Filtered or Unfiltered Olive Oil? A Choice for Consumers

While most consumers opt for filtered olive oil, there are some who still prefer the cloudy look. Which is better?

Sep. 17, 2021
By Costas Vasilopoulos

Recent News

Olive oil pro­duc­tion is the process of extract­ing the oil con­tained in olive dru­pes and involves a sequence of stages in a mill.

After the olives are har­vested, they are trans­ported to the mill, washed and crushed into a thick paste, which under­goes a process called malax­a­tion (or knead­ing). Malaxation is a crit­i­cal stage that allows the oil droplets to com­bine and form larger droplets.

It is easy to under­stand that food which is meant to be kept for a long time must be as clean as pos­si­ble, fil­tered, and stored in steel con­tain­ers.- Matia Barciulli, chef and olive oil enthu­si­ast

Then the paste is fed to a cen­trifuge which spins the paste to sep­a­rate the oil from the fruit flesh, pits and water.

See Also: Olive Oil Basics

Finally, the result­ing olive oil is passed on to a smaller cen­trifuge machine – the sep­a­ra­tor – which removes most of the remain­ing water and sus­pended solids in the oil.

Thus, olive oil is born. If it ful­fills spe­cific qual­ity and sen­sory cri­te­ria, it is clas­si­fied as extra vir­gin, com­pris­ing all the health ben­e­fits that olive oil of the high­est qual­ity pro­vides.

After the trans­for­ma­tion process is com­pleted, there are two paths for pro­duc­ers to choose from to get their olive oil to mar­ket.

They can bot­tle the olive oil as is, unfil­tered. The other option is to fil­ter or rack the olive oil, depend­ing on the tech­nique applied. Filtration (or rack­ing) removes any remain­ing solid par­ti­cles and mois­ture.

The first appar­ent dif­fer­ence between fil­tered and unfil­tered olive oil is appear­ance: unfil­tered olive oil is opaque and cloudy due to the solid resid­u­als present in the oil, while fil­tered olive oil is brighter and more trans­par­ent, free of impu­ri­ties.

Olive oil fil­tra­tion is an impor­tant stage of olive oil pro­duc­tion in its own right.

The International Olive Council (IOC), the inter­gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion of olive oil-pro­duc­ing nations, rec­om­mends that olive oil undergo fil­tra­tion to remove any solid micropar­ti­cles and water, increas­ing the oil’s shelf life.

basics-filtered-or-unfiltered-olive-oil-a-choice-for-consumers-olive-oil-times

Extra virgin olive oil prior to filtering

Most com­mer­cially avail­able extra vir­gin olive oils are fil­tered.

Unfiltered olive oil, also known as cloudy, veiled or olio nuovo, is avail­able in smaller quan­ti­ties and is appre­ci­ated by some con­sumers who believe that it packs a richer fla­vor and aroma and bet­ter retains its polyphe­nols than its fil­tered coun­ter­part.

Polyphenols are a type of bioac­tive com­pound present in olive oil (and par­tic­u­larly in extra vir­gin olive oil) that are respon­si­ble for many of olive oil’s health ben­e­fits. This is why some con­sumers seek high-polyphe­nol (or high-phe­no­lic) extra vir­gin olive oils.

There is no defin­i­tive norm among olive oil pro­duc­ers when it comes to fil­tra­tion. Some do not fil­ter their olive oils, while oth­ers take the extra step to obtain a clearer end prod­uct.

See Also: If you’re not fil­ter­ing your olive oil, read this.

Filtering results in clearer fla­vor and aro­mas to the oil, has a min­i­mal effect on the con­tent of polyphe­nols and other ben­e­fi­cial com­pounds, and extends the oil’s shelf life.

Eleftheria Kasfiki, an export man­ager at Olico Brokers, a bot­tling and export­ing com­pany based in Athens, says fil­ter­ing is essen­tial and pre­serves extra vir­gin olive oil and all of its qual­i­ties.

Kasfiki dis­agrees that olive oil retains its organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics when left unfil­tered since sed­i­ment con­sist­ing of olive pulp par­ti­cles, mois­ture and mar­garines – byprod­ucts cre­ated dur­ing the fer­men­ta­tion of the olive oil in the bot­tle – grad­u­ally form at the bot­tom of the bot­tle, alter­ing the fla­vor and reduc­ing the shelf life of the oil.

She added that olive oil fil­ter­ing, espe­cially when pro­duc­ing extra vir­gin olive oil, is a demand­ing process that requires invest­ments in equip­ment and exper­tise to be done effec­tively.

Olive oil fil­ter­ing removes the mois­ture and any remain­ing resid­u­als in the oil, mak­ing it clear and ready for con­sump­tion,” Kasfiki says. Only in the case of early-har­vested extra vir­gin olive oil (olio nov­ello), which is avail­able to con­sumers for a short period of about three months each sea­son, fil­ter­ing is eschewed.”

According to Matia Barciulli, an Italian chef and olive oil enthu­si­ast, some con­sumers’ pref­er­ence for unfil­tered olive oil is a rem­nant of the past.

The mind goes back to the time when all the pro­duc­tion process was so arti­sanal, and the only oppor­tu­nity for fil­ter­ing was a sur­face sep­a­ra­tion, with all the fer­men­ta­tion that process acti­vated,” he said.

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Filtered olive oil

We should­n’t be debat­ing on olive oil fil­ter­ing in our time,” Barciulli added. It is easy to under­stand that food which is meant to be kept for a long time must be as clean as pos­si­ble, fil­tered, and stored in steel con­tain­ers.”

Many times, I walk into a super­mar­ket, and I see peo­ple look­ing at this hor­ri­ble trans­par­ent bot­tle of olive oil with a cen­time­ter of brown mass at the bot­tom,” he con­tin­ued. I explain to them that what they have is a bot­tle of ran­cid oil with some unwanted fla­vors trapped inside.”

Largely speak­ing, fil­tered olive oil is more appeal­ing to con­sumers than unfil­tered oil due to its clar­ity.

Filtered olive oil also boasts a longer shelf life; unfil­tered olive oil is more prone to the effect of heat and light and should be con­sumed more quickly than fil­tered extra vir­gin olive oil.

Unfiltered olive oil is often sought by nos­tal­gic shop­pers look­ing for freshly-milled olive oil to be con­sumed imme­di­ately or within a cou­ple of months.

The dif­fer­ence in nutri­tional ingre­di­ents (such as polyphe­nols) between fil­tered and unfil­tered olive oil is neg­li­gi­ble. After all, the polyphe­nol con­tent in olive oil mostly cor­re­sponds to the vari­ety and ori­gin of olives and proper pro­cess­ing at the mill, rather than the fil­tra­tion process.

In any case, choos­ing a fil­tered or an unfil­tered extra vir­gin olive oil is a mat­ter of taste and per­sonal pref­er­ence.

When olive oil fil­ter­ing is done prop­erly and in a timely man­ner, the results can be reward­ing for pro­duc­ers and con­sumers alike.


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