What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is a natural oil which has a multitude of uses, including food, medicine and cosmetics. Most common oils we use come from the seeds of grasses, but olive oil is unique in that it comes from the fruit of a tree.

The olive tree is an evergreen tree with narrow leathery leaves that flowers in the spring and bears small olive fruits which are harvested in the late fall. All producing olive trees are only one species, olea europaea, but there are many different cultivars, or varieties, each with their own unique characteristics. Some olives are grown for their oil and others for eating olives.

It is believed that the modern day olive tree was adapted from a small spiny olive shrub which grows wild around the Mediterranean Sea. It was cultivated for thousands of years by ancient civilizations in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, where today it continues to be a major agricultural crop in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and others.

Olive trees want a temperate climate with dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters. Prolonged freezing temperatures will damage or even kill olive trees. Olive trees are very hardy and do not require a lot of water and can actually survive without irrigation. In fact, they cannot tolerate fog or constantly wet soil. Olive trees can grow in marginal rocky soil if it is well-draining and they are not known to have many natural diseases or pests. These special characteristics made the olive tree well adapted to ancient cultures around the Mediterranean when farming techniques where simple and water irrigation was difficult.

Not all olive oil are alike. Their taste, health benefits, cost and other factors are effected by such things as the type of olive variety, climate and soil conditions, how and when they were harvested, how the oil is extracted from the olives, and the reputation and honesty of the producer. The information in this website will help you know how to select a good quality olive oil for your particular needs.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

The culinary and health benefits of olive oil have been famous for thousands of years. Olive oil is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet recommended by experts all over the world. But not all olive oils are alike. Their beneficial qualities vary tremendously, especially according to how they are made.

The label on any olive oil should list its quality label or grade. The following are retail grades of olive oil as specified by the International Olive Council in Madrid, Spain. They are listed in order of quality, from best to worst.

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Virgin Olive Oil
  • Pure Olive Oil
  • Olive Oil
  • Olive Pomace Oil
  • Refined Olive Oil
  • Lampante Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality standard for olive oil. An olive oil can only be called “extra virgin” if it is extracted from the olive using strictly mechanical means, such as a press or a centrifuge. It should not be blended with inferior grades of olive oil or with non-olive oils.

Extra virgin olive oil must also meet strict standards for freshness, not containing more than 0.8% oleic acid which is a naturally-occurring acid in all olive oils that increases as it ages or is exposed to the air. It must also pass a strict taste evaluation for obvious flavor defects.

Virgin olive oil can only be extracted using mechanical means and has an acidity level of

0.8-2.0% and should have a good taste.

Pure olive oil and Olive oil are a blend of virgin and refined olive oils and should contain no more than 1.5% acidity. It has a mild or neutral taste.

Olive pomace oil is a refined oil from the olive pomace which is the solids left over from the mechanical production of virgin olive oils. It is fit for consumption but has no flavor and is most commonly use for frying because it has high smoke point.

Refined olive oil is made from substandard virgin olive oils using refining methods involving heat, chemicals and filters. It can have an acidity level of no more than 0.3% and is usually used for blending with better quality oils.

Lampante oil is not suitable as food and should only be used for industrial purposes.

For optimum flavor and health benefits, extra virgin olive oil is the only retail grade to buy because it is the oil that flows from the olive simply by squeezing it and involves no heat, chemicals or solvents which damage the delicate and essential natural components in the oil.

It should also be mentioned here that, since most olive oils look the same from the outside, a consumer must be able to trust that the oil inside the bottle is exactly what is written on the exterior label. Recent tests and studies have revealed that fraud and misrepresentation through the retail sales of adulterated olive oils are very common in the United States, especially among imported national brands.

It is important that you are given as much information as possible on the label and that you learn as much as you can about the olive oil producer so that you are not the victim of an adulterated olive oil.