In ancient Greece, winning athletes were awarded olive oil, which probably would’ve been disappointing if they’d been hoping for a gold medal. But as you drizzle that glorious green liquid onto your salad, you’ll realize that it’s far more precious than gold – it’s the liquid embodiment of good health and delicious flavor.
Olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), is an essential component of a healthy diet due to its richness in monounsaturated fats, notably oleic acid, and beneficial antioxidants like vitamin E and phenolic compounds. Its monounsaturated fats are linked to reduced inflammation and improved heart health, while its antioxidants help prevent cellular damage from free radicals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Notably, EVOO’s phenolic compound, oleocanthal, demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen, which may help combat diseases linked to chronic inflammation. In addition, olive oil is associated with improved heart and brain health, contributing to lower blood pressure, protected LDL particles from oxidation, improved blood vessel lining, and potentially reduced risk of neurological disorders.
Choosing the healthiest olive oil involves understanding several key factors, which are:
- Type of Olive Oil: Always look for “extra virgin” olive oil. EVOO is considered the highest quality and the healthiest type of olive oil because it’s produced from the first cold pressing of the olives. This process involves only mechanical methods, without the use of chemicals or excessive heat, which helps to maintain the rich flavor, aroma, and a high level of antioxidants and nutrients that olive oil is known for.
On the other hand, olive oils labeled as “pure” or “light” have undergone processing methods like heat or chemical refining, which can degrade the quality and nutritional content of the oil. These types of olive oil will often have a lighter flavor and color, hence the name “light,” but they also have fewer health benefits compared to EVOO. So when choosing olive oil, going for extra virgin is generally the best option for both health and taste.
Look for labels that say “extra virgin,” as this is the highest quality olive oil. Avoid anything that says “light,” “pure,” or just “olive oil,” as these are not extra virgin.
- Origin: Choose olive oil that comes from a single origin, ideally from countries renowned for their olive oil, such as Italy, Greece, Spain, or Portugal.
The origin of the olive oil can tell you a lot about its quality. Countries like Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal have long histories and strict regulations when it comes to olive oil production, which often translates to higher quality products.
Choosing an olive oil from a single origin (a single country or even a specific region within a country) often means that the olives were all grown in the same general conditions, which can result in a more consistent flavor profile and quality. When a bottle lists multiple countries of origin, it usually means that the olives were sourced from multiple places and then mixed together. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can sometimes indicate that the manufacturer was choosing olives based on price rather than on quality.
Additionally, some high-quality olive oils will even tell you the exact estate or farm where the olives were grown. This level of detail is usually a good sign that the producers care about quality and transparency. Therefore, when choosing an olive oil, it’s beneficial to pay attention to its origin.
- Harvest Date: Unlike wines, olive oil does not improve with age. The fresher, the better. Always check the harvest date on the label. A good rule of thumb is to use olive oil within 18 months of its harvest date.
The freshness of olive oil is crucial for both its taste and its nutritional value. Unlike wine, olive oil does not age well. Over time, exposure to light, heat, and air can degrade the oil’s flavors and health-promoting nutrients.
The harvest date on a bottle of olive oil tells you when the olives were picked and crushed. This is generally considered a better indicator of freshness than a “best by” date, since the oil’s degradation depends heavily on how it’s been stored. The harvest date can often be found somewhere on the label, though it may be small or somewhat hidden. Not all brands include the harvest date on their labels, but many high-quality oils do.
Once you’ve opened a bottle of olive oil, aim to use it up within a few months. Even with perfect storage conditions—sealed tightly, kept in a cool and dark place—the oil’s quality will gradually decline after opening. It won’t necessarily become harmful or dangerous to consume after this point, but for the best taste and the highest level of nutrients, fresher is definitely better.
- Packaging: Olive oil should be packaged in dark-colored glass or tin containers to protect it from light, which can degrade the oil over time. Avoid olive oil in clear glass or plastic bottles.
The packaging of olive oil plays a significant role in preserving its quality, flavor, and nutritional properties. Light is one of the major factors that can degrade olive oil by accelerating oxidation, which negatively impacts its flavor and nutritional value.
Dark glass bottles or tin containers help protect the olive oil from light exposure. Clear glass bottles do not offer this protection, and plastic can potentially leach chemicals into the oil over time. Therefore, always look for olive oil packaged in dark glass bottles or tins.
Moreover, the oil should be stored in a cool, dark place even after purchase to prolong its freshness. This is because, in addition to light, heat can also degrade the oil. With these considerations in mind, you can ensure that the olive oil you consume retains its quality and health benefits for as long as possible.
- Certifications: Certifications from reputable bodies like the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) or local organizations like the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) are important indicators of the quality of the olive oil.
These organizations have established stringent standards to define what qualifies as extra virgin olive oil, including chemical composition and sensory characteristics. When an olive oil has been certified by these organizations, it means that the oil has been tested and meets these standards.
For example, the IOOC standards require that EVOO has a free acidity (expressed as oleic acid) of no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams, among other standards. The COOC has similar standards and additionally requires sensory evaluations by trained panelists.
In the European Union, there are several bodies that oversee the certification of agricultural products, including olive oil. These are some of the main ones:
- International Olive Council (IOC): While not strictly an EU body, the IOC is an intergovernmental organization based in Madrid, Spain. It sets international quality standards for the olive oil industry, which are widely used in the EU and globally.
- European Food Safety Authority (EFSA): The EFSA provides independent scientific advice and communicates on existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain, including olive oil.
- Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI): These are EU schemes to protect the names of regional foods. Olive oil certified as PDO or PGI comes from a particular area and has been produced, processed and prepared in that area.
- EU Organic Certification: This certifies that the olives were grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics, or growth hormones.
When shopping for olive oil, especially in Europe, you may see seals or logos from these organizations on the packaging. These labels are a good indicator of the quality and authenticity of the product. For example, a PDO or PGI certification means that the olive oil has a specific geographical origin and meets high-quality standards. The EU Organic Certification, meanwhile, ensures that the olive oil was produced using organic farming methods.
- Taste and Smell: High-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has a distinct flavor profile that is fresh, fruity, and slightly bitter and spicy. These characteristics are largely due to the presence of various health-promoting antioxidants and other compounds in the oil. The bitterness is generally due to the presence of polyphenols, antioxidants that are beneficial to health, while the peppery or spicy finish often indicates the presence of oleocanthal, another potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
On the other hand, if the olive oil has a musty, rancid, or overly greasy taste, it might indicate that the oil is old, has been improperly stored, or is of inferior quality. Other off-flavors can include a wine or vinegar-like taste (indicating fermentation), a cardboard taste (indicating oxidation), or a mud-like taste (which can indicate that the olives were poorly cleaned before pressing).
The best way to discern these qualities is to taste the oil directly – a small sip straight from a spoon, for instance. You can then take note of the flavor and aroma notes as you would with wine. This kind of tasting can really help you appreciate the complexity and quality of good olive oil.
- Storage: Storing your olive oil properly is crucial to preserving its quality, flavor, and nutritional properties. Here are a few tips to keep in mind: Light and Heat: Exposure to light and heat can cause olive oil to degrade or oxidize, leading to a loss of flavor and nutritional value. Therefore, it should be stored in a cool, dark place. Avoid storing it near the stove or oven, or anywhere else it might be exposed to heat. Air: Olive oil should also be protected from air, which can also lead to oxidation. Keep the bottle tightly sealed when not in use. Timing: While olive oil doesn’t immediately spoil or become dangerous to consume after a certain point, its quality will gradually decline over time. It’s generally best to use olive oil within six months of opening it for optimal taste and nutrition.
Remember, even the highest-quality extra virgin olive oil won’t maintain its optimal flavor and nutritional benefits forever, no matter how well it’s stored. So it’s a good idea not to buy in extreme bulk unless you’re sure you’ll use it all within a reasonable period.
The Nutritional Value and Regulatory Standards of EVOO
Here are some general nutrition facts for a standard serving size of 1 tablespoon (around 13.5 grams):
- Calories: Approximately 119 Kcal
- Total fat: Approximately 13.5 grams, primarily monounsaturated fat, with smaller amounts of polyunsaturated and saturated fat
- Sodium: 0 milligrams
- Carbohydrates: 0 grams
- Protein: 0 grams
- Vitamin E: Approximately 1.9 milligrams (10% of the Daily Value, DV)
- Vitamin K: Approximately 8.1 micrograms (10% of the DV)
These qualities make it a good fit for the macronutrient distribution of the ketogenic diet. In addition, the fats in EVOO can help you feel full and satisfied, which can be beneficial for managing hunger on a ketogenic diet.
EVOO does not contain cholesterol, and it is also a good source of antioxidants, including oleocanthal, a compound that has been linked to reduced inflammation, and oleuropein, a powerful antioxidant found in olives.
In order to be classified as EVOO, the oil must meet certain criteria set by regulatory bodies like the International Olive Council (IOC) and the European Union (EU). These criteria include both chemical properties and sensory (taste and smell) characteristics:
- Free Acidity: EVOO should have a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams (0.8%).
- Peroxide Value: This should be no more than 20 milliequivalents of active oxygen per kilogram of oil.
- Sensory Profile: EVOO should have a “defect-free” taste and smell, and exhibit characteristics of olives.
- Other Factors: Various other factors, such as the UV absorption of the oil, are also considered in the classification.
Finally, EVOO should be entirely produced by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that do not degrade the oil (less than 27°C, or 80.6°F, often referred to as “cold-pressed”). Regulations can vary somewhat by country and organization, so it’s important to look for certification from a reputable source when buying EVOO.
EVOO Producers in Europe
Extra virgin olive oil is produced in several regions across Europe, and there are many renowned producers. Here are some of the most reputable producers from a few of these regions:
- Frantoio Muraglia: This family-run business from Puglia uses traditional methods and olives from their own groves to create their highly-regarded EVOOs.
- Laudemio Frescobaldi: The Frescobaldi family has been producing olive oil in Tuscany for over 1,000 years. Their EVOO is considered top-notch and is often used by chefs worldwide.
- Castillo de Canena: This family business from Andalusia is named after their family castle, and they have been involved in olive oil production since 1780.
- Marques de Griñon: Located in Toledo, the company’s oil is made from olives harvested at the peak of ripeness, cold-pressed, and bottled immediately to preserve freshness and quality.
- Gaea: Founded in 1995, Gaea produces some of Greece’s finest EVOOs. Their oils often receive international recognition for their superior quality.
- Ladolea: Based in the northern Peloponnese, this small company produces EVOO in traditional pottery jars, following an ancient local tradition.
- Esporão: This company produces a variety of food products, including high-quality EVOOs. Their oils are made from olives grown on their estate in the Alentejo region.
- CARM: Companhia Agricola Roboredo Madeira (CARM) is a family business that’s been producing EVOO in the Douro region for several generations.
- Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille: This mill in Provence has been producing olive oil since 1924 and is known for its superior quality EVOO.
- Château d’Estoublon: Located in the Alpilles, their EVOO is organic, made from olives grown on their own estate, and is often awarded for its exceptional quality.
EVOO Producers in the US and Canada
Extra Virgin Olive Oil production in North America may not have the centuries-old tradition found in Europe, but there are still many quality producers in both the United States and Canada. Here are some of the most well-known:
- California Olive Ranch: Located in California, which is the center of American olive oil production, this company has won numerous awards for their EVOOs.
- McEvoy Ranch: This California-based producer offers a variety of EVOOs, some of which are made from organic olives.
- Corto Olive Co: Another prominent Californian producer, Corto Olive Co produces a range of olive oils, including some highly-regarded EVOOs.
- Texas Olive Ranch: While California dominates the US olive oil market, other states such as Texas also produce quality EVOOs. Texas Olive Ranch is one such producer.
- Georgia Olive Farms: This is a cooperative of growers and producers that helped to reintroduce olive cultivation to the southern United States. Their EVOO is highly praised for its quality.
- Domenica Fiore: This company owns olive groves in Italy but is based in Vancouver, Canada. Their EVOOs have won several international awards.
- Olivo Fresco: They produce EVOO from their olive groves located in Greece but operate in Ontario, Canada. They offer a range of olive oils that are highly-regarded for their quality.
- Salt Spring Island Olive Oil Company: This small producer is based on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia and is one of the few places in Canada where olives can be grown commercially.
- Aurora Importing and Distributing: This Mississauga, Ontario based company imports a variety of Italian food products, including some quality EVOOs.
Please note that while olive trees can grow in certain regions of Canada, the climate isn’t generally ideal for large-scale commercial olive oil production. Many Canadian companies therefore import olives or olive oil, often from their own groves in more Mediterranean climates.
EVOO Producers in the Rest of the World
Apart from Europe, the U.S., and Canada, some other regions also produce high-quality EVOO. Here are some notable producers from these regions:
- Cobram Estate: Australia’s largest olive oil producer, Cobram Estate, has won many awards for their EVOOs.
- Boundary Bend Olives: Known for their “Red Island” and “Cape Schanck” brands, they are one of Australia’s leading producers of EVOO.
- Olave: Based in the central valley of Chile, Olave offers an excellent range of EVOOs made from a variety of olive types.
- Deleyda: An award-winning EVOO producer that has received global recognition for their products.
- Lauquita: Lauquita produces their EVOO in the Mendoza wine region, a high-altitude location ideal for cultivating olives.
- Solfrut: This company has been growing olives in the Andean foothills since the 1940s, with their olive oils regularly gaining international recognition.
- Rio Largo Olive Estate: Situated in the Scherpenheuwel valley between Worcester and Robertson in the Western Cape of South Africa, Rio Largo has been awarded numerous local and international awards for their EVOO.
- Morgenster Estate: Their EVOO has received high ratings and awards in the Flos Olei, a prestigious international competition.
- Rangihoua Estate: This estate on Waiheke Island is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most respected EVOO producers.
- Olives New Zealand: They offer EVOOs from various estates around the country, ensuring the quality with their certification program.
So go forth, arm yourself with knowledge and your palate, and conquer the world of olive oil. May the EVOO be with you!
The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. The content presented on this website should be considered solely as opinions and personal experiences. Read more