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Extra Virgin Olive Oil - Essential Facts

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About Olive Oil


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What exactly is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Olive oil is a fresh fruit juice - the fruit being the olive - which is 'squeezed' or extracted from the olive in several ways. Depending on the quality of the fruit and how the oil is extracted, there are several 'grades' of olive oil (see here).

The best oil comes from the first pressing of the olives and is known as 'extra virgin olive oil' (EVOO). EVOO is healthier, tastes better and lasts longer than lesser oils, and the better the oil, the lower the acidity will be. In europe, to qualify as EVOO, the acidity must be less than 1%. Read more about quality and acidity here

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Style and Range
The olive oil world and marketplace is about 20 years behind wine, but there are many similarities. Like wine, olive oils vary in quality, taste, aroma and health value. But how do you choose?

Buying extra virgin olive oil - quality, taste, health, provenance
Buying EVOO is no simple matter (see Links). Unfortunately bottle labels often don't tell you much about the oil itself - and a multitude of sins are obscured! The first thing to realise is that not all EVOOs are equal - some are not even extra virgin!

For example, poor quality olive oil may be blended with better oils from elsewhere and it is often impossible to discover where the oil has come from (alarm bells sound of the recent scandal with 'beef' burgers containing horse meat).

In his book "Olives - the life and lore of a noble fruit", Mort Rosenblum refers to some of these problems:

"... the Fontana brothers of Lucca, who make Filippo Berio.... fly in (to the Peloponnese in southern Greece) for the first pressing and bargain hard with a half dozen middlemen exporters. Then containers of fine (Greek) oil steam off to Italy to improve the quality of Spanish and Tunisian oils for packing under the comforting label 'Prodotto Italia''. (p 235)

Worse still, some 'extra virgin' oil are diluted with non-olive oils.

'In Italy the gulf between olives and politics is not wide'...'Laws control the manipulation of oil, but..old or bad oil might be chemically reconstituted and mixed in. It might be cut with vegetable oil or who knows what. There are so many ways to manipulate it. Buying oil is like going to the doctor. You must have faith in whom you're dealing with'.

Even within the category of genuine 'EVOO' there is still a big range in quality and the following table shows the key factors to look for.


* PROVENANCE: where has the oil has come from? 'Private estate' or 'PDO'/'PGI' certification (the equivalent of appellation controllee) are signs of high quality

* choose dark bottles or tins and an air-tight top
- reduces oxidation so the oil is better preserved

* date of harvest Ideally olive oils should show the date of harvest, but few do. Aim to buy oil only from the most recent year's harvest.

* long shelf life (18 months-2 years)

* olive variety - look for: Coratina, Cornicabra, Koroneiki, Moraiolo, Picual; these generally make excellent oils and are long-lasting, and provided the oils is made well, will contain high levels of polyphenols.

*TASTE, aroma and other organoleptic properties: as with wine, there is a huge range of olive oil tastes, and occasionally olive oil labels give a helpful description. Some people prefer rich pungent oils, others prefer more subtle mellow oils. But certain features are always signs of quality. Fruitiness, grassiness, pepperiness, bitterness and pungency are desirable qualities.

* ACIDITY: the lower the better EVOOs all have <0.8% acidity, but few actually show the acidity on the label. Good oils often have acidity <0.5%. Having said that, acidity isn't everything and some delicious oils have acidity of 0.8%, but they will generally not last very long. Read more on acidity, colour and other chemical properties here.

Next - Page 2 - How Olive Oil is made
Page 3 - Tasting Olive Oil


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