The Categories of Olive Oil

Most prefixes attached to "olive oil" are meaningless. The few that really matter are described below.

Nov. 3, 2021
By Daniel Dawson

Recent News

The ambi­gu­ity in the term olive oil” has long con­fused con­sumers and enriched the world of disin­gen­u­ous actors.

To the unanointed, olive oil is all-encom­pass­ing.

It comes in $40 bot­tles from bou­tique spe­cialty stores in the world’s most cos­mopoli­tan cities. Meanwhile, five-liter tins gather dust on deli floors in sleepy towns.

See Also: Olive Oil Basics

Thousands of kilo­me­ters away, drums, totes and flex­i­tanks — embla­zoned with the same two words — travel across the oceans on mas­sive con­tainer ships.

To add to the con­fu­sion, in most super­mar­ket aisles olive oil is usu­ally com­bined with a series of pre­fixes.

These range from the extrav­a­gant (ultra-pre­mium) to the mun­dane (pure) to the truly cryp­tic (polyphe­nol-rich).

But what do these pre­fixes actu­ally mean? The short answer: noth­ing.

Who gets to define what olive oil is?

The only olive oil pre­fixes to which con­sumers should pay any atten­tion are those laid out by the five major olive oil reg­u­lat­ing author­i­ties: the Codex Alimentarius, International Olive Council (IOC), European Union, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Australian author­i­ties.

There are many other national author­i­ties that have for­mally leg­is­lated olive oil stan­dards and grades too, but they largely fol­low the ground­work laid by the five afore­men­tioned reg­u­la­tors.

As with rules gov­ern­ing most foods, the first tech­ni­cal def­i­n­i­tions of olive oil were laid out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in the Codex Alimentarius.

Originally, the Codex Alimentarius defined four sep­a­rate olive oil grades: olive oil, vir­gin olive oil, refined olive oil and refined olive-pomace oil. Most reg­u­la­tory author­i­ties world­wide have based their own olive oil stan­dards and grades on these orig­i­nal four.

basics-the-categories-of-olive-oil-olive-oil-times

How is olive oil defined?

From the four grades of olive oil laid out in the Codex Alimentarius, nine dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of olive oil and olive-pomace oil are defined by the IOC.

However, in the European Union, which is respon­si­ble for more than three-quar­ters of global pro­duc­tion, this fig­ure drops to eight.

These cat­e­gories fall into three sep­a­rate groups:

  • Virgin oils for con­sump­tion;
  • Blended or refined olive oil and pomace oil and vir­gin olive oils fit for con­sump­tion;
  • Olive oil not fit for con­sump­tion

While there is broad agree­ment inter­na­tion­ally about the dif­fer­ent olive oil cat­e­gories, their def­i­n­i­tions change based on where the olive oil is pro­duced. However, it is impor­tant to note that olive oil labels must accu­rately reflect the appro­pri­ate cat­e­gory in the coun­try where the oil will be sold.

Virgin oils

Virgin olive oils are obtained solely by mechan­i­cal or other phys­i­cal means under ther­mal con­di­tions that do not alter the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the oil. The only treat­ment that the olives and oil undergo are wash­ing, decanta­tion, cen­trifu­ga­tion and fil­tra­tion.

1. Extra vir­gin olive oil

The Codex Alimentarius, IOC, the USDA and Australian author­i­ties define extra vir­gin olive as hav­ing an excel­lent fla­vor and odor with the median of defects – the median score of one of the 12 olive oil defects, which is per­ceived with the great­est inten­sity – as zero and the median of fruiti­ness above zero. EVOO also has a free fatty acid con­tent expressed as oleic acid less than 0.8 grams per 100 grams.

While most gov­ern­ments around the world adhere to the stan­dards set out in the Codex Alimentarius, the def­i­n­i­tion for extra vir­gin olive oil is more strict in California, which per­mits a free fatty acid con­tent expressed as oleic acid less than 0.5 grams per 100 grams. However, the organolep­tic require­ments remain the same.

2. Virgin olive oil

The Codex Alimentarius, IOC and E.U. define vir­gin olive oil as hav­ing a rea­son­ably good fla­vor and odor with the median of defects between zero and 3.5, with the median of fruiti­ness attribute above zero. The free fatty acid con­tent, expressed as oleic acid, is less than two grams per 100 grams.

The USDA and Australian author­i­ties have slightly stricter organolep­tic require­ments, with the median of defects between zero and 2.5 with the median of fruiti­ness attribute above zero. The free fatty acid con­tent remains the same.

3. Ordinary vir­gin olive oil

The Codex Alimentarius, IOC and Australian author­i­ties define ordi­nary vir­gin olive oil as hav­ing a median of defects between 3.5 and six, with a median of fruiti­ness above zero. The free fatty acid con­tent, expressed as oleic acid, must be less than 3.3 grams per 100 grams.

Ordinary vir­gin olive oil is not very com­mon as it may only be sold directly to con­sumers in coun­tries where the cat­e­gory is rec­og­nized.

Blended of refined olive oil and olive pomace oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption

4. Refined olive oil blended with vir­gin olive oils (olive oil, in the U.S.)

The Codex Alimentarius, E.U., IOC, Australian author­i­ties and USDA define this cat­e­gory of olive oil as com­pris­ing a blend of refined olive oil with vir­gin olive oils fit for con­sump­tion.

The final blend of the two has a free acid­ity, expressed as oleic acid, of less than one gram per 100 grams. Its organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics cor­re­spond to vir­gin olive oil but may vary depend­ing on indi­vid­ual reg­u­la­tions in each coun­try.

5. Olive pomace oil com­posed of refined olive-pomace oils and vir­gin olive oils

Olive pomace oil is obtained by extract­ing the last remain­ing droplets of oil from olives that have already been mechan­i­cally trans­formed. The process usu­ally involves chem­i­cally extract­ing the oil with pow­er­ful sol­vents before evap­o­rat­ing these out of the final prod­uct and deodor­iz­ing the result­ing oil.

The Codex Alimentarius, E.U., IOC and USDA define olive pomace oil as com­pris­ing a blend of refined olive pomace oil and vir­gin olive oils fit for con­sump­tion. Free fatty acid con­tent must be less than one gram per 100 grams.

In Australia, author­i­ties have slightly more strict require­ments, also requir­ing olive pomace oils to have the same organolep­tic stan­dards as vir­gin olive oil, a median of defects less than or equal to 2.5.

Olive oil not fit for human consumption

6. Lampante vir­gin olive oil

The Codex Alimentarius and IOC broadly define lam­pante vir­gin olive oil as an olive oil obtained solely by mechan­i­cal meth­ods that is not fit for human con­sump­tion. Its free fatty acid con­tent, expressed as oleic acid, is more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams. Its organolep­tic char­ac­ter­is­tics also have a median of defects greater than six and a median of fruiti­ness of zero. These types of oils are typ­i­cally sent to be refined and then blended.

However, the USDA and Australian author­i­ties have a slightly stricter def­i­n­i­tion for lam­pante vir­gin olive oil. They define the prod­uct as hav­ing a median of defects between 2.5 and 6 or a median of defects less than or equal to 2.5 with a median of fruiti­ness of zero. Free fatty acid con­tent, expressed as oleic acid, must be less than two grams per 100 grams.

The E.U. has very sim­i­lar rules to the USDA and Australia, only dif­fer­ing in that the median of defects must be above 3.5 or the median of defects must be less than or equal to 2.5 with a fruiti­ness of zero.

7. Refined olive oil

The Codex Alimentarius, E.U., IOC, Australian author­i­ties and USDA define refined olive oil as hav­ing been obtained from vir­gin olive oils using refin­ing meth­ods that do not alter the ini­tial glyc­eridic struc­ture, esters com­pris­ing glyc­erol and fatty acids. The free fatty acid con­tent, expressed as oleic acid, is less than 0.3 grams per 100 grams.

8. Crude olive pomace oil

The Codex Alimentarius, E.U., IOC and USDA define crude olive pomace oil as the prod­uct obtained by extract­ing the last remain­ing droplets of oil from olives that have already been mechan­i­cally trans­formed. The process usu­ally involves chem­i­cally extract­ing the oil with pow­er­ful sol­vents before evap­o­rat­ing these out of the final prod­uct and deodor­iz­ing the result­ing oil.

9. Refined olive pomace oil

The Codex Alimentarius, E.U., IOC and USDA define refined olive pomace oil as being obtained from crude olive pomace oil using meth­ods that do not lead to alter­ations in the ini­tial glyc­eridic struc­ture. It has a free fatty acid­ity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams.

The main takeaways

Shopping for olive oil should not be as hard as it is. Really, most con­sumers are in the mar­ket for either an extra vir­gin, vir­gin or refined olive oil blended with vir­gin olive oil.

When shop­ping for olive oil, pay no heed to the myr­iad pre­fixes adorn­ing ornate labels. Simply pay atten­tion to the terms vir­gin” and extra vir­gin.” Any other pre­fixes – with the excep­tion of organic” – are utterly mean­ing­less (no mat­ter what the YouTube videos say).

Extra vir­gin and vir­gin olive oils are more expen­sive than a blend of refined and vir­gin olive oils, which usu­ally will not be labeled refined olive oil blended with vir­gin olive oil.”

However, any label­ing descrip­tion from plain olive oil” to pure olive oil,” light olive oil,” pre­mium olive oil” or fresh olive oil” is sim­ply a blend of refined and vir­gin olive oils.

Caveat emp­tor.


Advertisement

Related News

Feedback / Suggestions