It is your usual shopping afternoon in your local market and it is that time you are just about ready to go through the olive oil alley in order to buy what you hope will be a great quality olive oil in order to put on your table. It is one of these confusing shopping times when one can feel overwhelmed by the variety of choices and availability of olive oils from all over the world. We, olive oil producing countries, like to brag that we produce the best olive oil in the world and knowing that makes the choice even harder for a consumer that does not originate from any of these countries. So how do we approach an olive oil purchase and what should we look for when we want to buy olive oil for our daily meals?
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (EVOO)
The first thing to always look for is the phrase EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL. By using this term Olive Oil producers inform us about the quality of the olive oil. What it basically means is that the product in the container has all the right characteristics in terms of chemical composition, as well as, its taste. This means that the olive oil produced is the result of proper agricultural treatment, proper production practices, as well as, proper storage. In other words, when we choose an EVOO we ensure that we buy olive oil that will offer us it’s full nutritional potential and a character that will include all those characteristics we expect based on the olive variety it is made out of.
*Mythbuster: Stop chasing olive oils based on their acidity. If your olive oil is an EXTRA VIRGIN one, then by law it has to be with an acidity lower than 0,8%. Because olive oil is not water dissolvable this means the acidity of the olive oil does not refer to its PH and hence it is not traceable in the mouth. Therefore buying an olive oil with 0,3 acidity as opposed to 0,5% acidity. You will not be able to understand the difference with regards to its acidity. If you buy EVOO then the acidity is within the right limits. Focus on how it tastes instead. It is a real shame to miss a very tasty very fruity olive oil because its acidity was higher than what we think it should be.
COLD EXTRACTED or COLD PRESSED
These two terms refer to the production method used in order to produce olive oil. However, there are often misconceptions regarding the two. Cold Extraction refers to the industrial method of producing olive oil with the use of centrifuge force, while Cold Pressed refers to the more traditional method of olive oil making and is done with the use of a press. This does not imply that one method is better than the other. It is just different. However, it is important to know that there are often misuses of the term even within the industry. Yet, when either of the terms is mentioned it is evidence for the proper means of olive oil production.
*Mythbuster: Sometimes there is an understandable confusion on the use of the term First Cold Press, as opposed to the term Cold Press. There is no first, second or third press when it comes to EVOO. For olive oil to be Extra Virgin we need the production of olive oil, whether pressed or extracted, in temperatures that will not exceed 27 Celcius or 89 Fahrenheit. Anything else does not fall under the EVOO classification. Therefore, if you buy an Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it cannot be the production of a second cold press.
Olive oil is a fresh juice and as such it has the flavor of the fruit it comes from. Just as with the case of different grapes giving you different flavors of wine, different olives will give you different flavors of olive oil. This is why it is very important to pay attention to which variety of olives gives you the olive oil you like the most. Some olives give you more aromatic and intense olive oil, while others offer a more robust aroma yet they are milder in their flavor. In some cases, we have blends of more than one varieties where one olive taste and aromatic profile complements another. Imagine that there are over 500 different varieties of olive oil cultivates around the world. So make sure you pick those that match your diet the most!
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Just as with the case of varieties, the country of production has equal importance when it comes to picking olive oil. Each country has a different climate, which subsequently means different micro-climates within the same geographical region. There are different soils, different amounts of rain per year, different farming demands to name just a few. Add the culinary traditions and the food flavors that each country has and it becomes very evident that the place of origin has a significance regarding the flavors each olive oil has. Perhaps it is easier to borrow a wine term which is the terroir. Perhaps this is a trait that takes time to get used to enough to pay extra attention to it, however it has a significance that it will surprise your pallet every time more and more.
Dates when it comes to Olive Oil are very important. As a fresh product, olive oil has a specific and relatively limited shelf life. It does not last forever. By that, we mean that the nutritional value and the flavor characteristics of the olive oil do not last forever. The longer it sits, the worst it gets. Especially when it is stored in conditions that do not favor it such as sunlight and heat. Paying attention to the date at the back makes is then a very important element when one is choosing what olive oil to buy. Usually, olive oil dates refer to either the harvest date or the expiry date. When a bottle of olive oil sits closed in proper storage conditions it can last up to 18 months. However, once the bottle is opened and oxygen starts to blend with the olive oil its life drops to up to 6 to maximum 8 months. Overall the harvest date is preferred than the expiry date since the producer might have olive oil standing in the tanks for a longer period of time. In any case, when the shelf life of the olive oil is over we should not discard it. Instead, we can use it for non-edible purposes such as cosmetics, soap, storage etc.
There are other elements to look for when you buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil but going through them will make the process of choosing olive oil a small hell, rather than a fun process. The more one gets involved with this magnificent product, the more one finds out and to the more one pays attention. Training and exposure to the product will make the choice easier. Perhaps the most important note to keep in mind is to look for olive oil that if it matches the quality standards, is the one that matches your pallet and cuisine the most! One that will complement your diet and bring flavor to your culinary creations.