Olive Oil Origins
Olive Oil Origins
The olive tree actually originated in Asia Minor (Anatolia, now Turkey) and spread to the rest of the Mediterranean. Many people believe that the best olive oil is Italian olive oil and that most olive oil comes from Italy. Though Italy is the largest exporter to the US, Spain is actually the largest olive oil producer. In the US Spanish Olive Oil is the 2nd most imported, followed by Turkish Olive Oil. Italy imports olive oil from nations such as Spain, Turkey, Greece and Tunisia. This non-Italian olive oil is usually mixed with Italian Olive Oil and marketed at “bottled in Italy” or “packed in Italy.” Much of the Greek olive oil that is produced is consumed in Greece. Most of the rest is exported in bulk to Italy or bottled as Extra Virgin Olive Oil and exported to the EU, the US and other markets. Spain still supplies much bulk olive oil to Italy, but over the last 20 years has developed brands of bottled olive oil that are successful in the US market. Careful Olive Oil consumers have learned to buy olive oil according to taste, not just origin.
Types of Olive Oil (International Technical Classifications of Olive Oil)
There are 3 main types of olive oil sold in the US. But first we will look at the internationally accepted classifications for the olive oil.
Virgin Olive Oil is not usually sold in the US, but in order to understand the other two oils that are sold in the US it is important to understand this what the term “Virgin Olive Oil” means. The term Virgin Olive Oil is used in two ways. First it is used to describe all olive oils that are extracted by only natural means (pressure and water) not refined or chemically altered. Virgin Olive Oil then has 4 sub-categories.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – the highest quality Virgin Olive Oil (see below)
2. Virgin Olive Oil – (This is the second way that the term “Virgin Olive Oil” is used). Virgin Olive Oil in this case refers to oil that is fit for consumption, but it has oleic acid up to 2% and/or it has organoleptic (flavor & order) characteristics fall short of the subjective standard for Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
3. Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil – this oil can have up to 3.3% oleic acid. Its taste profile (organoleptic characteristics) has more defects. This is sometimes called “unrefined olive oil”
4. Lampant Virgin Olive Oil – has oleic acid levels above 3.3% and is not fit for human consumption. If it is refined then it can be used for human consumption. Or it can be used as “lamp oil” or for other non-food applications. This is sometimes called “unrefined olive oil” or “lamp oil.”
Refined Olive Oil is made by taking low grade Virgin Olive Oil (usually Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil or Lampant Virgin Olive Oil) and putting it through a 4 stage process of refining using chemical, heat and filtering. The result of this refining process is a colorless, tasteless oil. In this respect it is similar to all of the major cooking oils sold in the US, which also all undergo a similar refining process. Refined Olive Oil loses some of the health-giving properties of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (some of the antioxidants are removed and it is chemically altered) but it is still a heart-healthy oil. Refined Olive Oil is not sold as a consumer product by itself in the US market, but it the main ingredient in Pure Olive Oil and Light Olive. It is also used as an ingredient in other products.
The three main Olive Oil grades sold in the N. American retail market are:
1.Extra Virgin Olive Oil – This should have 0.8% oleic acid and conform to IOOC (International Olive Oil Council) standards. It is the fruit juice of the olive tree extracted by only mechanical means (pressure from a press or centrifuge) and warm water. Extra Virgin Olive Oil offers more health benefits than Pure Olive Oil or Light Olive Oil. There are some Extra Virgin Olive Oils that are marketed “premium extra virgin olive oil” or “estate” olive oil. The main advantage of these oils is the taste. Like a fine wine, these “designer” olive oils may offer superior taste.
2.Pure Olive Oil – The technical name for this oil is “Olive Oil” according to the IOOC. The world “Pure” is using in the US for marketing purposes. There are 2 ingredients in “Pure Olive Oil.” The main ingredient is “Refined Olive Oil.” In order to add color and flavor Virgin Olive Oil is added. (This can be any of the first 3 grades of Virgin Olive Oil). By definition, the oleic acid of “Pure Olive Oil” cannot be over 1.5%. The ratio of Refined Olive Oil to Virgin Olive Oil can vary. It is usually less than 20% Virgin Olive Oil.
3.Light Olive Oil – This is sometimes marketed as “Extra Light Olive Oil” or “Extra Light in flavor Olive Oil” or Extra Light in taste Olive Oil.” This is the same as “Pure Olive Oil” except that it has less Virgin Olive Oil added. This product was created specifically for the US market by the Bertolli (Unilever) because the US consumers wanted a cooking olive that was healthy, but did not have a heavy olive oil taste. The term “Light” refers to flavor/taste, not to calories. All olive oil is 100% oil. Oil is 100% fat. Therefore it is not possible to have a low-fat olive oil. If you are wondering about the calories in olive oil just look at the back label. It is always 9 calories per gram (or 120 calories per tablespoon). This is the 2nd most popular olive oil product in the US, after extra virgin olive oil.
Benefits of Olive Oil
Olive Oil benefits us in many ways. It is a key ingredient in Mediterranean Diet. Heart disease (Cardiovascular disease) is the leading cause of death in the world. For example, it takes 2 lives in the US every minute. The USDA made the decision to allow health claims on the label of olive oil because of benefits of using olive oil instead of less healthy fats (trans fats and saturated fats). Extra Virgin Olive Oil increases HDL (good cholesterol) which actually helps to clear clogged arteries. This is why Olive Oil is first on the list of healthy oils and fats recommended by the American Heart Association. 30% of the risk factors for heart disease are related to the excessive use of unhealthy fats.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains the highest level of antioxidants when compared to other oils including refined olive oil products such as “Pure” Olive Oil and “Light” Olive Oil. Olive Oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and antioxidants like chlorophyll, carotenoids, vitamin E., flavonoids, squalene and polyphenols which may help to protect against cancer. These antioxidants help prevent cell damage caused by “free radicals” (chemicals that contain oxygen).
This is why we urge you to dump unhealthy fats and switch to olive oil only™. American needs an oil change! ™ “Olive Oil = health! Olive Oil = nutrition!”
How to Buy Olive Oil – Here are some simple rules for buying olive oil.
Buying Olive Oil for Health … Inexpensive Olive Oil If you are buying olive oil for your heath and you are on a tight budget you should buy the least expensive “Extra Virgin” Olive Oil you can find. At least 1/3 of the olive oil consumers in the US buy olive oil only when it is on sale. Since the shelf life of olive oil (when stored properly) is at least a year from the date of production, it is a good idea to buy a large tin and refill a dark glass bottle for everyday use.
When US consumers buy olive oil there are a number of things they are looking for. They look at the origin and are usually looking for Italy or sometimes Greece on the front label. For this reason the front labels of most major brands give the impression that their Olive Oil is from Italy. The real origins are often printed in tiny letters on the back or side labels. Since what appears to “Italian” Olive Oil is usually a mixture of oils from several nations, seeing an Italian flag (red, white and green) or an Italian name on the front does not tell you anything about the oil inside the bottle.
If you learn to read bottles carefully you can still learn something about the oil inside before you open the bottle. If it is “single origin” olive oil, this means that it comes from one region. This may mean that the oil is all from one country, or from one region of a country or from one grove. Real Italian olive oil will often have an official seal that tells you what part of Italy it was grown in. California Olive Oil has a special seal as well. You may find a logo on the label telling you the olive oil is New Zealand Olive Oil, French Olive Oil or Australian Olive Oil. In Turkey regional designations are also being registered and printed on olive oil labels. If the bottle is from a single grove it is often called “estate” olive oil or “boutique” olive oil. This allows for a greater amount of control in the growing, harvesting and processing and often produces a gourmet olive oil with very low oleic acid (0.5% or less). Like fine wines, these oils have a unique flavor profile. They also offer the most health benefits. But most are quite expensive. If you shop carefully you can find some brands of estate extra virgin olive oil that are just a bit more expensive than regular retail olive oil.
Customers often want to see a green or golden color. For this reason some major brands use different colors of glass to sell their olive oil. Others have used artificial yellow dies. Some producers put olive leaves in with the olives to achieve a greener color. In some areas the olives are harvested earlier, while they are still green and this gives a greener color. Many different varieties of olives are used to produce olive oil and this will change the color. Color is actually not a factor in determining the quality of extra virgin olive oil. For this reason professional olive oil tasting panels use dark blue glass cups so the tasters are not influenced by the color.
Most consumers will probably not notice this taste difference. For this reason we would suggest that if you really want to buy olive oil in plastic bottles, go ahead. But if you are concerned about taste, then it is best to buy olive oil in glass or tins.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Virgin Olive Oil are the only consumable oils that are made 100% by natural processes. All other oils use a process of heat, bleach, chemically processing and filtering to obtain oil. Extra Virgin and Virgin Olive Oil is squeezed from the olive by a mechanical press or centrifugal force. The term “first cold pressed olive oil” or “first cold press olive” is used to describe this process. In most modern olive oil production the olives are technically not “pressed,” but the oil is still separated only by using pressure (centrifugal force). Water is used to help separate the oil from the rest of the olive solids. Olive oil with low oleic acid (0.8 % according to the International Olive Oil Council in Madrid Spain) and that has good organoleptic (flavor & odor) characteristics is called “Extra Virgin”. This is the most popular olive oil in the US. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the fruit juice that comes from squeezing olives.
Many consumers are looking for NOP organic olive oil (or ECOCERT organic olive oil) because they an even more natural product. The olive tree is sometimes called, the “undying tree” because they can live for over a thousand years without much help from man. Because the olive tree is so hardy, organic olives are relatively easy to grow. Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil with low oleic acid may be the very healthiest olive oil of all. Olive Oil gift baskets often contain there high end products.
Flavored olive oil or flavor infused olive oil, such as Garlic Olive Oil are becoming more popular. You can also find Lemon Olive Oil, Red Pepper Olive Oil, and many other interesting flavors. These can be used as dipping oils or to add flavor. The base for these may be Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Pure/Light Olive Oil.
Enjoying Olive Oil
Just buying olive oil is not enough. You need to learn to cook with it. Knowing where to find good Olive Oil recipes is important only if you are willing to make the effort to use them. I have visited many homes with where a 3 liter bottle or tin of rancid olive oil is collecting dust on the top shelf. Cooking with olive oil is not difficult. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is great to eat raw on salads, drizzle over vegetables or for dipping. Some varieties are peppery and others have a sweeter fruity taste profile. This later profile is the one that we prefer. It can be used to add flavor to pasta, fish or meat dishes. The olive oil recipe we like best is quite simple. We like to put a dash of course paprika, a bit or oregano, black pepper and salt (or salt substitute) in a dish of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and dip bread or toast for breakfast, instead of unhealthy fat spreads. If children can learn to enjoy the flavor of olive oil when they are young it can become a habit for life. “Pure Olive Oil” and “Light Olive Oil” are both products that are made up of mostly refined olive oil with Virgin Olive Oil put in to add color and flavor. Pure Olive Oil is good where you want a light olive flavor, for example for preparing potatoes for baking, with cooked vegetables, or in pasta. When you want to use a healthy type of oil for cooking or baking, but don’t want an olive flavor “Light” Olive Oil is the best to use.
Storing Olive Oil
The flavor, taste and chemistry of olive oil is best protected by dark glass bottles or tins. This is because olive oil deteriorates with exposure to light. Plastic bottles can affect the taste of olive oil. It is best to store olive oil in a cool place. If your olive oil is in a clear class or plastic bottle, then it is best to keep it in dark place. Heat, light and air can all cause oxidation in olive oil which will ruin the flavor and decrease the health benefits. If Extra Virgin Olive Oil is put in the refrigerator, or in similar cold conditions, it will harden up and appear cloudy. This does not affect the quality of the oil at all. If your olive oil that is labeled “extra virgin” does not cloud up when it is cold it might mean that the bottlers put refined olive oil in with it, as it does not show as much clouding.