Like wine, taste is a matter of personal preference when it comes to olive oil. There are many factors that go into the creation of olive oil which leads to distinct differences in color, aroma, and flavor. The following variables impact the taste of olive oil:
The following variables impact the taste of olive oil:
- Olive variety used
- Location and soil conditions where the olives were grown
- Environmental factors and climate during the growing season
- Ripeness of the olive
- Timing of the harvest
- Method of harvesting
- Time passed between the harvest and pressing
- Technique of pressing
- Packaging and storage process
Olive oils are given a grade that is decided by production method, acidity content, and flavor. Here’s how to understand the different types of olive oil and make the choice that’s best for your needs.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is produced by mechanical extraction processes (no hot water or chemicals applied) and comes from the first press only. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil with perfect flavor, aroma, and balanced acidity. In fact, the acidity level is the most important factor when determining a grade. To be considered extra virgin olive oil, it must have an oleic acidity level of less than one percent. This is a measure of the free fatty acid content. The best oils have the lowest acidity and should be free of identifiable defects in taste or smell.
The high content of vitamins and nutrients is the main reason extra virgin olive oil is prized so greatly. The light, delicate taste of extra virgin olive oil makes it perfect for dressings or for dipping bread.
Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil also comes from the first pressing, and is also produced without refining. Virgin olive oils have been less handled and/or manipulated during the harvesting and processing. Unlike Extra virgin olive oil, the industry practice in the producing countries for virgin olive oil is to maintain fewer than 2% acidity. The intensity of the flavor can vary and it is generally less mild than extra virgin olive oil. Virgin olive oil tends to also be more cost effective than extra virgin types of olive oil. Virgin olive oils are ideal for body and hair care as well as cooking Mediterranean cuisine and baking.
Pure Olive Oil
A blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil, once called pure olive oil, is now simply called olive oil. The label will bear the designation “pure” or “100% pure”. Since refined olive oil has very little vitamin E content, producers need to add unrefined virgin olive oil to impart some of flavor, color and aroma into the blend. The exact measurements of the two components vary by producer, based on the flavor they are hoping to create.
Pure olive oil actually has the same acidity level as virgin olive oil, and for that reason it can be resistant to high temperatures. It is less expensive than virgin olive oil because it contains fewer nutrients. It is not recommended for dressings and is better suited for heavy-duty, high-heat cooking.
Oils that have undergone an extremely fine filtration process (without the use of heat or chemicals) to remove most of the natural aroma, color and flavor are called lite oils. Although the name might be a bit deceiving, lite oils have the same exact amount of fat and calories as any other olive oils; the classification is actually referring to the oil’s lighter color and flavor. These oils are more suited for cooking or baking in recipes that don’t require the fruity olive flavor of more expensive oil.