Everyone always looks for the terms Extra Virgin. Unfortunately you cannot trust the term Extra Virgin until you follow the guidelines below:
- The term ‘Cold Pressed’ is a marketing ploy. All modern olive oil production uses acentrifuge method not an actual pressing method so look for the words ‘cold or mechanically extracted’ instead.
- Avoid the words “pure,” “natural” and “light” as they are misleading terms. However they do indicate that the oil has been chemically treated.
- Look for “made in Italy.” Avoid “imported, packed or bottled.” Also, don’t be taken in by Italian flags and scenes from the Tuscan countryside on the packaging.
- Look for a family or cooperative name and contact information. This means the oil is grown and produced from one family (or farm), not from a corporation that blends some olive oil with other cheaper seed oils.**
- Olives are the only ingredient in olive oil and should be listed as such on the label as ‘cultivars’. This is similar to when you are purchasing wine and look for the grape varietal.
- Look for a harvest date or best before date. Olive oil breaks downs. Avoid light, oxygen and heat. Keep in a cool, dark, dry place. Most oil producers give their product a maximum 2 year shelf life and bottle it in a dark bottle.
- Avoid bargain prices, because producing genuine extra virgin oil is expensive. Know your farmer.
- It takes 17-18 pounds of olives to produce one liter of olive oil. Think of how much it would cost you to purchase this many olives at your local supermarket olive bar, let alone all the labour, packaging and transportation needed to get the olive oil to you! Though high prices don’t guarantee great oil, low prices – under about $11 for a liter – strongly suggest that the oil you’re buying is inferior.
- Most importantly is taste. There are 700 varieties of olives and with every years’ harvest, the taste of olives will vary. Like wine, there are many different factors that determine the taste of olive oil. Good olive oil should be slightly bitter, pungent and peppery. These are usually indicators of the presence of healthful antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and other healthful “minor components.” Also, avoid oils that have no flavor.
After identifying all of the above, you can then look for Extra Virgin or Virgin.
Extra Virgin is the highest quality of olive oil - it has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams (0.8%). Extra virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries. This oil is typically derived from an unripe olive.
Virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 2 grams per 100 grams (2.0%). These olives are more mature and offer more of a sweeter, full bodied taste.
This is a very complex subject and I would suggest doing some further reading.
We carry Olearia San Giorgio Olive Oil products here at Cochran's.
**Most commonly, it seems, extra virgin oil is mixed with a lower grade olive oil, often not from the same country. Sometimes, another vegetable oil such as colza or canola is used. The resulting blend is then chemically coloured, flavoured and deodorised, and sold as extra-virgin to a producer.