One of the most useful oils is olive oil. There are several grades of olive oil available at supermarkets. But do you know which one do you need and whether you are over-spending on your olive oil?
Olive oil is a very nutritive multipurpose oil. You may be aware how it is used in cooking, salad dressings, hair mask and as an effective moisturizer for dry skin as well as cuticles. It contains mono-saturated fats that help control cholesterol levels and make your heart stronger. You would be aiming at getting your hands on to the best variety of oil available. But, you would be surprised to learn how you have misunderstood the labels on your bottle of olive oil. To help you make the right decisions the next time you are on your supermarket aisle, I have explained the grading system here.
Olive oil is extracted from the Olea Europaea or the olive tree, a primary crop grown in Mediterranean regions of the world. The finest crops of olive are cultivated in Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey and California, accounting for 85% of world olive oil production, of which the Italian variety is the most sought after. However, the process of extraction may or may not take place in these countries or olives may be imported from other countries to extract oil. So, if your bottle of olive oil reads ‘Italian’, it is not necessarily obtained from olives grown in Italy.
The method with which oil has been extracted out of the ripe olives is of great significance as it determines the quality of the oil produced.
- Pressing: It is the traditional method that was used to extract olive oil. Here, olives were crushed with stones and pulp was pressed to derive oil from it. Oil extracted by physical means with no additives is generally referred to as being a ‘virgin’ oil.
- Refining: It uses chemicals to extract olive oil. This may improve the taste, neutralize the odor and increases acidity. Hence, it is of poorer quality as compared to cold pressed oil.
The International Olive Oil Council or IOOC has developed a system that classifies olive oil into the following grades. However, you must note that the United States is not a member of IOOC. This means that the olive oil exported to the country is not manufactured according to the stringent system of the IOOC and the labels may freely use the words ‘extra virgin’ without restrictions. Hence, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supervises and regulates the system of grading in the country.
Grades of Olive Oil, 1948
Based on the oil’s color, odor, acidity and taste, the Standard for Grades of Olive Oil, established in 1948, grades olive oil into the following categories.
|Grade||Characteristics||Acidity (omega 9)||Quality and Odor|
|Grade A/ U.S. Fancy||– Zero defects||Oleic acid < 1.4/100 g||Score > 90 pts|
|Grade B/ U.S. Choice||– Almost no defects
– Reasonably meets regulations
– Good odor and taste
|Oleic acid < 2.5/100 g||Score > 80 pts|
|Grade C/ U.S. Standard||– Fairly meets regulations||Oleic acid < 3/100 g||Score > 70 pts|
|Grade D/ U.S. Sub-standard||– All oils that fail to meet at least Grade C are classified under this category.|
Grades of Olive Oil, 2010
These oils bear a yellow to green color and are mostly Spanish imports to U.S. However, it revised its system of grading which has been effective since 24th October 2010.
|U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It’s the purest form of olive oil available and, thus, also the most expensive variety. It is the first oil produced from the cold pressing of olives. It is fresh, clean, clear and fruity. Contains zero defects. Its characteristics are a result of fruit maturity. Deep to golden green in color. Use only for salad dressing. Due to its low heating point, loses flavor at higher temperatures.
U.S. Virgin Olive Oil
U.S. Lamp-ante Olive Oil
U.S. Olive Oil
U.S. Refined Olive Oil
U.S. Olive Pomace Oil
U.S. Refined Olive Pomace Oil
Olive Oil Glossary
The following are terms that you will often find on the label of any olive oil:
|Cold-pressed: Extraction Method wherein no heat was used. Absolute poo-poo. Heat is required for pressing and extracting oil from the olives.
Light: Does not signify lesser calories. It is an indication of the flavor. More expensive.
100% Pure Olive Oil: It is absolutely not a virgin oil. Please Note: Does not mention the word ‘virgin’.
Hand-picked olives: Implies plenty of care that was taken while selecting ripe olives for extraction. Such oil is generally good quality.
First press: This is the best quality olive oil and generally extra virgin as the olives were pressed only once in the oil production process.
Packaged in: The most crucial detail while reading the olive oil’s bottle. It does not imply the country in which the olives were grown. For example, they may have been grown in Australia and ‘packaged in’ Italy.
Product of: Same as the above. The oil was ‘processed’ in the country it is the ‘product of’.
Beware of Adulteration
However, you must beware of adulteration tactics used by many Mediterranean companies, especially those based in Italy as the laws regulating the grading are not compulsory to be followed over there. One such adulteration technique is to use cheap dyes in sunflower or rapeseed oil and sell it as olive oil at expensive rates. It is not always mentioned on the label whether the olive oil is blended with other types of oils such as, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil. Such oil is also not preferred for culinary uses. To check the authenticity of your olive oil, take a whiff. Yes, as the taste can be easily manipulated, the real aroma of olive oil is difficult to imitate. Original olive oil smells rich, fruity and fresh. Also, adulterated ones cannot deliver the benefits of the virginal variety.
The color of the oil is not an indicator of its quality. It is simply the outcome of the ripeness and variety of olives used. I reckon, you try your hand at making extra virgin olive oil at home. You will be assured of its quality and it is the simplest and oldest method of olive oil extraction. Else, your best bet would be to buy your olive oil from Mediterranean supermarkets.