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About Extra Virgin Olive Oil
GETTING ACCURATE INFO
There is a lot of misinformation and confusion about olive oil. The result is you standing in the aisle at the grocery store trying to discern bewildering labels. Is there a difference between virgin, extra virgin and cold pressed? Should you buy grassy, peppery or flavored? Should you use something different if you’re cooking with it versus using it in a dressing? What’s the difference between California, Spanish and Italian?
Olive This Olive That exists to answer questions, clarify confusion, and educate you about extra virgin olive oil.
A BASIC DEFINITION
For an olive oil to be extra virgin, which is the top grade, it must be made up of only olives and milled mechanically with close attention paid to temperature. Once milled, it must pass two tests: a chemical analysis and a sensory analysis.
The standards for the analysis are set by a recognized organization, such as the International Olive Oil Council or the California Olive Oil Council. The sensory analysis comprises a panel of trained tasters who first look for defects in the oil, such as rancidity or fustiness. If there are no defects, it is considered extra virgin. If there are defects, the oil will be downgraded to either virgin status, which is still fit for human consumption, or pomace, which is not. The lowest grade is lampante—this is generally reserved for oil that is used in oil lamps.
All of the California olive oils at Olive This Olive That have been certified by the Sensory Panel at California Olive Oil Council (COOC).
FRESH IS BEST
When it comes to describing and tasting olive oil, many of the terms used are similar to wine. The main difference is that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) should be consumed right away, not saved for a special occasion. Think of olive oil as a fresh fruit juice.
BITTERNESS, FRUITINESS AND PUNGENCY
Bitterness is not a bad thing when it comes to EVOO. Raw olive fruit is quite bitter, and this is the reason olives are cured in a saltwater brine: to pull the bitterness out. Depending on the varietal and other factors, the intensity of bitterness ranges from mild to robust. Our EVOOs are lined up just like you’d find at a wine tasting, with the softer ones on one end and the bolder ones on the other.
Fruitiness is detected in the aroma, so the first step in selecting an olive oil is to smell it. Next, look for ripe or green characteristics, such as tomato or artichoke leaves. After slurping the oil over your tongue and swallowing it, breathe out through your nose to create even more flavor. The olfactory (smell) glands are where most flavors are, in fact, “tasted.” This is the reason we can’t taste food when we have a stuffy nose. The ‘retronasal breathing’ creates the nuanced flavors: artichoke, tomato leaf, citrus, banana, butter or almond.
Pungency in olive oil is often referred to as “peppery” or “spicy.” Actually, this is a reaction in the throat to the phenols, or antioxidants, in the oil and not a flavor at all. In other words, pungency is really good for you! Milder olive oils have less intense pungency, and robust ones may make you cough. The higher the phenols, the stronger the olive oil and health benefits. The phenols also help to protect olive oil from oxidizing, just as they help keep the body healthy.
FLAVORED OLIVE OILS
Flavored olive oils are either fused or infused with citrus or herbs and they are technically not extra virgin because something other than olives has been added. We co-mill our citrus olive oils with the olives so the oils from the fruit rind are infused right into the olive oil. Herbs, on the other hand, are fused into the olive oil after the oil is milled.
TRANSPARENCY, AUTHENTICITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
At Olive This Olive That, we are passionate about transparency, authenticity and sustainability. These are the key factors we use when choosing our growers and producers. Through the COOC, we have had the opportunity to meet many small- and medium-size growers and millers. We build relationships with these growers and millers, visit their orchards and mills, and work directly with the families who farm the orchards.
Research has proved again and again that olive oil is good for you. Much has been written about the positive benefits of the Mediterranean Diet but, in short, the phenols in olive oil have antioxidants that help keep the body healthy. Olive oil can help protect the heart against cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol. It can also help prevent:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- skin cancer