Olive oil production in the Mediterranean basin dates back to at least 2500 BC, though domestication of the olive tree probably happened much earlier. This luscious oil has been used in everything from lamp fuel and body moisturizer to cooking ever since.
Whether you’re wondering, “Is olive oil good for you?” or just interested in finding the best olive oil, read on for our helpful oil-choosing tips.
Olive Oil Taste
Like wine, top-quality virgin olive oil sports a surprising number of flavors. It can taste spicy, peppery, buttery, floral, herbal, or nutty–or a combination of these. These flavors depend on the growing conditions and location of the olive grove.
It’s hard to tell a quality olive oil just by looking at it. You need first to use your nose and then your tongue. An olive oil worth buying should taste “clean” on your palette rather than waxy. The flavors should be subtle; intense flavors may indicate the oil is rancid (it’s gone off).
If possible, shop for your olive oil in a place that lets you try before you buy. You can practice your tasting skills and ensure you get the oil you like the flavor of.
Olive Oil Grades
Most people think they should choose only extra-virgin olive oil for their table. However, did you know there are actually numerous grades of olive oil? They’re categorized by the level of acidity in the oil–the lower, the better.
The grades include:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Virgin olive oil
- Pure olive oil
- Olive oil
- Pomace oil
- Lampante oil
Only about 10 percent of the olive made in oil-producing countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain is extra-virgin olive oil. It should contain less than 0.8 percent acidity, and the flavor is distinctive to the area in which the olives are grown. Virgin olive oil has no more than 1.5 percent acidity, while olive oil typically has less than 2 percent.
Acidity doesn’t affect olive oil calories. Pomace and lampante oil are the lowest grade olive oils, with lampante oil made for use in oil lamps and industry.
Just as terroir is an essential factor in winemaking, it is in olive oil production. Where the olives are grown, in what soil, surrounded by what climate, and feed with what agricultural inputs make for varying tasting oils.
Almost all the olive oil produced today comes from the Mediterranean (with a few exceptions, such as Australia). However, some olive groves are hundreds of years old, and growers carefully maintain the plants using ancient spacing and pruning techniques.
Processing Olive Oil
Olive oil production is a meticulous process. In the very finest olive groves, olives are still picked by hand using a traditional comb and net method. The net stops the olives from falling to the ground and bruising, causing extra bitterness.
In other more industrialized groves, olives are collected using harvesters. However, these farms produce low-quality oil.
The olives are then pressed, either by crushing them or using a centrifuge. A single pressing results in extra virgin olive oil. After pressing, a maker filters their olive oil–a necessary step for keeping pour spouts sediment free.
Finding the Best Olive Oil for You
When it comes to the best olive oil, throw away ideas of olive oil nutrition. While olive oil has proven health benefits, it’s better to choose oil for how you want to use it and, most importantly, how it tastes. Sample as many brands as you can to find your preferences.
Curious to dive deeper into the world of food? Read the other delicious articles on our blog.