Olive Oil 101

I’m not a big fan of being preached at about health related issues and the healthy-ness or unhealthy-ness of products, but over the past five to ten years many of us have started using Extra Virgin Olive Oil for its health benefits and exquisite flavor. There is enough in the current press to incidate that we in the United States may be paying for what we think is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but not getting what we are paying for . Tom Mueller’s book,Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, (find more information at www.extravirginity.com) is an informative look at what is really in those bottles labeled “Extra Virgin Olive Oil made in Italy” and where to find the truly good stuff.We encourage you to check out the book or the website. But, if you are in a hurry and prefer the “Cliff Notes Version,” here are the highlights.

Why is Extra Virgin Olive Oil good for me?

Numerous studies show that olive oil reduces cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, inhibits platelet aggregation, and lowers the incidence of breast cancer. Because it is so rich in antioxidants, olive oil appears to dramatically reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thereby preventing heart disease. These same antioxidants also add to the stability, shelf life, and flavor of the oil. However, for an olive oil to provide these health benefits it must, at the very least, meet the standards required to be classified as Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

What makes an olive oil an Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

The International Olive Oil Council defines Extra Virgin Olive Oil as follows:

  • Mechanically extracted only from olives
  • Having a free fatty acidity (FFA) level of .8 percent or lower
  • Having peroxides at less than 20 milliequivalents per kilogram
  • Having passed a panel tasting test certifying that it is free of taste flaws.

The United States has not yet adopted this standard, which results in lesser grade oils being labeled as “extra virgin” while technically they are not.

Just what do “mechanically extracted,” “free fatty acidity level” (FFA) and “peroxides” mean?

Mechanically extracted means that no chemicals were used in the extraction of the oil from the olive.

Free fatty acids result when the olives are damaged by handling, insect infestation, fungus, or other problems that may occur when there are delays between picking and pressing the olive. In general, the higher the FFA, the more likely the oil is to be of poor quality. Experts state that .8 percent is actually too lax of a standard and that excellent extra virgin olive oils often have an FFA measure of .2 percent or lower.

The peroxide level measures the level to which the oil has been oxidized; higher measure = worse. Experts deem that the measure of 20 millliequivalents per kilogram is also too high and that an excellent EVOO will contain 10 meq per kilogram.

What should I look for when I am buying an Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

If you can’t trust the label and these measures are not available, how can you be sure that you are getting high quality extra virgin olive oil? For starters, look for freshness. Ideally, the label will include the harvest date of the olives; you want an oil that you will consume within 18 months of this date. Some brands will feature a “use by” date that is generally 24 months from the harvest date. We encourage you to buy oil that is not more than 12 months old.

As a service to you, F. Oliver’s will publish the harvest date for each of our single varietals, along with the FFA level, the peroxide level, and other components that we will discuss in future newsletters. For now, we welcome your interest and questions. We are proud to be the premium EVOO supplier in Upstate New York and want to serve as your source of information for all things olive oil.

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