Olive Oil 101
What. Olive oil comes from the fruit of the tree Olea europaea. Olea refers to the fat content (oil), Europaea, refers to the region the tree grows, predominantly in the dry areas of the Mediterranean (in areas where olive oil, wheat and grapes are the staple foods) and more recently in North America.
- Olives are picked for eating or oil extraction at various stages of ripeness. In the early stages of green, the juice is milky white. Olives left to ripen eventually turn black and juice is clearer.
- Olive oil comes in shades of deep green (best quality) to light yellow (refined).
- Raw olives, aren’t very appealing to taste. The skins are bitter. Those with a great taste have been cured, either from sun-drying, brining or both.
- Olive Oil is a monounsaturated fat, liquid at room temperature, solidifies in the fridge.
When. Since 6000 BC olives have been pressed to extract oil from the fleshy fruit. The English word oil comes from the Greek ‘elaoin’ meaning superior.
Where. Olives grow in many parts of the world; Spain is the number one olive producing country followed by Italy, Greece and Turkey.
Who. Greeks top the list, gobbling up 24L each/year, followed by Spain & Italy at around 14L, Tunisia, Portugal, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon around 8L. In Northern Europe and America the amount is tiny in comparison, a mere .07L, but rising.
GRADES OF OLIVE OIL
The International Olive Council
A worldwide body set up to harmonise national laws and standards to distinguish quality and purity (grade), production methods, analysis, additives, packing and labelling.
Olive oil according to the IOC system is graded by: -
- Extraction process – ‘less is more’. Each process changes the taste.
- Mechanical only is best (pulverizing & squeezing), cold pressed. The old way used grinding stones, modern methods use steel drums.
- Chemical solvents added to extract last small % of oil from pulp.
- Heat added to extract last % of oil from pulp.
- Acidity – the level of free oleic acid left in the oil. Less acidic, better the quality.
- Time – peak time to express oil is 6 months after the tree’s blooming stage, November through March.
LABELING GUIDE, IOC STANDARDS
Note. The U.S is not part of the IOC, but Dept. of Agriculture standards are similar.
Protected designation of origin, PDO & PGI means olive oils “with exceptional properties and quality derived from their place of origin as well as from the way of production.”
Country of origin - the label indicates WHERE the oil was bottled, not necessarily the country it came from. E.G Turkish oil, bottled in Italy could be labelled as Italian.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL, EVOO
- Good flavour, first cold pressing at less than 25C, no heat or solvents.
The fine flavour of an EVOO depends, like wine, on soil, climate, proximity to the sea/mountains. Each terroir affects the olive's flavour.
- Highest quality, acidity level less than 0.8%.
- Passes stringent tests for flavour and taste.
- Most expensive.
- Retains natural flavour, minerals and enzymes.
- Light, air, water and heat kill the goodness of EVOO, or any oil for that matter, and turn the oil rancid.
- Timing – the fresher the olives at pressing, the fuller, more fragrant the flavour. Best bottled within 6 months of tree blossom, November to March.
How EVOO is made
- Olives are picked, de-stemmed, washed, mashed into a paste using millstones (old way) and churned (malaxed).
- Liquid is left to settle for months, oil to the bottom, water to the top. The old way.
- Or centrifuged, spun at high speed to extract water, modern way.
- Unfiltered – the oil may appear cloudy and contain organic particles at the bottom of the bottle. Filtered removes this.
- Cold pressed means mechanically without any chemicals or heating of the olive paste at temperatures less than 25C.
- First pressing means the olive was crushed once. There actually is no second 'pressing', any further processing moves the oil into a lesser category.
- Cold extracted uses the more modern method of centrifugation.
- EVOO is best enjoyed as a dipping sauce or finishing oil in soups, on salads, drizzled over cheese.
- Can be used for sautéing.
- EVOO burns at a lower temperature compared to many other oils so it’s best NOT to cook with it.
- Heating olive oil DOES NOT turn it into a trans-fat. It’s okay to cook with, depending on the amount of heat.
About 2000 olives produce one quart
(2 pints, 4 cups) of EVOO
VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
- Reasonable flavour, also from first pressing but inferior taste. We do not stock this type at the Italian Centre Shop.
REFINED OLIVE OIL
- Refined using charcoal, chemicals or physical filters, but no solvents.
- Removes colour, odour and flavour.
- Low in free fatty acids.
- Fine for cooking.
- See more details below.
PURE OLIVE OIL
- Primarily refined olive oil but with some virgin olive oil added to give taste.
- Also labelled as Classic, Light, Extra-Light denoting the strength of taste.
- Light does not refer to lesser calories.
- Fine for cooking.
- Made from leftover paste which contains 5-8% oil.
- Extracted using solvents & then heated up to 90C, 140F to evaporate the solvents. Any higher and harmful hydrocarbons are created.
- High smoke point, little taste so often used for frying and in restaurants.
- Not fit for human consumption. Used for industrial purposes e.g lamp oil, soap.