Olive oil is produced from olives. The oil is extracted by pressing freshly harvested olives. Olive oil can be dark green or golden in color. The color does not have anything to do with the quality of the oil. This is why taste panels use dark color glasses (cobalt blue) to taste and classify the olive oil. The largest producers of Olive Oil today are Spain, Italy and Greece. Olive oil is the mail oil used in Mediterranean cuisine.
Is Olive Oil healthy?
Regardless of the type, olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, containing about 75% by volume. When substituted for saturated fat, monounsaturated fats help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. The health benefits of olive oil have been attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, observational studies have shown a link between lower risks of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and even dementia in people who consume higher amounts of olive oil than those who use little or none.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) has another positive attribute to our health especially if it is cold pressed. Cold pressed (no heat or chemical solvents) EVOO Extra-virgin is high in phenols which may provide an extra antioxidant effect. Heat pressed or solvent extracted oils will have virtually no phenols since these are heat sensitive naturally occuring chemicals present in olives.
Understanding the Difference Between Extra Virgin, Virgin, and Light Olive Oil?
Most olive oils you find in supermarkets today are labeled "Extra Virgin". But do not be confused, extra virgin is only one of the several types of olive oil.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil available. The oil is extracted from freshly harvested olives by grinding and pressing them. The EVOO is not subjected to heat and no chemicals are added. According to the International Olive Council (IOC), EVOO contains a low presence of oleic acid (not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams). Extra virgin olive oil can be darker in color than lower quality oils, somewhere between a golden yellow and a dark green. But color is not an attribute used to classify EVOO; only flavor notes are used to classify Olive Oil in taste panels. EVOO has a distinct olive flavor, and in the highest quality oils, you should be able to taste almost a little bit of spiciness or pepper notes. To be considered perfect EVOO must have perfect flavor notes with no flaws.
- Virgin: Virgin olive oil is the second highest quality of olive oil, one step down in quality and price from EVOO. It is produced in the same manner as extra virgin olive oil, and has good flavor with minimal flaws.
- Light: Light olive oil is a refined oil, produced using heat after the first pressing of virgin oil. Rather than a deep green, light olive oil has a golden yellow hue. It keeps longer on the shelf and has a higher smoke point than other types of olive oil, but also has fewer nutrients due to the heat-pressing Despite its name, light olive oil does not mean that this variety of oil has fewer calories or a lower fat content. Instead, this label refers to the oil’s lighter color and neutral flavor.
3 Types of Olive Oil Processes
There are a few key terms you may see on a bottle of olive oil that you will want to decipher:
- Refined: Refined olive oils undergo a second production after pressing. The refining process will often include the presence of heat or chemicals. Some refined olive oils introduce other types of vegetable oils into the mix as well, resulting in an overall lower-quality oil.
- Unrefined: Unrefined olive oils are produced without any chemical or heat extraction processes, and are thus higher in quality. The olives and resulting oil may be washed, filtered, and decanted.
- Cold-pressed: Cold-pressed is the least refined and most natural process in olive oil production. As such, cold-pressed oils will be higher in quality and price. Mediterranean Food Imports only partners with Cold-Pressed award winning EVOO oil producers.
Is Color a Quality Attribute for Olive Oil?
Color doesn't mean anything when it comes to olive oil. When looking at an oil like EVOO, it can be light colored and still have the most pungent flavor. And dark green, which often is considered high quality by most consumers, can be in fact, mild flavored or of poor quality. When tasting EVOO color and flavor are two totally unrelated traits. This is why expert tasters use dark blue glasses to prevent any biases.
Three Factors to Consider When Cooking With Olive Oil
When choosing an olive oil for a particular dish or preparation, consider three factors:
- Flavor: In general, a lighter, more neutral oil is best for cooking, and a richer oil is best for sauces and finishing, when you can taste the depth of flavor.
- Smoke point: The best oil for sautéing is actually vegetable oil, not olive oil, because vegetable oil has a higher smoke point (and is less susceptible to burning than olive oil).
- Price: Olive oil is often expensive, and there’s no reason to use it when you cook with heat. Instead, use a less expensive oil with a neutral flavor and high smoke point to cook, and save your precious EVOO for finishing.
What’s the Best Olive Oil for Frying?
Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point around 375° Fahrenheit, which is low compared to many other common cooking oils like canola oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. A refined or light olive oil will have a higher smoke point than an extra virgin oil, and would be the best choice for frying in olive oil. However, using canola oil for frying would give you an even higher smoke point, and would also be more cost effective.
What’s the Best Olive Oil for Salad Dressings?
EVOO is the best choice for dressings as it introduces a strong peppery flavor to the mix. Even the simplest of salad dressings can be elevated by a high quality olive oil. Or, try finishing a basic tomato and mozzarella Caprese salad with just a drizzle of the finest extra virgin olive oil.
What’s the Best Olive Oil for Dipping?
Olive Oil Tasting
1. Use a Blue Colored Glass
2. The tasting glass of choice by the International Olive Council is a small blue glass that is tulip shaped. Why is a blue (cobalt) glass used? the reason is because the glass hides the color of the oil inside, allowing for truly blind tasting. The goal is for you to avoid any visual biases you might have. Most consumers have the wrong impression that the dark green color is associated with the highest quality of EVOO. This is not correct, as most experts agree that color doesn't mean anything when it comes to olive oil. EVOO can be light colored and still have the most pungent flavor. In comparison, a dark green extra virgin olive oil can still be mild flavored or of poor quality. Color and flavor are two totally unrelated traits.
Olive Oil Tasting Steps
1. Warm Up the Oil to 27 degrees C.
The key to releasing the aroma and flavor of the oil is to warm it up. You will want to pour about 1-2 tablespoons of oil into your glass. Then place one hand in a cupping position under the bottom of the glass and one hand on top. The bottom hand functions to warm the oil, while the top hand contains any smell particles. The final step is to swirl it around a few times to release the smell into the air, trapped inside your cupped hand.
2. Smell The Oil
When it comes to how to smell the oil, think of the way you would smell wine. Bring the glass up to your nose, remove your hand and smell the oil deeply. Make sure to take note of the aromas you are smelling. Look for adjectives such as ripe, green, fruity, nutty etc. You will want to take note of them before you taste the oil.
3. Taste The Oil
It's time to taste the oil. You will want to take a small sip of your oil. Coat the inside of your mouth and let the flavors cover your tongue by keeping your mouth relaxed. Allow it to sit for a moment. Next, suck in some air keeping the oil in your mouth at the same time. You can do this by touching your tongue to the back of your top teeth and inhaling through the sides of your mouth, over your molar teeth. Another way is to pretend that you have straws in your mouth like walrus teeth, and that you are using them to suck in air. The sharp inhalation of air through your teeth sprays the oil around your mouth allowing all of the different tastebuds on your tongue to fully experience the flavors. The air also picks up aromas and brings them into the nasal passages for a more in-depth tasting experience. Close your mouth with the oil still inside and breath out. Note any/all flavors you just experienced.
4. Swallow The Oil
The final step is you will want to swallow some of the oil to get the full flavor notes. You will find some flavors are only tasted on the back of the tongue, so this is where you will taste some of the pungency of the oil.
If you find that you are tasting a peppery oil, it's common in this stage that the oil will make you involuntarily cough. Some growers say that if it doesn't make you cough, it's not truly good oil. That is not fully true; it all just comes down to personal preference on flavor.
5. Note The Flavors You Taste
Finally, make notes of the flavors that you smelled and tasted throughout this process. Look for adjectives like the following:
- Apple/Green Apple: indicative of certain olive varietals
- Almond: nutty (fresh not oxidized)
- Artichoke: green flavor
- Astringent: puckering sensation in mouth created by tannins; often associated with bitter, robust oils
- Banana: ripe and unripe banana fruit
- Bitter: considered a positive attribute because it is indicative of fresh olive fruit
- Buttery: creamy, smooth sensation on palate
- Eucalyptus: aroma of specific olive varietals
- Floral: perfume/aroma of flowers
- Forest: fresh aroma reminiscent of forest floor, NOT dirty
- Fresh: good aroma, fruity, not oxidized
- Fruity: refers to the aroma of fresh olive fruit, which is perceived through the nostrils and retro-nasally when the oil is in one’s mouth.
- Grass: the aroma of fresh-cut (mowed) grass
- Green/Greenly: aroma/flavor of unripe olives
- Green Tea: characteristic of some unripe olive varieties
- Harmonious: balance among the oil’s characteristics with none overpowering the others
- Hay/Straw: dried grass flavor
- Herbaceous: unripe olive fruit reminiscent of fresh green herbs
- Melon: indicative of certain olive varietals
- Mint: indicative of certain olive varietals
- Pear: indicative of certain olive varietals
- Peach: indicative of certain olive varietals
- Peppery: stinging sensation in the throat which can force a cough (see pungent)
- Pungent: stinging sensation in the throat which can force a cough (see peppery)
- Ripely: aroma/flavor of ripe olive fruit
- Round/Rotund: a balanced, mouth-filling sensation of harmonious flavors
- Spice: aroma/flavor of seasonings such as cinnamon, allspice (but not herbs or pepper)
- Sweet: characteristic of mild oils
- Tomato/Tomato Leaf: indicative of certain olive varietals
- Tropical: indicative of ripe olive fruit with nuances of melon, mango, and coconut
- Walnut/Walnut Shell: nutty (fresh not oxidized)
- Wheatgrass: strong flavor of some green olive fruit
- Woody: indicative of olive varietals with large pits