By Lisa Lucke
Olive Oil Times Contributor
Extra virgin olive oil, which is technically juice, contains a handful of super nutrients, including vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and powerful anti-oxidants such as polyphenols that help prevent damage to cells caused by free radical oxidation. While few people dispute the health benefits of olive oil, opinions vary as to the superiority of unfiltered olive oil versus its more refined counterpart.
According to the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), “virgin olive oils are the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration.” In fact, olive oil is one of a very few oils that can be consumed in its crude form with no refining and can literally go from the vine to the bottle without just a squeeze, so to speak.
For some people, when it comes to extra virgin olive oil, less is definitely more – at least when it comes to processing. In other words, cloudy is good. While research has not shown it is necessarily healthier for olive oil to be cloudy with bits of olive sediment swirling about, there are purists who prefer it simply because it has been handled less. Susan Bragstad, owner of Amador Olive Oil, has her preferences, which mirror those of her customers.
“There are a lot of claims about unfiltered versus filtered. Some people like to see the sediment, which I think means ‘less processed’ to them. I happen to like the idea of the oil being right out of the press and less processed, too.”
Others believe that while the sediment may add something to the robustness of the oil, the suspended particles in unfiltered olive oil may actually contribute to a shortened shelf life for the product. Fino Products, producers of Croatian olive oil, claim on their web site, “the sediment contains microbes that decompose the bits of olive flesh and produce off-flavors called ‘fusty,’ ‘musty’ and ‘winey’ by olive oil experts.” For this reason, some producers choose to filter and eliminate this possibility.
For average consumers, who buy extra virgin olive oil in relatively small quantities, spoilage may not be a factor. Storing the oil in a cupboard in a dark bottle, as opposed to on the counter top in a clear bottle, helps protect it from the effects of heat and light and will extend the life of the oil.
In the end, for the average consumer, the choice to buy unfiltered extra virgin olive oil or not may simply come down to the personal preference of one’s eyes and palate.