There are many different types of olive oil. Factors, such as the region where the olives were grown, the soil conditions, how ripe the olives were at the time of harvest, the time gap between harvest and pressing, the pressing technique, as well as packaging and storage, play a role in the quality and flavor of olive oil.
How do we decide which oil to buy and if what we buy is authentic extra virgin olive oil and not some inferior bad tasting blend of refined oils? Few pointers to help you decide what olive oil to buy:
- Whenever possible, sample the oil you are about to buy. Most good olive sellers will offer this option.
- Don’t be put off by bitterness. The bitterer the more antioxidants, which make olive oil such a healthy part of our diet and the very foundation of The Mediterranean diet protecting against heart disease and high blood pressure, to name just a couple of its benefits.
- Avoid any earthy, rancid, moldy, meaty, or metallic tasting oils, which are signs of an inferior or deteriorated olive oil.
- Don’t worry too much about the color. Color doesn’t define the quality of the oil though it may determine the flavor. Greek olive oil is dark green and most flavorful, the strongest, and the most aromatic. Spanish olive oil has a golden-yellow color with a rather nutty flavor. Italian olive oil is dark green with an herbal aroma. French olive oil tends to be much paler in color and has a mild taste.
- Try to buy this year’s harvest as olive oil doesn’t have a very long shelf life. The fresher the olive oil when consumed, the better the taste and the better the health benefits.
- Don’t economize where olive oil is concerned; you get what you pay for. Avoid refined or pomace olive oils. These oils have been extracted from the olives with warm pressing (rather than cold pressing) with the help of chemicals and solvents and could be harmful to your health.
When you can, go for the excellent quality, extra virgin olive oil. To help you understand the olive oil jargon, below are the main grades of olive oil:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is the highest grade of olive oil with a deeper color and more flavor. All types of extra virgin olive oil are made from the first pressing of olives, which removes 90% of the juice, always obtained mechanically or physically, with no added chemicals, no high temperatures or any further processing, and, it is definitely not allowed to contain any refined oil. In fact, extra virgin olive oil is 100% pure fruit juice.
- Virgin Olive Oil: There may be only a fraction of percent difference in the acidity point between extra virgin and virgin olive oil, but this makes all the difference between the oil being very good or excellent.
- Refined Olive Oil: Low quality oil or oil with defects is treated with charcoal or chemical filters but no solvents to create refined olive oil.
- Pomace Olive Oil: This really should be avoided and it could actually be harmful, a byproduct of olive oil made from the residue of olives used for oil production. Solvents and chemicals are used in the process to remove the bad taste of this olive oil.
How to be sure that what you buy is what it says it is? This is where the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) helps out. Classified grades are regulated by government agencies who carry out chemical analysis of all olive oils produced.
Acidity affects the taste and determines the quality of the oil. The best olive oils contain less than 1% acidity. The IOOC allows a maximum of 3.3% acidity. Go for an acidity content of under 0.8% or, at least no more than 1%, these oils are the best.
The IOOC also keeps track of the polyphenol content; the higher rating, the better. Below 300 is good, above 500 is classified as high.
PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) labels, make sure the olive oil purchased is from the region it states.
Make sure you read the label. Ensure it states extra virgin olive oil. Any other name, such as “pure”, “light”, “olive oil” or “pomace”, have all undergone chemical refinement.
Following these points should ensure that you buy a first class excellent quality fragrant tasty aromatic olive oil that will enhance any dish it is lavishly added to.