Defining Olive Oil Quality
Olive oil 101
U.S. Olive oil grades and quality
Knowing about which grades of quality are safest for your health is an essential first step in making a correct choice of olive oil. The denominations of the olive oil grades are U.S. official, the comments are personal. In Europe we use slightly different denominations, but the quality story is very much the same.
U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
This is the highest quality grade of olive oil*. It has to be obtained by mechanical means from the paste of perfectly healthy olives by pressing or extraction at a temperature lower than 27º C. (80.6º F)**. The natural acidity (the amount of free fatty acids expressed as a percentage of oleic acid) of the oil may not exceed 0.8°. Unfortunately, only the chemical requirements can be scientifically determined, but taste is considered personal. After every harvest, Can Solivera also submits samples of all EVOO’s to the official olive oil tasting grand jury of the Catalonian Department of Agriculture (a panel consisting of 29 judges). After 17 years they were never wrong!
U.S. Virgin Olive Oil (VOO)
This is a lower grade olive oil, but still edible. It may be obtained by mechanical means from the paste of almost healthy olives by pressing or extraction at a temperature lower than 27º C. (80.6º F)** . The natural acidity (the amount of free fatty acids expressed as a percentage of oleic acid) of the oil may not exceed 2.0°. The taste may have slight imperfections.
U.S. Crude Lampante Virgin Olive Oil
This is the lowest grade olive oil, not fit for human consumption. The natural acidity will be 2.0 or higher. The taste will be rancid or foul due to oxidation (e.g. old olive oil) or contamination (e.g. derived from infected or maltreated fruits). In medieval times, this oil was used for burning in lamps. Nowadays it is used as the raw material for producing refined lampante virgin olive oil.
U.S. Refined Lampante Virgin Olive Oil
This olive oil is produced in a chemical refinery from Crude Lampante Virgin Olive Oil, undergoing up to 5 different chemical treatments called: Gumming, Neutralizing, Fading, Deodorizing and Winterizing. Most valuable natural vitamins and anti-oxidants, naturally occurring in Virgin olive oil, are lost in the process or removed and sold separately to the pharmaceutical industry. The end product is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It is a clear liquid with an acidity level of less than 0.2º.
U.S. Refined Olive Pomace Oil
This olive oil is produced by a chemical distillery from olive oil containing material such as the semi-solid olive cake left in the centrifuge after extraction called “pomace” and even saturated filter sand. These are mixed first with a petroleum solvent such as hexane and then the oil is recovered by a distillation process before applying deodorization and other chemical treatments such as mentioned above. Like Lampante Virgin Olive Oil, the Refined Olive Pomace Oil is totally colorless, odorless and tasteless and is a clear olive oil with an almost 0 level of acidity. The most valuable natural vitamins and anti-oxidants, occurring naturally in virgin olive oils, are removed and sold separately to the pharmaceutical industry. What’s more: due to the very high temperatures (up to 350º C./662º F), inherent to the refining processes, a totally new chemical compound is created called “Benzo(alpha)pyrene” (BaP) which is known to be carcinogenic and very costly to totally clean up in the end product. In recent years E.U. authorities set a legal limit of max. 2 microg kg of BaP in food for human consumption**. Refined Olive Oils are the olive oils of choice for the fish canning industry and producers of infused “aromatic” olive oils e.g. with garlic, rosemary, basil, herbs, etc., because of its low cost and the undiminished capacity of olive oil to readily absorb foreign flavors.
U.S. Olive Oil
This is olive oil consisting of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils fit for human consumption without further processing (typical mix ratio is 85/15). It may have an acidity of up to 1.0%. It usually has a pale green color and a slight scent of olives. Producers in the U.S. are allowed to restore the natural vitamin E content of virgin olive oil lost during the process by a synthetic substitute up to 200mg/kg. You will find this olive oil in the lower end supermarkets. Beware: words on the label of a container such as 'pure', 'light', 'classic', 'delicate', 'fine' or 'soft' come from a producer’s imagination and offer no legal guarantee whatsoever as to the quality of the content.
*Within the realm of Extra Virgin Olive Oils there are many more quality differences. But these – like with good wines - have to do with taste, not health.
**This maximum temperature is an E.U. requirement when cold pressing or extracting virgin olive oils.
***Most seed oils such as derived from, corn, sunflower, peanut and rape seed have the same problem with BaP.
Hans de Roos,