For thousands of years, olives have been one of the most highly sought after tree on earth. The fruit they produce can be pressed and manufactured into one of the most favored oils in the world. Olive oil has been revered as a sacred plant by the Greeks, a flavorful food and symbol of peace for the Romans, and a tremendous cash crop for the Spanish. No other fruit known to man has quite the bountiful and exciting history that the olive does.
When it comes to olives, there are a tremendous amount of types. When processed into an oil form, each has its own unique flavor, texture, and shelf life. There are also numerous methods for processing each variety. Some methods are more suitable for different applications such as industrial animal feed, cooking, or for direct human consumption in salads or on breads. Needless to say, there are a lot of available forms of olive oil.
There are a tremendous amount variables that play a role in the form and flavor of olive oil. The variety of olive used can enhance the quality of the oil produced. For instance,
- Greek olives produce an oil with a strong aroma and flavor with a dark green coloring.
- Spanish olive oil typically has a “nutty” flavor and has a golden yellow color.
- Italian olive oil offers an herbal aroma with a slight “grassy” flavor.
- Californian olive oil typically has a fruity taste and is lighter in color.
- French olive oil is milder in flavor than the others and is also light in color.
Cold Pressing is a form of chemical free processing that utilizes direct pressure to produce high quality oil. Because this method uses lower temperatures than others, the oil is naturally lower in acidity. This is the most popular method for separating the oil from the actual fruit. From cold pressing, manufacturers can produce the numerous olive oil classifications:
Extra Virgin – Perhaps the most expensive and finest of the olive oil classifications, extra virgin olive oil is the result of mechanical cold pressing without the use of solvents and is extremely low in acidity (as low as .225 percent). In order to qualify for ‘extra virgin” status, the oil must undergo rigid testing by trained members of the International Olive Council. The taste is slightly pungent, yet fruity. The color is similar to that of champagne or slightly darker. The greener an extra virgin olive oil is, the more intense the olive flavor. Although all that sets this form of olive oil from the others is a few percentage points of acidity, it is enough to put it at the top of the olive oil hierarchy. Most feel that this oil is best served uncooked as it allows for people to truly appreciate the difference in flavor.
Virgin Olive Oil – Slightly higher in acidity than the extra virgin (between 1-3%), standard virgin olive oil is also the result of cold pressing. This oil is typically lighter than the extra virgin variety. Virgin olive oil is considered highly suitable for both cooking and served cold as the flavor is still fairly strong, but not quite as aromatic as extra virgin.
Fino Olive Oil (Often Times Labeled Pure Olive Oil) – Fino, meaning “fine” in Italian, is a blend of both virgin and extra virgin olive oil. The acidity is lighter than that of virgin olive oil, and is slightly more robust in flavor because of the added extra virgin oil. This type of oil is popular for cooking as the taste of extra virgin can often times be considered overbearing in some recipes.
Light Olive Oil – Due to the refining process, this oil is significantly lighter than the others. It should be noted that light olive oil does however contain the same amount of monounsaturated fat (healthy fat) than the other forms. Unlike virgin and extra virgin forms of olive oil, the light variety must undergo further processing after it is originally pressed, setting it apart from the others in quality. The taste is virtually unnoticeable making it highly suitable for baking or other recipes that may be drowned out by a more pervasive flavor.
There are countless other factors to keep in mind when choosing an olive oil such as the olive ripeness and the time of harvest as well. Even the method of harvesting will add a slight variance to the final result of the product. Clearly, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to olive oil. Olive oil comes in many forms and flavors, which is another reason as to why it is the most renowned oil in history. Throughout the years, millions have used olive oil for its aromatic flavor, strong, olive flavor, and the countless health benefits that it offers. Now, hopefully through this guide, finding the right olive oil will be easier than ever before!