What exactly is extra virgin olive oil? Good question, given how olive oil fraud seems rampant. A recent study, for instance, noted olive oil is among the top food items on your supermarket shelf likely to be bogus, because it gets adulterated with cheaper oils like safflower oil. Author Tom Mueller, in his book Extra Virginity, called the United States “an oil criminal’s dream.”
Moreover, when you buy olive oil at the grocery store you face a dizzying array of choices – often more than a dozen different bottles or cans. Extra virgin olive oil. Pure Olive Oil. Light Olive Oil. What’s it all mean?
Here’s a rundown:
Extra virgin olive oil: The top grade, delivering the best taste and the full health benefits of olive oil. It typically commands the highest price. True extra virgin must meet a battery of chemical requirements (like specific free fatty acid and peroxide levels) set by the International Olive Council, the European Union, the California Olive Oil Council, and other bodies. To be certified extra virgin, an olive oil also must pass a panel of professional tasters who detect desirable attributes like olive fruitiness; the tasters must not find any taste flaws.
Unlike other grades of olive oil, extra virgin hasn’t been extracted through the use of excessive heat or solvents. And it’s unrefined. “Extra virgin olive oil is essentially the naturally extracted juice from fresh olives,” Australian olive oil expert Richard Gawel writes. Unfortunately, extra virgin olive oil in this country is subject to fraud and mislabeling. And, Tom Mueller notes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers olive oil adulteration a low priority; so it’s not busy policing the supermarket shelves.
Pure Olive Oil/Olive Oil: Oil that’s been refined to remove any defects. It’s typically blended with a little extra virgin olive oil to add flavor.
Light Olive Oil: Not a diet product. It’s basically the same as “pure” olive oil. According to the University of California Cooperative Extension, the oil is made from refined olive oil that’s “light in flavor” – not calories or fat.
Pomace Olive Oil: Obtained by mixing solvents into the olive pulp. The pulp is a byproduct of the milling process. Heat is then used to extract additional oil from the pulp.
Here are some other things to keep in mind. When shopping for extra virgin olive oil, look for a harvest date on the bottle. That shows when the olives were picked. You can find the month and year our olives were harvested by looking at the label on the back of the bottle.
Also on our label you’ll see the “Best By” date by which we recommend you use up the oil. This date assumes the bottle has NOT been opened. Our Limited Reserve olive oil, for example, shows a November 2011 harvest date and a August 2012 “Best By” date.
Also, look for an extra virgin olive oil that’s in a dark container, like a green or brown bottle. “Light causes olive oil to degrade. So dark glass that filters out light is very important,” Extra Virginity’s Mueller notes. “A metal container also is good. Clear plastic and glass are to be avoided.”
Your friends at California Olive Ranch