Check that the following may be included on the label:
Cold – pressed – A chemical-free process using only pressure, cold pressing produces a higher quality of olive oil which is naturally lower in acidity. The best oils are cold pressed. The oil is obtained through pressing and grinding the olives using heavy granite millstones or modern stainless steel presses. Cold pressed oils retain all of their flavor, aroma, and nutritional value.
Date of Harvest – the benefits of olive oil come mainly from the polyphenols and the content of polyphenols is dependent on a few factors and one of them is when the olives are harvested. Early harvest when the olives are partially green results in an olive oil that has a higher polyphenol content, and that also means a longer shelf life. These olive oils have a more herby and bitter taste. Olive oil from late harvest (mature olives) has a more buttery taste, but less polyphenols (antioxidants) and shorter shelf life, in other words it has a quicker loss of its nutritional benefits. So if possible pick a harvest date that that is ideally November or even late October as its harvest date.
Best-Before Date (Expiration) If the bottle does not have an expiration date do not buy it. And better yet, it should have a harvest date. The reason for this is not that olive oil will go bad in the sense that perishable foods go bad, but that it is old. In my previous post I noted that old olive oil does not taste good and it does not have the health benefits of the fresh olive oil. The older the olive oil the less polyphenols it will have. You should look for an expiration date that is about a year and a half away. If you find that, then that means it has been harvested in the previous year. Usually the expiration date is about 1 ½ -2 years after harvest date. But that does not mean that you should be using it until that date. Ideally, and if you want to replicate what was being done in the traditional Mediterranean diet, you want to consume olive oil within 1 year of it’s harvest date. In other words use olive oil of that year’s harvest. Generally though you should use an open bottle of olive oil in a short period of time.
First Press – First press was a former official definition for olive oil. A century ago, oil was pressed in screw or hydraulic presses. The paste was subjected to increasingly high pressures with subsequent degradation in the flavor of the oil. Today the vast majority of oil is made in continuous centrifugal presses. There is no second pressing.
Extra Virgin At the head of the olive oil class sit the extra-virgins, followed closely by the virgins. The difference between two oils and where they rank in the following hierarchy may be just half a percentage point of acidity. However, that is all it takes to distinguish between a very good oil and a great oil.
These are the official IOOC definitions:
This oil is obtained only from the olive, the fruit of the olive tree, using only mechanical or other physical means in conditions, particularly thermal conditions, which do not alter the oil in any way. It has not undergone any treatment other than washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering. It excludes oils obtained by the use of solvents or re-esterification methods, and those mixed with oils from other sources. It can be qualified as a natural product, and virgin olive oil can have a designation of origin when it meets the specific characteristics associated with a particular region. Virgin olive oils can have the following designations and classifications depending on their organoleptic (taste and aroma) and analytic characteristics (the degree of acidity refers to the proportion of free fatty acids, not to the taste).
Single-estate Origin ( Artisanal Oil) Top quality oil from olives grown on a single individual estate or farm. The olives are usually harvested by hand and the oil is pressed and bottled on site. Estate production is generally characterized by small production, more ideal growing, harvesting and production conditions. While not better in terms of healthful qualities, estate oils do offer consumers a wider choice of complex flavors and aromas. Estate oils are among the best that are available and they are expensive. They are usually sold on site or in specialty shops and are often displayed away from bright light, which caused deterioration in the flavor and quality of the oil. (In food stores, displays of olive oil may be exposed to heat and light, but because of the quick turnover in most stores, this may not result in a significant problem with the quality. Because premium-priced oils move less quickly, it is an in issue with the most expensive oils.)
Accredited Certification Logos (if purchasing certified organic olive oils look for organic symbol)
Acronyms for Authenticity of Origin – a regulated and controlled qualification managed by a Council that is responsible for controlling the characteristics, as well as the authenticity of the products protected by the denomination.
A.O.C. – France
D.O. or DENOMINATION OF ORIGIN – Spain
D.O.P. or DENOMINAZIONE d’ORIGINE PROTETTA – Italy
Olive Oil Councils:
COOC The California Olive Oil Council, the regulating body that establishes standards for member producers that make olive oil in California.
IOOC The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) determines standards for grades of olive oil for most of the world.
Avoid the following terms on the label:
Refined – Over 50% of the oil produced in the Mediterranean area is of such poor quality that it must be refined to produce an edible product. 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.
Blended olive oil – Most supermarket brands of olive oil are blended from oil from many different varieties, regions, and even countries. (1) Because olive oil from the same grove tastes differently from year to year due to weather, to create an oil that tastes the same blenders must take oil from many sources and come up with a recipe to create the same taste. (2) Blending some oil high in polyphenols with one which does not will increase its shelf life. (3) Sometimes olive oil is blended with canola or other vegetable oils. This should be stated on the label. Illegal blending of cheaper oil can be profitable for the unscrupulous and can be difficult to detect.
Pure Olive Oil ,or 100% Olive Oil , or Olive Oil A labeling that indicates only that the contents are 100% olive oil, i.e. that no other types of oil have been added; it does not indicate quality. It can be a blend of 85% refined oil and 15% virgin or extra virgin olive oil and is considered to be minimally processed.
Light Olive Oil -or- Lite Olive Oil IOOC Definition: In the U.S., flavorless and often low quality (refined) oil is sold as “lite” or “light” oil for a premium price. The “light” designation refers to flavor, not caloric content.
Lampante (or virgin lampante) olive oil – Defective olive oil that is high in natural acid (3.3% or more), has poor flavor, or an unpleasant odor. It is not fit for human consumption without additional processing, after which it is known as refined oil and can be sold simply as olive oil.
Pomace – Pomace oil is the lowest quality of olive oil suitable for human consumption. We don’t recommend it; when it is used with food, it is generally used by manufacturers seeking the least expensive ingredients. It is best used for soap, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and oil lamps. IOOC Definition: Pomace is the ground flesh and pits after pressing. Olive-pomace oil is the oil obtained by treating olive pomace with solvents or other physical treatments, to the exclusion of oils obtained by re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds. Olive-pomace oil is the oil comprising the blend of refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption as they are. It has a free acidity of not more than 1 gram per 100 grams and its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. In no case shall this blend be called “olive oil.” Restaurants use Pomace Oil because not only is it cheap it can withstand high temperatures.Cheap oils claiming to be extra virgin, first press, or cold press
Check carefully for the following
The Bottle: Avoid bottles in clear glass as light can affect the oil. Bottles that are made of dark glass are better or not clear at all is even better. Do not be influenced by the shape and design of the bottle either. Many producers feel that good olive oil deserves a state of the art bottle. Sure, but those bottles and designs cost the producers a lot and as a result you are paying more for that olive oil because of the bottle and design. Having said that, some of the best olive oils come in very simple bottles. But if in a clear glass bottle make sure the expiration is far off because light will affect the color and taste of olive oil.
Flavored or Infused Olive oil
- Flavored with alcohol based extract. Check that extra virgin olive oil is used. Flavored is cheaper than infused.
- Infused – the herbs/fruits are crushed along with the olives much more expensive than flavored. Again be sure to check that it is extra- virgin olive oil.
- Unfiltered Olive Oil – IOOC Definition: Unfiltered oil contains tiny particles of olive flesh, which leaves the oil cloudy. Olive oil aficionados claim this adds additional flavor. Unfortunately it causes a sediment to form at the bottom of the bottle over time which can become rancid, negatively impacting flavor and shelf life. Unfiltered oil should be carefully stored and used within 3 to 6 months of bottling.
Where do Olive Oils come from?
- Largest producer of olive oil. Spain produces about 45 percent of the world’s olive supply.
- Spanish olive oil is typically golden yellow with a fruity, nutty flavor.
- Most Spanish olive oil is produced by mill cooperatives. The cooperative system in many cases does not incentivize growers to harvest their olives early and produce quality oil because the formula used to determine payments to the member farmer emphasizes oil quantity over quality—oil yield increases, but quality degrades, as the olive is left unpicked and becomes overripe.
- There is also a substantial segment of premium olive oil producers in Spain who, like premium producers worldwide, tend to harvest early in order to preserve the flavor and polyphenol content of the oil.
- Italy is the second-largest producer of olive oil after Spain. Italy grows about 20 percent of the world’s olives.
- Italian olive oil is often dark green and has an herbal aroma and a grassy flavor.
- Traditionally, olive oil has been considered primarily an Italian product by consumers in the U.S. and European markets, and the association of Italy with olive oil is still prevalent today. Consequently, Italy is home to large blending and bottling operations owned by multinational companies. These companies import large quantities of olive oil from foreign producers, primarily in the Mediterranean region, which is then blended for consistent taste profiles.
- There is concern throughout the Italian industry that the national brand reputation is at risk of being damaged by low-quality blends that contain very little Italian oil, but are marketed as Italian products.
- Greece is the third largest producer of olive oil, but little of its oil is exported as a Greek product. Greece produces about 13 percent of the world’s olive supply. Most Greek olive oil is consumed domestically, and most of the remainder s exported to bottlers in Italy for blending with olive oils from various sources.
- Greece enjoys a reputation for producing high quality olive oil. As much as 80% of Greek olive oil is extra virgin, the highest share in the Mediterranean. Greek oils can be differentiated from others because they have desirable flavor profiles and score well on chemical tests measuring quality. This is partially because oil milled from Koroneiki olives tends to be the highest in polyphenol content and lowest acidity among all olive oils.
- Greek oils are also considered among the fruitiest and most robust. Greek olive oil packs a strong flavor and aroma and tends to be green. As a result, they are in high demand by bottlers for blending with other extra virgin oils to raise the overall quality.
- The reek olive oil industry has generally poor marketing infrastructure.
- California olive oil is light in color and flavor, with a bit of fruity taste.
See our Penne al’ Amalfitano recipe.