Olive Oil Primer: Unfiltered vs. Filtered EVOO

I get a lot of questions from people about filtered versus unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. What’s the difference?  Which tastes better? Why filter EVOO? Do you filter your extra virgin olive oil? (We don’t.)

I’ve fielded such questions upwards of 200 times over the past couple of years. I hear them from customers, chefs, friends — even family members.

Basically, filtering involves putting the oil through a thick layer of cotton to trap any tiny particles of olive fruit that may be in the oil.

We don’t filter our EVOO. We remove those fruit particles with the help of Mother Nature, namely gravity.

Here’s how. Initially, we wash the olives before we crush them. After crushing, the resulting olive paste is sent to high-speed centrifuges where the oil is separated from fruit particles and water.

As a general rule, the remaining fruit particles – similar to pulp in orange juice – can really enhance the taste and flavor of the EVOO. The fruit particles contribute to what makes our limited-release Olio Nuovo EVOO taste so fantastic. But over time those same fruit particles will eventually ferment.

That’s why our Olio Nuovo is dated on the bottle to be consumed quickly.

By contrast, we need to remove the remaining fruit particles in our other oils that require a longer shelf life. Larger producers from Europe do this by filtering the oil. We don’t typically do that.

We pump the oil into large storage tanks housed inside a temperature-controlled room. (The exception is our Olio Nuovo, which we bottle immediately.) Inside the tank, the oil is allowed to settle for two to three months so Mother Nature can “suck” any remaining fruit particles to the bottom. This process is called “racking.”

During racking we move the oil from tank to tank about every month to remove the sediment and clean the tank. The racking process typically is completed in late January, which allows our new oil to ship by Feb. 1st or so.

The most noticeable difference between an unfiltered and a filtered EVOO is appearance. The unfiltered oil may appear a bit cloudy, owing to residual fruit particles that weren’t removed through gravity in the settlement tank. Once an oil has been fully racked, however, the lower concentration of remaining fruit particles no longer has an adverse effect on the oil’s lifespan or quality.

Which tastes better – an unfiltered oil, or a filtered one? Some people say filtering has little effect on taste. Others argue the residual fruit particles in an unfiltered EVOO generate added flavor.

Like many things, it’s probably more a matter of personal taste.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch

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