Understanding the different grades of olive oils
Olive oils have different product grades which have very different taste and health profiles. The most important is Extra Virgin. All other grades are known as refined oils.
Extra virgin olive oil is essentially the naturally extracted juice from fresh olives. The olives are crushed into a paste, and the oil is physically extracted from this paste without the use of chemicals or excessive heat. Extra virgin olive oil has a distinctive olive fruity aroma and flavor and it contains natural antioxidants. There are standards set for extra virgin that include meeting certain chemistry ranges for quality and purity. As well, to be called extra virgin olive must past a sensory (or taste test) by a qualified panel and must be free of defects. Standards are set by the International Olive Council, however in California we have our own standard which is stricter than those set globally.
Refined oils are processed oils – usually those that don’t make the extra virgin grade due to bad fruit or milling practices. The process of refining uses heat, acids, alkalis, steam and other agents to remove taste defects from the oil. But in the process it strips out the natural phenols – the healthy antioxidants – in the oil. Artificial antioxidants need to be added back to give the refined olive oil a reasonable shelf life.
Below is a primer to help explain some of the terms you will see as you are shopping the category:
Cold press is not a grade of olive oil, but a descriptor for how an extra virgin olive oil is made. In fact, to be called extra virgin, the oil is required to have been not subject to any heat or abuse during processing. Otherwise, it can’t qualify as extra virgin olive oil under standards established by the Olive Oil Commission of California and the USDA.
Light (or Extra Light Tasting)
Light is a marketing term that can be confusing for many of us. Light olive oil is made from refined olive oil stripped of odor, color, and taste, claiming to be "light in flavor." Don't be fooled into thinking this oil contains fewer calories or less fat. Or that it’s Extra Virgin. It isn’t and it doesn't.
Created using the byproduct of the milling process, pomace oil is created by mixing solvents into the olive pulp. Heat is then used to extract additional oil from the pulp. Pomace oil could technically be called second press, since it is extracted from the pulp that remains after the first press.
Pure Olive Oil
Oils labeled as "Pure olive oil" or "Olive oil" are usually a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil.
Refined Olive Oils
Olive oils that do not meet virgin standards undergo additional processing to remove any chemical or sensory flaws that would otherwise make the oil unfit for sale. High temperatures or chemicals are used in the process, and the oil is made odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Refined oils typically are blended with a small portion of extra virgin olive oil to provide some flavor, aroma and color.
Below are some refining methods for olive oil used by other companies:
Degumming: Also known as water refining, the oil is treated with hot water, steam, or water mixed with acid. The oil is then spun in a high-speed centrifuge. Healthful polyphenols are removed along with gummy phospholipids, a class of lipids that are a key component of cell membranes.
Neutralization: The oil is treated with caustic soda, or lye, an inorganic compound. Color is removed along with undesirable free fatty acids.
Bleaching: Using an acid bleaching process, the oil is heated to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and pigments are removed.
Winterization: The oil is quickly chilled, solidified, and then filtered, removing solid matter such as waxes.
Deodorization: The oil is heated to a temperature of 300 degrees to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and steam is used to remove disagreeable tastes and aromas.
Virgin olive oil is produced using the same method as extra virgin olive oil, but does not meet the strict chemical and sensory standards. Typically virgin olive oil has an acidity value of less than 2% as compared to an extra virgin olive oil of less than 0.5%.
With all these olive oil grade options out there, it can certainly be confusing or misleading. At California Olive Ranch, we believe extra virgin olive oil is the best option. Next time you’re out grocery shopping, use our guide for navigating olive oil bottles.