.

It is not recommend to add anything else (nuts, seeds, protein supplements) to a green smoothie.  All you need are greens, fruit, water and a small amount of oil, to aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals found in the greens.  Other additives will slow down digestion and may cause irritation and gas.

To get the most nutritional benefit, drink your green smoothie by itself and not as part of a meal. I normally drink mine in the morning, following a glass of water with lemon juice, before breakfast.  It’s also important to “chew” your smoothie.  Sip it slowly, allowing it to mix with saliva for better absorption.

Choose organic, locally grown and/or homegrown produce whenever possible.  This way you will avoid loading your body with pesticides and other toxic chemicals.  When using organic produce, don’t peel fruits and blend apples and pears with seeds.

I highly recommend using the most powerful blender you can find, to ensure smooth consistency and better absorption.  Otherwise, cut up your ingredients into smaller pieces and increase blending time.

I don’t like following green smoothie recipes as I always end up with a lot more than I can drink. Also many of the recipes are overly sweet for my taste.  You can definitely look up recipes for inspirations, but the best way to find out what combinations you like best is by experimenting!

My smoothie always consists of purified water (just enough to blend well and create a smooth consistency), handful of 1 – 2 type of greens, 1 – 2 types of herbs, 1 – 2 fruit varieties (mostly berries), 1 tablespoon of oil (olive or coconut), slice of avocado, and lemon juice.  You can also try a savory smoothie with greens, cucumber, celery, tomato, small garlic clove and pinch of sea salt.

Here is a basic road map to preparing a delicious green smoothie!

START WITH A BASE:
Plain purified water.  

NEXT CHOOSE YOUR GREENS/HERBS:
Arugula, beet greens (tops), carrot tops, celery, chard, collard greens, dandelion, endive, escarole, kale, mustard greens, radicchio, radish tops, lettuce (green, red, romaine), turnip greens spinach, sorrel, watercress, etc.
Herbs:  dill, basil, cilantro, fennel tops, mint, parsley

THEN CHOOSE YOUR FRUIT:
Apricots, apples, banana, berries, cucumbers, grapes, grapefruit, kiwi, lemons, limes, mango, oranges, papaya, pears, peaches, pineapple, plums, tomatoes, etc.

CHOOSE YOUR FAT:
Avocado, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, flax seed oil

SUPERCHARGE IT:
Ginger, sprouts, wheatgrass juice (fresh or powdered), kefir.

If you need to, start with more fruit at first but work your way up to the maximum green content – that’s the point (2 parts greens to 1 part fruit are good proportions).  Also use spinach and/or romaine lettuce when starting out, since these are mild greens and will be less noticeable.  Green smoothies are best consumed fresh, but some can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. If separation occurs, simply stir before drinking.  For maximum nutritional benefit and flavor, I prefer to drink mine right away.

BLEND AWAY AND ENJOY!

Soak & Sprout Your Grains

Moderate consumption of certain whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes can be a healthy part of the diet, provided they are properly prepared.

Whole grains, nuts and seeds contain anti-nutrients which include phytates (phytic acid), enzyme inhibitors, polyphenols (tannins), and goitrogens.  These anti-nutrients protect plants seeds from premature germination, predators, and invasion by microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi).

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the GI tract and block their absorption.  Phytic acid also has the potential to block protein absorption.  Thus, a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to mineral deficiencies and cause a wide range of health problems including digestive irritability, impaired immune function, allergies, skin irritation, tooth decay, bone loss, anemia, and hormonal disruption.

Enzyme inhibitors can impair digestions and put stress on the pancreas, depleting the body of valuable enzymes, leading to insulin resistance, immune suppression, and allergies.

Once the plant seed germinates, the anti-nutrients are naturally deactivated.  Soaking mimics the natural germination process, breaking down the phytic acid and neutralizing enzyme inhibitors.As an added bonus, vital proteins, vitamins (B mostly), enzymes and minerals found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes are released, making them available for absorption by the GI tract.

Below are some general soaking guidelines.  A good indicator of sufficient soaking is the beginning of sprouting.  For more specific soaking times please click here.

Directions

For grains, soak in warm water with an acidic medium (liquid whey, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar) for 12 – 24 hours to release the phytic acid.

Nuts and seeds contain less phytic acid, yet they are high in enzyme inhibitors.  Soak in warm water with sea salt for about 12 -18 hours to help deactivate the enzyme inhibitors.

Beans should be soaked in hot water (120-130 degrees) with an acidic medium for 24 – 48 hours. 

After soaking drain the water, and rinse thoroughly.

Even though at first this extra step may seem a bit tedious and will require some planning ahead, soon it will become second nature as you begin to reap the benefits of sprouted grains.