Have you ever gone to the specialty food store looking for a bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and find yourself staring at 50 or more bottles of all different types, colors, degrees of cold pressed olive oil, and thought to yourself “Which one is the right one for what I need?” Then run out of the store heading to your local grocery store and buy the first one you see and tell yourself that it will work great for you!!! Well, you’re not in the boat alone, I have looked, read labels and gotten more frustrated than anyone should over buying a bottle of oil.
I am going to try and open up the files and help all of us to understand the difference. I hope that we can decide which one is which for what…
Olive oil is a fat obtained from the olive (the fruit of Olea europaea; family Oleaceae), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. The oil is produced by pressing whole olives and is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps, and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps. Olive oil is used throughout the world and is often associated with Mediterranean countries. Up to 80% of olive oil sold in America is fraudulent oil created by the Italian mafia. (From Wikipedia)
I don’t know about you but learning that most of the olive oil in America is stolen oil, created by the mafia. LOL
Retail grades in the United States (USDA)
As the United States is not a member, the IOC retail grades have no legal meaning there, but as of October 25, 2010, the USDA established new Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil, which closely parallel the IOC standards:
- U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil for oil with excellent flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 0.8 g per 100 g (0.8%);
- U.S. Virgin Olive Oil for oil with reasonably good flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 2 g per 100 g (2%);
- U.S. Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing is a virgin (mechanically-extracted) olive oil of poor flavor and odor, equivalent to the IOC’s lampante oil;
- U.S. Olive Oil is an oil mix of both virgin and refined oils;
- U.S. Refined Olive Oil is an oil made from refined oils with some restrictions on the processing.
These grades are voluntary. Certification is available from the USDA on a fee-for-service basis.
- Different names for olive oil indicate the degree of processing the oil has undergone as well as the quality of the oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest grade available, followed by virgin olive oil. The word “virgin” indicates that the olives have been pressed to extract the oil; no heat or chemicals have been used during the extraction process, and the oil is pure and unrefined. Virgin olive oils contain the highest levels of polyphenols, antioxidants that have been linked to better health.
- Olive Oil, which is sometimes denoted as being “Made from refined and virgin olive oils,” is a blend of refined olive oil with a virgin grade of olive oil. Pure, Classic, Light and Extra-Light are terms introduced by manufacturers in countries that are non-traditional consumers of olive oil for these products to indicate both their composition of being only 100% olive oil and also the varying strength of taste to consumers. Contrary to a common consumer belief, they do not have fewer calories than Extra-virgin oil as implied by the names.
- Cold pressed or Cold extraction means “that the oil was not heated over a certain temperature (usually 27 °C (80 °F)) during processing, thus retaining more nutrients and undergoing less degradation.” The difference between Cold Extraction and Cold Pressed is regulated in Europe, where the use of a centrifuge, the modern method of extraction for large quantities, must be labeled as Cold Extracted while only a physically pressed olive oil may be labeled as Cold Pressed. In many parts of the world, such as Australia, producers using centrifugal extraction still label their products as Cold Pressed.
- First cold pressed means “that the fruit of the olive was crushed exactly one time-i.e., the first press. The ‘cold’ refers to the temperature range of the fruit at the time it is crushed.” In Calabria (Italy), the olives are collected in October. In regions like Tuscany or Liguria, the olives harvested in November and ground often at night are too cold to be processed efficiently without heating. The paste is regularly heated above the environmental temperatures, which may be as low as 10–15 °C, to extract the oil efficiently with only physical means. Olives pressed in warm regions like Southern Italy, or Northern Africa may be pressed at significantly higher temperatures although not heated. While it is important that the pressing temperatures be as low as possible (generally below 25 °C) there is no reliable international definition of “cold pressed”.
Furthermore, there is no “second” press of virgin oil, so the term “first press” means only that the oil was produced in a press vs. other possible methods.
- PDO and PGI refer to olive oils with “exceptional properties and quality derived from their place of origin as well as from the way of their production”.
- The label may indicate that the oil was bottled or packed in a certain country. It does not necessarily mean that the oil was produced there. The origin of the oil may sometimes be marked elsewhere on the label; it may be a mixture of oils from more than one country.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration permitted a claim on olive oil labels stating: “Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about two tablespoons (23 g) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
Olive oil is produced by grinding olives and extracting the oil by mechanical or chemical means. Green olives usually produce more bitter oil, and overripe olives can produce oil that is rancid, so for good extra virgin olive oil care is taken to make sure the olives are perfectly ripened. The process is as follows:
- The olives are ground into paste using large millstones (traditional method) or steel drums (modern method).
- If ground with millstones, the olive paste stays under the stones for 30 to 40 minutes. A shorter grinding process may result in a more raw paste that produces less oil and has a less than ripe flavor, a longer process may increase oxidation of the paste and reduce the taste. After grinding, the olive paste is spread on fiber disks, which are stacked on top of each other in a column, then placed into the press. Pressure is then applied to the column to separate the vegetal liquid from the paste. This liquid still contains a significant amount of water. Traditionally the oil was shed from the water by gravity (oil is less dense than water). This very slow separation process has been replaced by centrifugation, which is much faster and more thorough. The centrifuges have one exit for the (heavier) watery part and one for the oil. Olive oil should not contain significant traces of vegetal water as this accelerates the process of organic degeneration by microorganisms. The separation in smaller oil mills is not always perfect, thus, sometimes a small watery deposit containing organic particles can be found at the bottom of oil bottles.
- In modern steel drum mills, the grinding process takes about 20 minutes. After grinding, the paste is stirred slowly for another 20 to 30 minutes in a particular container (malaxation), where the microscopic oil drops unite into bigger drops, which facilitates the mechanical extraction. The paste is then pressed by centrifugation/ the water is thereafter separated from the oil by a second centrifugation as described before.
The oil produced by only physical (mechanical) means as described above is called virgin oil. Extra virgin olive oil is virgin olive oil that satisfies specific high chemical and organoleptic criteria (low free acidity, no or very little organoleptic defects). A higher grade extra virgin olive oil is mostly dependent on favorable weather conditions; a drought during the flowering phase, for example, can result in a lower quality (virgin) oil. It is worth noting that olive trees produce well every couple of years so greater harvests occur in alternate years (the year in-between is when the tree yields less). However, the quality is still dependent on the weather.
- Sometimes the produced oil will be filtered to eliminate remaining solid particles that may reduce the shelf life of the product. Labels may indicate the fact that the oil has not been filtered, suggesting a different taste. Unfiltered fresh olive oil that has a slightly cloudy appearance is called, cloudy olive oil. This form of olive oil used to be popular only among olive oil small-scale producers but is now becoming “trendy”, in line with consumer’s demand for more ecological and less-processed “green” products.
The remaining paste (pomace) still contains a small quantity (about 5–10%) of oil that cannot be extracted by further pressing, but only with chemical solvents. This is done in specialised chemical plants, not in the oil mills. The resulting oil is not “virgin” but “pomace oil”. The term “first press”, sometimes found on bottle labels, is today meaningless, as there is no “second” press; it comes from ancient times of stone presses, when virgin oil was the one produced by battering the olives.
The label term “cold-extraction” on extra virgin olive oils indicates that the olive grinding and stirring was done at a temperature of maximum 25 °C (77 °F), as treatment in higher temperatures risks decreasing the olive oils’ quality (texture, taste and aroma).
In countries that adhere to the standards of the International Olive Council (IOC), as well as in Australia, and under the voluntary USDA labeling standards in the United States:
- Extra-virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only and is of higher quality. Among other things, it contains no more than 0.8% free acidity (see below), and is judged to have a superior taste, having some fruitiness and no defined sensory defects. Extra-virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries; the percentage is far higher in the Mediterranean countries (Greece: 80%, Italy: 65%, Spain 50%).
- Virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only, but is of slightly lower quality, with free acidity of up to 1.5%, and is judged to have a good taste, but may include some sensory defects.
- Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams (0.3%) and its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. It is obtained by refining virgin olive oils with a high acidity level or organoleptic defects that are eliminated after refining. Note that no solvents have been used to extract the oil, but it has been refined with the use of charcoal and other chemical and physical filters. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are primarily refined olive oil, with a small addition of virgin production to give taste.
- Olive Pomace Oil is refined oil often blended with some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but may not be described simply as olive oil. It has a more neutral flavor than pure or virgin olive oil, making it unfashionable among connoisseurs; however, it has the same fat composition as regular olive oil, giving it the same health benefits. It also has a high smoke point and thus is widely used in restaurants as well as home cooking in some countries.
I hope that this gives you a little bit more information about the different types of Olive Oil. I feel like I can better understand which one is best for my various applications.