What is Olive Oil?
“Olive Oil” is fat derived from pressing ripe olive fruits from the olive trees (Olea europaea). It has been used for cooking and making salads in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain for thousands of years. It is a major component of the Mediterranean diet.
Due to its numerous proven health benefits, Olive oils have been gaining worldwide popularity in recent years.
Apart from its use as a dietary fat, it has several other applications in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. It was also used as a fuel source in traditional oil lamps.
Who are the largest producers and consumers of Olive Oil in the world?
Spain is the largest producer of Olive Oil in the world followed by Italy, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria and Greece. It is important to note that Greece is the largest producer of high quality Olive oil know as Extra-virgin olive oil followed by Italy and Spain.
Italy is the largest consumer of Olive Oil in the world followed by Spain, USA, Greece, Syria, Turkey, Morocco and France.
What are the health benefits of using Olive Oil?
Olive oil is a rich source of antioxidants, heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats that is considered as healthy dietary fat.
Regular use of olive oil has numerous health benefits, some of the most prominent health benefits are the following:
- Olive oil is helpful in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol levels.
- Olive oil reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and inflammation.
- Using Olive oil for frying and cooking has been associated with lower risk of developing heart disease.
- Olive oil use has been associated with lower risk of depression. A diet high in saturated fats is linked with a higher risk of depression.
- Helps in normalize blood clotting and prevent unwanted blood clotting, thus prevent heart attacks and strokes.
- Helps in blood sugar control.
- Helps in improving the health of blood vessels by improving function of endothelium that covers the inside of blood vessels.
- Reduces the risk of developing cancers due to the presence of antioxidants.
How is Olive Oil made?
Extracting olive oil from the olives is an art that has been passed on for generations among people of the Mediterranean countries.
Olives are carefully picked from the olive trees, without damaging them and then in special containers transported to the processing plant.
There they are then carefully washed to remove any dust, dirt, leaves or twigs. Then they are put inside a mechanical press that crushes the olives into a paste form.
Depending on the desired quality, the paste may be further processed in a process called maceration to release the oil in the form of droplets while the mixture maybe heated up to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.77 Celsius). This temperature is still considered within the range for the extracted oil to be labeled cold pressed olive oil.
The next step is to use a high power centrifugal container to extract the oil and water mixture from olive paste. The final step is the removal of water from the mixture to reveal pure olive oil.
What are the factors that affect the taste of Olive oil?
There are many different extraction procedures and variables for extraction of olive oil and each process gives the oil its distinct color, flavor and aroma.
Olives come in different varieties and the location and environment in which they are grown can have a big effect on the taste of the oil extracted. Higher quality olive oil is produced in Greece, Italy and Spain.
Other factors like how ripe the olives were at the time of harvest and the method used to harvest can affect the taste.
High quality olive oil is extracted within 24 hours after the harvest. The time delay for pressing the olives and the techniques used, all can have an effect on the taste of the oil extracted. The packing techniques and storage techniques are also important factors.
11 types of Olive Oils for Healthy Salads and Cooking
The basic concept of oil extraction from olives is extremely simple. Mechanical pressing on the olives is sufficient to extract the oil.
However, it’s important to choose the right type of olive oil due to the large number of varieties available in the market made using different extraction techniques.
It is easy to mislabel and adulterate olive oil using chemicals and mixing with cheaper oils. Therefore, it’s important to buy from reliable sources selling reputed brands.
Olive Oil comes in various names and it can quickly get confusing when shopping for the perfect olive oil for your needs. Here is a helpful guide on various types of Olive Oils.
Olive Oils can be broadly grouped into 6 major groups.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
- Premium extra virgin
- Extra virgin
Virgin Olive Oil:
- Fine Virgin
- Semi fine Virgin
- Refined Olive Oil
- Pure Olive oil
Lite Olive Oil
- Mild Olive Oil, Lite Olive Oil, Extra Lite Olive Oil, Light Olive Oil
Organic Olive Oil
- Virgin Organic Olive Oil, Organic Olive Oil, etc.
- Olive Pomace Oil
- Infused olive oil
“Extra Virgin Olive Oil” and “Virgin Olive Oil” are suitable for uncooked dishes like salads while “Olive Oil” is more suitable for high temperature cooking. Olive Pomace Oil is usually used for commercial or industrial use.
Let’s dig a little bit deeper into each types of Olive Oil:
Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is the highest quality of olive oil extracted using mechanical cold pressing without high heating or the help of any chemicals. This is the best suited for use in salads and other uncooked dishes because of its quality, aroma and superior flavor.
Olive Oil maybe labeled as “premium extra virgin olive oil” if the acidity range is closer to 0.2%.
It is made within 24 hours after harvesting the olives using first cold pressing which extracts up to 90% of oil content from the olives. Depending on the time and location of the harvest, the oil color can range from yellow to green.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Only the finest quality of olives is used to produce Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The acidity level is often less than 0.8% for Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
The oil extracted is not mixed with additives and strict quality control is maintained to achieve high quality oil. For obvious reasons “Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil” and “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” are the most expensive and desired versions of Olive oil produced.
They have the highest concentration of antioxidants among other types of olive oil therefore, it offers better protection against cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.
Fine Virgin Olive Oil
This olive oil has almost perfect taste and is suitable for using with uncooked dishes. Olives of high quality is used but with slight bruising or damages.
The acidity level is less than 1.5% and like extra virgin, should not contain any additives or chemicals.
Virgin Olive Oil
This Olive Oil also has a good taste and is suitable for using with uncooked dishes. Olives of medium quality is used in producing this oil using the same standards and extraction techniques used in producing extra virgin oils.
In production of extra virgin oil, olives that were found on the ground around the tree will not be used. However, these olives can be used in the production of virgin olive oils.
The acidity level is less than 2% and should also not contain any additives or chemicals.
Semi fine Virgin Olive Oil
This is made from lower quality olives using the same extraction techniques used in virgin oil. The taste may not be suitable for use with uncooked foods. This oil is perfect for cooking and the acidity level is less than 3.3%.
Refined Olive Oil
Lower quality olive oil that has acidity level more than 3.3% is considered not suitable for domestic use due to its unpleasant flavor and odor.
These types of olive oil are sent to the processing plant where they are heated, filtered and refined using chemical additives.
The resulting oil after the refining process may have very low levels of acidity in the range of Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil. One drawback of this process is that the refined olive oil become very similar to normal vegetable oil, lacking flavor, color, aroma and other nutritional benefits of Virgin Olive Oil.
Pure Olive oil
This is a blended version of “Refined Olive Oil” and “Virgin Olive Oil”. The majority of the composition will consist of Refined Olive Oil with 10% to 20% of Virgin Olive Oil. The resulting mixture will have an acidity level of 1.5% maximum and will have slight aroma and flavor of Virgin Olive Oil.
This is a budget version of the real thing and is suitable for long term storage and use. These oils can be used in uncooked food and in high temperature cooking.
Mild Olive Oil, Lite Olive Oil, Extra Lite Olive Oil, Light Olive Oil
These names can be very confusing for the average consumer. There is a common misconception that these types of Olive Oil are low fat or low calorie versions of the regular Olive Oil.
In fact, the names have nothing to do with the amount of calories or fat content and is more related to the color and flavor of the Olive Oil itself.
These variants are produced using different techniques. Some are similar to “Pure Olive Oil” production techniques, while others are similar to “Semi fine Virgin Olive Oil”.
These oils are highly filtered versions and do not visually or in taste resemble their original ingredients. They are more suitable for high temperature cooking or baking.
Organic Olive Oil, Virgin Organic Olive Oil, etc.
As the name suggests, these are olives trees grow in controlled environment without the use of pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. Organic Olive Oil are slowly gaining in popularity and they come in many varieties with the “Organic” label attached to them.
Olive Pomace Oil
The paste left after extracting 90% of virgin olive oil from first cold pressed is further processed like refined oil to extract the remaining 10% of the olive oil.
Virgin Olive Oil can be added to Olive Pomace Oil to add a bit of flavor and aroma like Pure Olive Oil. International labelling requirement requires these oils to be labeled as “Pomace Oil” and cannot be called “Olive Oil”.
Infused olive oil
Infused olive oil is also known as flavored olive oil. This can be manufactured using various grades of olive oil and combination of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, sugar or other artificial flavors. This type of olive oil is more suitable for salads or raw consumption.
How is Extra Virgin Olive Oil adulterated?
Since Extra Virgin Olive Oil cost more and is the most desired olive oil in the market, this is one of the most often adulterated version of all types of olive oil varieties.
It difficult for non-experts to exactly differentiate real from adulterated versions. There are many ways to adulterate Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Some of the most common methods are to mix with other types of seed oils, mix with olive oil of lower grade or mix very low quality oils after heat treatment to remove any undesired odor or taste.
Bottle labeled Olive Oil without the word “Virgin”. What does it mean?
Any olive oil that has undergone secondary processing after the first cold pressing can no longer be labeled as Virgin Olive Oil. These oils are simply labeled as Olive Oil and are not suitable for use in salads or other raw food use.
They lack the aroma and flavor expected from virgin olive oil and in most cases does not taste good when used raw. However, they are perfectly safe for frying or other types of high temperature cooking.
Which type of Olive Oil has the least amount of fats and calories?
It’s important to note that all types of olive oils contain the same amount of calories and fat irrespective of what the name suggests. The only difference is that higher the quality of olive oil the more antioxidants it contains.
1 tablespoon of any olive oil contains about 119 calories and a total fat of 14g. The good news is that majority of this consists of Monounsaturated fat (10g) and Polyunsaturated fat (1.4g) which are considered as healthy fats.
Which type of Olive Oil is best for frying or high temperature cooking?
Antioxidants and other nutrients are removed while refining olive oil because heat used to refine the oil can also destroy other healthy elements.
It is best to use refined olive oil for frying or high temperature cooking. Heating Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Virgin Olive Oil will result in neutralizing an additional healthy benefits it had over refined olive oil.
Filtered Olive Oil or unfiltered Olive Oil is better?
Unfiltered olive oil will have parts of olive fruit suspended in the oil and may have a shorter shelf life when compared with filtered olive oil. What is more important is the flavor and aroma of the olive oil in question. Rest is a matter of personal choice.
How to store Olive Oil to preserve its quality?
Olive oil has to be stored in an air tight dark bottle and stored in a cool and dry place, away from direct light.
For storing olive oil, you can use the same conditions used for storing wine. In hot and humid environments, olive oil should be stored inside the refrigerator.
How long can olive oil be stored?
If olive oil is stored in appropriate conditions, and bottle was never opened, then it would be good for up to 2 years from the day of packing. Once the bottle is opened, olive oil should be used within few months.
Does olive oil color indicate its quality?
The color of olive oil does not mean anything in terms of its quality. It may range from dark green to light yellow. Olive oil quality should be judged based on its flavor and aroma and not based on its color.
Can Extra Virgin Olive Oil be cheap?
You should be suspicious about companies offering cheaper olive oils under the label of Extra Virgin or Virgin olive oil. A good quality olive oil will always cost a premium over normal olive oils. The process of making good quality virgin olive oil is resource intensive, therefore it can never be cheap.
Glass bottle or plastic container for olive oil?
Olive oil should not be stored in a plastic containers. It is recommended to use a dark colored glass bottle with an air tight cap for storing olive oil.
What is olive oil fraud?
When choosing premium, extra virgin olive oil you should always be very careful where you buy the product and the reputation of the company offering the product. Olive oil fraud is widespread. Due to the ever increasing popularity of olive oil, this issue of defrauding consumers will be on the rise. Always, keep in mind, good olive oil doesn’t come cheap!