Olive Oil 102

In my last post we talked about why extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is good for us, what makes an olive oil an EVOO, and some simple things to look for when buying olive oil. This time, let’s take a look at olive oil that is not considered extra virgin; what exactly is it?

We discussed the measures that qualify an olive oil as Extra Virgin; they basically measure the quality of the fruit at the time of pressing. The next level down from EVOO is virgin olive oil, which is made from inferior olives, due to growing, picking, storage practices or to laxity in getting the olives to the press as quickly as possible. These olives could be bruised, rotting, or affected by fungus, and will result in an oil that doesn’t taste as good and will not deliver the health benefits of an EVOO. Like Extra Virgin Olive Oil, this oil is mechanically extracted, but will have Free Fatty Acid (FFA) and Peroxide (PV) measures outside of those required to be considered EVOO.

Oils that measure lower than a Virgin Olive Oil are not fit for human consumption as is and require refining with the use of charcoal and other chemical and physical filters. Refined oil is generally tasteless, odorless, and colorless; the health benefits of these oils range from neutral to negative.

The issue in the olive oil industry today, according to Tom Mueller’s book, Extra Virginity, is not that these varying grades of oil exist, but that in many cases refined olive oils or seed oils are blended with an Extra Virgin Olive Oil and labeled as Extra Virgin Olive Oil. In the United States, most of us just don’t know what a high quality, ultra-fresh EVOO should taste like so we are often paying for what we think is EVOO and getting a markedly lower grade oil.

We at F. Oliver’s have been on the EVOO education trail since the beginning of the year. In addition to attending olive oil educational conferences and sensory evaluation classes, we have started to hold focused tastings of our EVOOs and other oils available in the Upstate New York market. We are learning to taste the components that help us discern the good stuff from the not-so-good stuff and the fresh from the not-so-fresh stuff.

Recently we were invited to do an educational tasting for a social group and, for the first time, brought some super market oils with us for comparison. Even though these were premium Extra Virgin Olive Oils the flavor differences between a year-old oil and a fresh oil were remarkable to all of us tasting, both trained and untrained.

If you are interested in learning more along with us, we invite you to come in to taste our oils (and vinegars!) anytime. If you would like to do some comparison tasting, we welcome you to bring in any other oils and vinegars that you would like. We even have an olive oil tasting wheel to help guide us as we taste.

The next natural question is one we get often, “which oil should I use when in my cooking?” Stay tuned for our next blog post. In the meantime, if you have questions or an interest in learning more about olive oil, stop by the store or give us a call anytime.

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