Four types of olive oils you should know

By Maria Lovchina | Photograph: Elena Demina | 03.09.2019

Olive oil is the pure juice of the crushed olives after water has been extracted. As soon as the olive is picked from the plant, the taste and health benefits of the oil inside slowly start to degrade. A lot depends on the way the production, bottling, storage and transportation are organized. The younger the oil, the better! But there are some more important things to know about olive oil then its age.


Photograph: Elena Demina

According to the mandatory rules established by the International Olive Council (IOC) and the European Union (EU), virgin olive oils are the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions that do not lead to any deterioration in the quality of the oil.

The end product has to comply with special standards adopted for virgin olive oil, e.g. for extra virgin olive oil or virgin oil. Only if they do, can these oils be bottled and sold under their specific product names. If the oil does not meet the requirements, it has to be refined, purified, and mixed with a small amount of virgin or extra virgin olive oil. This type of olive oil can be found in your local department store under the name of “olive oil”.

Virgin and extra virgin olive oil are obtained from olives that are crushed and pressed only once. This practice has existed since the introduction of the hydraulic press in late XIX century. So a bottle of olive oil cannot be “extra virgin” if it is not “first pressed” (this designation is now often used for marketing purposes).

Photograph: Elena Demina

Virgin olive oils are valued for their health-promoting nutrients, such as phenolic compounds and vitamins. Extra virgin olive oil preserves the maximum number of its natural ingredients.

Refining removes almost all the natural beneficial ingredients, with the exception of monounsaturated fatty acids and around 35-40 % of the vitamin E. When the refined olive oil is blended with some virgin or extra virgin olive oil, it recovers some of its flavor and health-giving properties. The more fresh, unrefined oil it contains, the healthier it is.

The pomace (the pulp and the pieces of pip left after the mechanical extraction of the olive oil) also contains a small amount of oil. It is extracted with the help of chemical agents (solvents) or other physical treatments. Next, this oil undergoes the refining process and is blended with small amounts of virgin or extra virgin oil. It is sold as “olive pomace oil”.

You will find below the 4 types of olive oil that you may most likely find in your local department stores, bottled, or as an ingredient in other food products. The official designation with description has to be written on the bottle’s label (in italics below).


Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Superior category olive oil obtained directly from olives and solely by mechanical means.’

Extra virgin olive oil is the fresh juice of the olive obtained by crushing olives and removing the water solely by mechanical means. Its acidity cannot exceed 0.8 grams per 100 grams. This type of olive oil has excellent flavor and odor, confirmed by an expert taste panel. It should have no defects.

Virgin Olive Oil

‘Olive oil obtained directly from olives and solely by mechanical means.’

This olive oil grade is slightly lower than that of the extra virgin olive oil, although it is the same pure olive juice. The acidity level cannot be more than 2.0 grams per 100 grams. Minor defects are acceptable. Despite that, it has reasonably good flavor and odor. Olive oil of this grade is hardly ever found in stores, being more often used as an ingredient in other food products.

Olive Oil

‘Oil comprising exclusively olive oils that have undergone refining and oils obtained directly from olives’.

“Olive oil” is made by adding some virgin or extra virgin olive oil to a refined olive oil. Its acidity level cannot exceed 1.0 gram per 100 grams. In some countries it is labeled as “pure” olive oil. Depending on the brand, the amount of virgin or extra virgin olive oil varies from very small to 50 %. There are no strict regulations for the amount of virgin oils added.

Olive Pomace Oil

‘Oil comprising exclusively oils obtained by treating the product obtained after the extraction of olive oil and oils obtained directly from olives’. Or ‘Oil comprising exclusively oils obtained by processing olive pomace oil and oils obtained directly from olives’.

Olive pomace oil is the oil obtained by treating olive pomace with solvents or by other physical means. It later undergoes a refining process. Then some virgin or extra virgin olive oil is added to the refined pomace oil. Acidity levels for such oil cannot exceed 1.0 gram per 100 grams.

In order to define olive oil grades, sophisticated chemical and sensory analysis is performed by approved labs. Acidity levels are determined along with other chemical tests. Oils are also checked for flavor and odor defects. The final grade and designation have to be marked on the product label.

The lower the acidity level, or the amount of free fatty acids, the higher the quality of the oil. That is also a result of high quality production technique.

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