Special Report: Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is made simply by crushing olives and extracting the juice. It is the only cooking oil that is made without the use of chemicals and industrial refining.

Extra virgin olive oil must have no taste “defects.” It needs to have a nice flavor of fresh olives and achieve higher scores in lab tests for its chemical composition than other grades.

Since extra virgin olive oil is simply fruit juice without any additives, its quality and taste are influenced by the varieties of olives, the terroir where they were grown, and the countless decisions and production practices of a dedicated producer.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Extra virgin is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil classification. It should have no defects and a flavor of fresh olives.

In chemical terms extra virgin olive oil is described as having a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and a peroxide value of less than 20 milliequivalent O2. It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil (less than 86°F, 30°C).

In order for an oil to qualify as “extra virgin” the oil must also pass both an official chemical test in a laboratory and a sensory evaluation by a trained tasting panel recognized by the International Olive Council. The olive oil must be found to be free from defects while exhibiting some fruitiness.

Olive oil tasters describe the "positive attributes" using the following terms:

  • Fruity: Having pleasant spicy fruit flavors characteristic of fresh ripe or green olives. Ripe fruit yields oils that are milder, aromatic, buttery, and floral. Green fruit yields oils that are grassy, herbaceous, bitter, and pungent. Fruitiness also varies with the variety of olive.
  • Bitter: Creating a mostly pleasant acrid flavor sensation on the tongue.
  • Pungent: Creating a peppery sensation in the mouth and throat

Read more about tasting olive oil

Other Grades of Olive Oil

Here's where it gets technical. In countries that adhere to the olive oil standards of the International Olive Council (IOC), the following grades are used:

  • Virgin olive oil

    Virgin olive oil has a free acidity expressed as oleic acid of not more than 2 grams per 100 grams and other technical characteristics in the IOC standard.

    Ordinary virgin olive oil has a free acidity of not more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams (and the other characteristics for the category).

    Virgin olive oil not fit for consumption is designated lampante virgin olive oil. It has acidity of more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams and it is intended for refining or other uses.

  • Olive oil

    Olive oil is the oil consisting of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption as they are. It has a free acidity of not more than 1 gram per 100 grams and other technical characteristics detailed in the IOC standard.

    Refined olive oil

    Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams.

  • Olive-pomace oil

    Olive-pomace oil is the oil comprising the blend of refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption as they are. It has a free acidity of not more than 1 gram per 100 grams.

    Crude olive-pomace oil

    Crude olive-pomace oil is olive-pomace oil intended for refining for use for human consumption, or it is intended for technical use.

  • Refined olive-pomace oil

    Refined olive-pomace oil is the oil obtained from crude olive-pomace oil by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams and other characteristics in the IOC standard. Olive-pomace oils can never be labelled “olive oil.”

Read more about olive oil grades

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