Choosing the right olive oil

Buy olive oil has become a bit of an everyday experience for most consumers. With the explosion of oil companies in recent years, choosing the right olive oil may prove to be as daunting a task as choosing a good wine. Like most quality products come with a higher price, but the price does not always guarantee the highest quality. According to the IOC (International Olive Oil Council) there are different grades of oil, which are derived from the ways in which olive oil is harvested.

Cold Pressing:

First, let's get one of the more misunderstood and confused out of the path. Cold pressing of the first pressing and are interchangeable terms. The first pressing of olives produces the best type of olive oil. This process is usually done by hand and without the use of heat or other chemicals, so the terminology interchangeably. To extract more olive oil in the refining process, the hot water is usually passed through the olive paste to extract greater quantities of oil. The difference between the two cases is that the term cold pressing bears his name. Hot pressing is usually the second and produces a lower quality.

How do olive oils differ among each grade?

According to the IOC, there are many different types of olive oil. I have done my best to break every kind of oil you normally find in your shopping experience with the arm you with the knowledge that you will need to make an informed choice.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is considered the highest grade of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is a direct result of cold pressing and will provide a more natural flavor and delicious of all the olive oil. To be classified as extra virgin, must have a FFA (acidity) level of less than 0.8%. The oil must also have the perfect aroma, flavor, color and be free of all defects. The lower the acidity level, the higher the oil quality, and the more distinctive flavor and aroma will be. Extra virgin olive oil is great for use with salads and, when used for bread dipping.

Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin Olive Oil is the second highest grade of olive oil quality. Virgin olive oil also is derived only from cold pressing of olives, but usually have a lighter, fruity taste and odor. Although there are differences in the way in which oil is extracted, virgin olive oil usually has a level of FFA (acidity) of less than 2% and has a slight defect.

Olive Oil – Light Oil – Lite Oil

Typically, these types of oil were extracted using heat or hot water. The oil generally have a high to very high levels of FFA and will contain obvious flaws. Manufactures typically refine that oil, which will become colorless, odorless and tasteless. To help give you some flavor, small quantities of virgin olive oil is added, which is usually around 5% - 15%. Contrary to the belief oils Lite or Light does not prove to be a healthier option, then extra-virgin or virgin olive oil. Recently, the FDA restricted oils previously labeled as light or light to be relabeled as "Light in taste" or "Lite tasting." Light olive oil has fewer calories and light term simply refers to its light color, flavor and aroma.

Olive Pomace Oil

Olive-pomace oil is extracted from the remaining parts of the olives after pressing or "crushed" by the use of solvents. The oil is refined and mixed with a greater degree of virgin olive oil. This is again around 5% -15%.

Infused or Flavored Olive Oils

Infused or flavored oils are extra virgin olive oils that were processed with other fruit or vegetable for flavor. The fruit or vegetable is usually placed with the olives as they are being pressured. The oil is extracted in a centrifuge or settling in the state or leaving behind the taste. These can be wonderful alternatives to the "normal" extra virgin olive oil as they can add sweetness and make perfect toppings for a salad or fruit.
Here is where things can really start to unravel. As the United States is not a participating member of the IOC, there is a different rating system to govern U.S. produced oil. The classification system is based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor, is classified as follows:

Olive Oil Grades ( for United States ):
  • U.S. Grade A or U.S. Fancy possesses a free fatty acid content of not more than 1.4% and is “free from defects”
  • U.S. Grade B or U.S. Choice possesses a free fatty acid content of not more than 2.5% and is “reasonably free from defects”
  • U.S. Grade C or U.S. Standard possesses a free fatty acid content of not more than 3.0% and is “fairly free from defects”
  • U.S. Grade D or U.S. Substandard possesses a free fatty acid content greater than 3.0% “fails to meet the requirements of U.S. Grade C”
One of the biggest problems I find with this rating system is largely in part, the imprecision of the ways in which the oil can be produced. Because it is so vague that it offers the same quality assurance that is received with the guidelines of the IOC.
Unfortunately, because the U.S. is not a participating member of the IOC, the vast majority of oil being sold under false pretenses, but terms like "Extra Virgin" may be used without legal restrictions. Perfect ... right?
A good oil should look a little cloudy, especially soon after being harvested. If the oil seems clear, that means he may have been refined during the manufacturing process, or in a centrifuge or by decanting process, and will probably have an additional reduction in quality.
The oil also must be wrapped in a dark glass bottle to protect it against the damaging effects of light and enveloping flavors. Once the olive is a fruit, olive oil is a fruit juice. Air, heat and light will cause the oil to flavor or dissipate.
Finally, avoid buying extra virgin olive oil that is stored in plastic containers, they can absorb compounds in plastics such as PVC (polyvinyl chloride). The ideal storage temperature is 57 F while the ambient temperature of 70 degrees F works well if the oil is stored in a dark area. Despite the cold does not hurt most of the oils is not recommended for expensive extra virgin olive oil as condensation may develop in the bottle and will affect the flavor. I hope this gives everyone a better idea of what the differences are and what to watch on your next shopping experience.