Italy has a great olive oil tradition with it’s regional olive oil products, centennial olive trees and wonderful landscape of olive growing. Olive oil is the symbol of Mediterranean diet and the chief of Italian cuisine. The variety of production – but also the counterfeiting – make very hard to recognize the genuine olive oil and distinguish the good one from the bad one. What’s the meaning of the features of food labels? What is the pressed olive oil? And the differences between a bottle of olive oil light in color and a darker product?
Here, the main characteristics to recognize a good olive oil
- At first, it’s the method: the “pressed” method means that no heat or chemical additives were used to extract the oil from the olives, which can alter and destroy the flavor and aroma of the oil and that a centrifuge was not used. Without adding heat to the processing, the olive oil also retains its full nutritional value.
- An olive oil is “Extra Virgin” when respect specific standards (such as organoleptic characteristics and acidity level). It should have no defects and it should be made simply by crushing olives and extracting the juice. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil classification, also it has a flavor of fresh olives. A virgin olive oil (without the word “Extra”) has a slightly higher acidic level (not more than 2%) with a slight perception of defect, but both of them (extra virgin and virgin) must be produced with mechanical system and no chemical treat.
- Pure “olive oil” is a blend of slightly defective or lower quality olives with much less flavor and color in the final oil produced (normally contains 10% of Extra Virgin olive oil)
- Lampante has more pronounced defects and its acidity is higher than 2%. In that case, the olive oil is deacidified to produce an odorless, colorless and flavorless oil, which combine to a little part of extra virgin olive oil will bring on olive oil.
- Olive pomace oil is a by-product of olive oil extraction process, which consists of the peel, waste from the pulp and fragments of pits.
- Light: this is the type of olive oil where the name may spark some confusion. “Light” doesn’t refer to this olive oil being lower in calories. Rather, it is a marketing term used to describe the oil’s lighter flavour with a very small percentage of Extra Virgin olive oil. Light olive oil is normally a refined oil that has a neutral taste and a higher smoke point. It can be used for baking, sautéing, grilling, and frying.There are some basic culinary difference in the use of Extra Virgin versus other lesser grade olive oils. Extra Virgin oil is often used fresh, such as for seasoning salads, drizzled over pizza or steaks and pasta. You can drizzle it over crusty, toasted bread or cheese. Chefs use it to finish off a plate like a soup or a stew. Extra Virgin olive oil has a low smoke point 320F as opposed to 420 degrees for a lesser graded olive oil. Basically, Extra Virgin burns too easily for cooking in. So, if you decided to fry some foods, don’t waste your best Extra Virgin olive oil.
Is the color of the olive oil so important to define the quality? And the flavor?
Olives harvested earlier in the season produce a greener oil because there is more chlorophyll in the fresher fruits. Olives harvested later will produce a more golden oil. Different cultivars of olives also can change the color of an oil.
By the way, the darker colored green bottles do serve a somewhat good purpose too, even if they tend to hide the true color of the olive oil; they prevent light exposure, which makes the oil oxidizing and spoiling.
Also the flavors of olive oil can be differ because of cultivar of olive, due to the territory where they are grown, how they’re processed, the methods used in storing the oil before it comes to your table. It also depends on the variety of cultivar grown and the time of the harvest. Some olives are big, while others are small; some have higher acidic flavors than others. Depending on the time the grower decides to collect the olives really affects the flavor of the resulting oil.
In general, the three flavor ranges of olive oil can be described as delicate, medium, and robust. Here a little flavors profiles:
- Delicate oil (made from arbequina, leccino, sevillano, taggiasca) is well suited for delicate fish.
- Medium intensity oil (ascolana, manzanillo and mission) is fine for salad dressings, grilled vegetables, soups, sauces and poultry.
- Robust oil (arbosana, frantoio, picholine) can be drizzled over steak with a spritz of lemon.
The secret is to buy little bottles of olive oil and experiment them until you find the perfect one for you!