Olive oil is simply freshly squeezed olive juice, nothing else.
The olive is a fruit that grows in the olive tree which is very common in the Mediterranean. Like any fruit, it grows once an year after the tree bears flowers. The fruit begins green (unripe) and then turns red and then black (fully ripe). Instead of watery juice, olives have oil (about 12% in each fruit) which can be collected by crushing it.
Olive oil is the only major edible oil that is consumed raw straight off the tree; all other major oils such as vegetable, rapeseed and sunflower come from seeds which need to go through the refining process in a factory so that the oil is extracted, which basically consists of treating the seeds with chemicals and very high temperatures. For this reason olive oil is so much tastier, fresher and healthier.
Other fats, such as butter, come from animals and thus have high levels of saturated fatty acids (commonly known as “bad fat”).
Not all olive oils are the same, depending on the production process and the quality of the olive used it falls into different categories. The most famous grade is called Extra Virgin, which indicates the highest quality. All other major grades such as Virgin Olive Oil or simply Olive Oil are very bad oil made from low quality fruit -often infested, fermented and rotten. However the Extra Virgin grade has long lost its meaning as it is fairly easy to achieve its criteria and dishonest producers falsely claim the Extra Virgin grade for low quality quality and often even counterfeit oil illegally mixed with seed oils.
Even among legit Extra Virgin olive oil, finding good oil is difficult because the vast majority is made from the overripe olive fruit (black olive) which is much cheaper to produce but in exchange produces an oil with a strong overripe flavour and has little nutritional value.
Only oil made from the unripe olive fruit (green olive) makes top quality olive oil, which is very delicious and healthy and is normally poured raw over food and is what helps people in the Mediterranean to indulge long healthy lives.
For those a little more obsessed about olive oil, additional expert knowledge follows
According to the International Olive Oil Council (IOC) olive oil is the oil obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea), to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds.
It is the natural juice from the olive fruit and as such preserves all of its aromas, taste, vitamins and properties. It is the only major vegetable oil that can be consumed directly raw (unlike other oils which need to go through chemical processes in a factory) and is the biggest exponent of healthy monounsaturated fat.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF OLIVE OIL
Olives have been an integral part of human development having coexisted for about 5000 to 6000 years, dating back to the Bronze Age.
Its origins come from the eastern Mediterranean Coast, what are now Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, and its spread around Europe is directly associated with human development as whenever the Romans expanded into uncharted territory, they would plant olive trees to provide for their new communities.
Today olive oil is used in most European restaurants and households as a frying medium but also a flavour enhancer when drizzled raw over food.
OLIVE OIL CLASSIFICATION
Olive oil is classified in several grades according to the production method applied, by its chemical composition and organoleptic characteristics. The IOC has the United Nations charter, under the resolution COI/T.15/NC no 3-25, to develop criteria for olive oil quality and purity standards. The IOC definition lists nine grades of olive oil into two primary categories.
Most countries adopt the IOC olive oil standards, where the Extra Virgin grade represents the highest quality. However the US and Australia are among the few large consumers that have not adopted the IOC definitions; the US adopts the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) definitions and Australia the Australia Olive Association (AOA) standards.
Although our oils are all within the Extra Virgin grade, we do not use this term as it has long lost its meaning due to being easy to achieve and falsely claimed by dishonest producers even when the oil does not classify since there is little law enforcement in this area.
Instead, we adopt our own term ‘Fine Olive Oil’ which refers to the highest quality bracket possible. To give you an idea of how slack the Extra Virgin grade is, for an oil to classify as Extra Virgin it must (among other criteria) have 0.8% or less of free acidity. Our oils have about 0.1%.
IOC OLIVE OIL GRADES
Olive oil is the oil obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes and any other mixture of other oils. Depending upon whether the oil is extracted from the olive first press or the pulp residue, it is classified as either olive oil or olive-pomace oil respectively. The following grades belong to this category:
Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil is obtained from the olive fruit solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal, that do not lead to alterations in the oil and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration. Those fit for human consumption are as follows:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest quality grade of olive oil; with flavours of fresh, crisp, clean, fruity olive oil. It feels substantial in the mouth and is not greasy. It has a nice fruity flavour with pleasant bitterness, pungency and astringency. The oil must contain less than 0.8% free fatty acidity (measured mostly as oleic acid), zero defects, greater than zero positive attributes and other specification summarised at the end of this section (FELIPE MATTEI only works with the very best of this category).
Virgin Olive Oil
With respect to analytical and sensory indices, this oil is of slight lower quality than EVOO. It must have defects from 0 to 2.5, free acidity less than 2% and conform to all other standards in this grade.
Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil
This is an inferior grade which is no longer permitted to be bottled under EU laws and so it is sent for refining or is simply placed in the Lampante category explained below. It displays notable defects from 2.5 to 6.0, free acidity smaller than 3.3% and conforms to other standards in this grade.
Lampante Olive Oil
This oil comes from bad fruit (infested or spoiled) or from improper handling and processing and thus is not fit for human consumption. It presents greater than 6.0 defects or free acidity greater than 3.3% and conforms to other standards in this grade.
Refined Olive Oil
This is inferior quality grade oil, often not fit for human consumption, which is obtained from virgin or lampante olive oils by refining methods that do not alter the glyceride structure. The refining process usually consists of treating the oil with sodium hydroxide to neutralise the free acidity, washing, drying, odour removal, colour removal and filtration. During the process, the oil is heated to as high as 220oC under vacuum to remove all volatile components. As a result, refined oil is usually odourless, tasteless, colourless and has less than 0.3% free acidity.
Olive oil is a blend of refined and unrefined virgin oils. It presents a free acidity smaller than 1% and conforms to other specification within this grade.
IOC OLIVE POMACE OIL GRADES
Olive-pomace oil is obtained from the pulp residue remaining after the fruit has been crushed by treating it with solvents. This category does not include oils obtained by re-esterification processes or any mixture with other types of oils (e.g. seed or nuts oils) (Vossen, 2007b). The following grades fit within this category:
Crude Olive-Pomace Oil
This is solvent extracted oil that comes from the pomace after distillation to separate and recover the solvent. It contains 300-350 mg/kg of waxes and aliphatic alcohols above 350 mg/kg and is not fit for human consumption but is intended for refining.
Refined Olive-Pomace Oil
Oil obtained from crude olive-pomace oil by refining methods that do not alter the glyceride structure. It has a free acidity of not more than 0.3%.
This oil tastes greasy and possibly cooked and is fit for human consumption; it consists of a blend of refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oil. It shows free acidity level of not more than 1% and conforms to other standards within this grade. It is worth noting that this grade should not be called olive oil.
USDA OLIVE OIL GRADES
The US is not a member and as such the IOC grades do not have legal meaning in the country; as such, terms such as ‘extra virgin’ can be used without any legal restriction. The USDA determines four grades of olive oil based on acidity, absence/presence of defects, odour and flavour:
US Grade A or US Fancy
Olive oil with free fatty acid content ≤ 1.4% and “free from defects”.
US Grade B or US Choice
Free fatty acid content of ≤ 2.5% and “reasonably free of defects”.
US Grade C or US Standard
Free fatty acid content of ≤ 3.0% and is “fairly free from defects”.
US Grade D or US Substandard
Free fatty acid content of ≤ 3.0% and “fails to meet the requirements of the US Grade C.
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IOOC, 2012. Designations and definitions of olive oils. [online] Available at: http://www.internationaloliveoil.org/estaticos/view/83-designations-and-definitions-of-olive-oils [Accessed 11 September 2012].
Mattas, K., Baourakis, G. (2006): “Supply chain analysis of the olive oil market in the EU (Case studies for the Netherlands and Germany)”, Market and trade policies for the Mediterranean Agriculture: The case of fruit/vegetable and olive oil (Medfrol Project).
Vossen, P. (2007). “International Olive Council (IOC) and California Trade Standards for Olive Oil.” University of California, Cooperative Extension, US.
Vossen, P., (2007), Olive Oil: History, Production, and Characteristics of the World’s Classic Oils, HortScience, Vol. 42(5).