The ABCs of EVOO
Are you confused by Olive Oil labels and all their marketing jargon? Do terms like extra, acidity, filtered, unfiltered, DOP, cold pressed and first pressed leave your head spinning? Do you stand in front of the Olive Oil section in the market for what seems like hours and not know where to start?
Well kids, school might be out… but now it is time for some Olive Oil education!
Fear no more, after this blog post you will be ready to amaze and intimidate even your most knowledgeable dinner party guests.
So here we go… starting with A!
Acidity – The “acidity” in olive oil is the result of the degree of breakdown of triglycerides, due to a chemical reaction called hydrolysis, in which free fatty acids are formed. Oil extracted carelessly and/or from poor quality fruit suffers from a very significant breakdown of the triglycerides into fatty acids. By EU standards, to be considered Extra Virgin, olive oil can have no more than 0.8% acidity, however most quality artisan oils have much less.
Best Before – Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a actually a freshly squeezed fruit juice and like all juices, it has an expiration date. If kept in a cool, dark place, that date is 18 to 24 months from the press. EU regulations insist that this date is on all bottles. Look for it, if it is not there… give it a pass.
Bitterness – one of the three (Fruitiness, Bitterness, Pepperiness) desirable olive oil traits: indicative of fresh olive fruit
Buttery – creamy, smooth sensation on palate
Citrus – one of the many desirable olive oil flavour/aroma traits: Orange blossom, Lemon, Lime. This is not referring to oil that has been pressed or mixed with citrus fruits, which are very often lower quality oils or oils near expiration.
Cold pressed – Extra Virgin Olive Oil is pressed using mechanical means without the use of heat or chemicals thus COLD pressed. To be categorized Extra Virgin it must be Cold Pressed. Redundant terminology.
Colour – is not an indicator of quality. Good quality extra virgin olive oils ranges in colour from emerald green to golden yellow.
Cultivar – the olive equivalent to a grape varietal. There are thousands of different olive cultivars grown throughout the Mediterranean. Italy alone has more than 700, each with a distinct character that gives a unique flavour to the oil it produces. Common Italian cultivars include Frantoio, Coratina and Leccino.
DOP – Denominazione di Origine Protetta is the EU quality and geographical origin guarantee based on the Italian national laws.
Early Harvest – oils harvested in earlier in the season: made from greener olives, often have more herbaceous, bitter and peppery flavours.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) – comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. There can be no refined oil in extra-virgin olive oil or in other words the press is by purely mechanical means.
First pressed – all Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from the first olive press. Subsequent presses of the olive fruit produce lesser grade oils. Like Cold Press, this is redundant terminology.
Fruity – one of the three (Fruitiness, Bitterness, Pepperiness) desirable olive oil traits: refers to the aroma of fresh olive fruit, perceived through the nose and retro-nasally when you are tasting the oil
Harmonious – balance among the oil’s characteristics with none overpowering the others
Herbaceous – one of the many desirable olive oil flavour/aroma traits: unripe olive fruit reminiscent of fresh green herbs
Intensity – a method of categorizing the fruitiness of Extra Virgin. Generally there 3 levels of intensity: delicate (mild), medium and robust (strong)
IOOC – International Olive Oil Council: sets the standards of quality used by the major olive oil producing countries, officially governs 95% of global production, and holds great influence over the rest.
Lampante oil – olive oil not suitable for consumption; lampante comes from olive oil’s long-standing use in oil-burning lamps. Mostly used in the industrial market.
Late Harvest – oils harvested later in the season: milder, displays riper fruit flavours
Light – the word ‘light’ refers to minimal aroma, flavour and colour. It does not refer to calories or fat as all olive oils have very similar energy values.
Olea Europae – the Latin name for the Olive Tree species
Olive oil – this grade is a blend of virgin and refined production oil, of no more than 1.5% acidity. It commonly lacks flavour and is really suitable only for frying – if you must!
Olive Oyl – Popeye’s long standing lady friend.
Polyphenol – The flavenoid polyphenols in olive oil are natural antioxidants that contribute to a bitter taste, astringency, and resistance to oxidation. They have been shown to have a host of beneficial effects from healing sunburn to lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of coronary disease.
Pomace oil – the lowest commercial grade of olive oil. It is solvent extracted from the waste material from olive oil production. Yuck!
Pure olive oil – Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.
Rancid – the result of oxidation and time. To keep your olive oil at its freshest, store in a cool, dark place and consume within a few months of opening.
Refined olive oil – not refined as in genteel, elegant or polite, but refined as in from the refinery. This is oil that has been chemically treated to neutralize strong tastes (characterized as defects) and neutralize the acid content. Refined oil is lower quality than virgin oil; the retail labels extra-virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil cannot contain any refined oil.
Sweet – characteristic of delicate oils
Unfiltered oil – has a foggy look to it due to the suspended olive particles that remain in the oil. Some consider this to be a more natural oil. Filtered oils, on the other hand remove the suspended particles thus protecting the oil from early decay. There is no evidence that filtration removes the oil’s health or nutritional qualities so… it really is just a matter of personal preference.
Virgin olive oil – comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 2%, and is judged to have a good taste.