The Quality Debate

A great deal has been written about the quality issues surrounding Olive Oil.

The problem of olive oil begins at the source. Olives are collected from November to February, mostly by hand, in pouring rains and piercing winds. Many olives fall to the ground. These must be collected later. They are bruised and oxidize. This oxidative degradation process raises the acidity level of the olive oil inside the olive. At the mill, fresh olives are pressed first, yielding the juice of the fruit, the olive oil. This is the low acidity extra virgin olive oil that consumers world wide seek out. The bruised ground olives are pressed separately, yielding a high acidity olive oil by the name of “lampante” (from the Italian word for lamp). Lampante olive oil lightened Mediterranean households for millennia (think of Aladdin’s wonder lamp!).

To complicate matters further, many fresh olives yield olive oils which are “lampante” in taste, some of which have very low acidity: the organoleptic characteristics of olive oil are dictated by tree variety (cultivar), soil conditions, the weather during the growing season, conditions at harvest, and the way the produced oil is stored. As an example, for reasons of cultivar, low acidity lampante olive oils are notorious in the Spanish production areas of Jaén and Córdoba.

Olive Oil Categories

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: intensely flavoured oil pressed from the olive fruit by purely physical means; its acidity is very low, ranging from 0.1pct to 0.8pct. (Note: the acidity is a measure for how oxidized (bruised) the olives were at the moment of pressing. In addition extra virgin olive oil may also be characterised as “ First Pressed” (when it is obtained by first mechanical pressing at temperatures lower than 27C, at mills that are equipped with traditional presses) or “Cold Pressed” (when it obtained by filtration or by centrifugation at temperatures lower than 27C.

Virgin Olive Oil: physically pressed olive oil with an intermediate acidity, ranging from 0.8 pct to 2pct; above 1 pct acidity, Virgin Olive Oil starts presenting organoleptical defects.

First Press: virgin or extra virgin olive oils which are obtained by first mechanical pressing at temperatures lower than 27C, at mills that are equipped with traditional presses.

Cold Pess: virgin or extra virgin olive oils which are obtained by filtration or by centrifugation at temperatures lower than 27C.

Lampante or Industrial Olive Oil: physically pressed olive oil unfit for direct human consumption, either because of its organoleptic defects and/or because of its high acidity. Lampante olive oil is collected separately and sent to vegetable oils refineries where its taste and high acidity is removed. The resulting oil is called refined olive oil. It has the same lipids profile as (Extra)-Virgin Olive Oil and is clear, brilliant, lightly coloured, tasteless and odourless. Unfortunately, during the refining process, many valuable micro components, like sterols, tocopherols and trace metals, which are at the root of olive oil health claims, are also removed.

Olive Oil: a confusing term since, in accordance with EU regulations, it refers to a blend between (Extra)-Virgin Olive Oil and… refined olive oil (!); the advantage of diluting an Extra-Virgin Olive Oil with refined olive oil is that it reduces the sometimes overpowering taste and often burning mouth feel (all these anti-oxidants!) of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil; if an Olive Oil is made from a blend of top quality refined olive oil and the best Extra-Virgin Olive Oil money can buy, the result is a “light” or “mild” version of that same Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. Olive Oil is also referred to as “Riviera”, “Coupé” or “Pure”(!).

Olive Pomace Oil: when olives are pressed, the olive oil, which is the juice of the fruit, represents the liquid phase (abt 15-22pct of the olive); the pressed pulp, containing the fruit’s stone –the kernel- represents the solid phase. The kernel still contains some olive oil, which can be extracted and sent to a vegetable oils refinery. The oil resulting form this refining process is called refined Olive Pomace Oil. Refined Olive Pomace Oil is similar in flavour and aspect to refined Olive Oil. As in “Pure” Olive Oil, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is blended back into the refined Olive Pomace Oil to give it taste, aroma and colour. Therefore, the quality of Olive Pomace Oil strongly depends on the quality of the extra-virgin olive oil used for the blend. Olive Pomace Oil is often referred to as olive “kernel” oil, “sansa”, “orujo”.

Salad Oil: popular in some overseas export markets; a blend of a refined vegetable seed oil (mostly sunflower seed oil) with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Salad oil does not have the same properties as Olive Oil because the fatty acids profile of seed oils differs substantially from that of olive oil. A Salad Oil is only as good as the WORST of its blending components. Salad Oil is