What does the term “Extra virgin olive oil” really mean?

When it comes to olive oil, one question often asked is about the terms ‘virgin’ or ‘extra virgin’ and just what they really mean. Compared to a product labeled simply “olive oil” These terms have very specific meaning and relate to the way the oil is produced and should be used.

You can think of extra virgin and virgin olive oil, as fresh fruit juice, produced simply by crushing olives. Virgin olive oil is the only cooking oil made without the use of chemicals and industrial refining. Extra virgin olive oil is the most premium pf this category.

The term “first cold pressed” is often used and displayed prominently on bottles of extra virgin olive oil, but by definition, extra virgin olive oil must be “cold” extracted which really means that it can’t be heated, nor can solvents be added to the fruit pulp to yield more oil.

While the term “first cold pressed” is typically used, it is far more common in modern, efficient production facilities to extract the oil through spinning in a centrifuge rather than actually pressing, which is considered by many to be antiquated and less efficient.

The first oil extracted is the highest quality and has the lowest acidity. Later, virgin olive oil is produced, then many producers will treat the remaining olive pulp with chemicals to extract what is referred to as simply ‘olive oil’, then finally ‘olive pomace oil’ is produced through even further processing.

The acidity levels of the oil is one of the key determining factors in the grade it receives. Extra virgin olive oil contains no more than 0.8% free acidity and is judged to have a superior taste, having a fruity flavor and no defined sensory defects.

Virgin olive oil is of slightly lower quality, with free acidity of up to 1.5%, and has good taste, but according to experts, may have some sensory defects.

In short, extra virgin tastes better than virgin, hits higher scores in terms of its chemical composition and it has more nutrients. Refined olive oil, while having a very low acidity, has virtually no taste as these elements are lost in the filtering process. Later, extra virgin olive oil is often added to refined olive oil to produce a product marketed as “Pure olive oil” or simply “olive oil”.

Apart from the production and acidity requirements, classification as extra virgin specifically, requires specific taste components as judged by olive oil tasting experts.

Fruitiness, bitterness and pungency are the three areas assessed.

A fruity oil is described as having the pleasant spicy fruit flavor characteristic of fresh ripe or green olives. Fruitiness also varies with the variety of olive, of which there are hundreds.

Typically more mature olives yield oils that are milder, aromatic, buttery, and floral, while greener, younger olives produces a grassier, stronger tasting oil.

Pungency refers to the peppery sensation in the mouth and throat. Most high antioxidant extra virgin olive oils give this peppery sensation.

We hope you’ve find this description of different grades of olive oil interesting and useful!

 

Happy sizzling and drizzling!

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