The best Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Spain, the world’s largest producer and exporter of olive oil, won more prizes than any other country in the 2014 edition of the New York International Olive Oil Competition.
Today, much of the commercial cultivation of olive oil is still centered in the Mediterranean region in such countries as Spain (36% of total production), Italy (25%), and Greece (18%). Spanish production reaches more than 800,000 tonnes annually, 40% of which is exported. There are approximately 300 million olive trees in Spain (which encompass 25% of the cultivated surface area in the entire world), the majority of which are located in Andalusia.
Of the 135 Spanish extra virgin olive oils entered this year, 3 scored best in class, 50 earned gold and 15 landed silver awards. In total bagged 68 prizes, two more than Italy.
Today there are approximately 260 varieties of olives in Spain, among which the most outstanding are: Arbequina, Cornicabra, Empeltre, Hojiblanca, Lechín, Picual, Picudo and Verdial. The production of virgin olive oil is regulated by seventeen PDO’s (Protected Designations of Origin). Olive oils have been clearly shown to be a particularly healthy food, due to their high monounsaturated fat content (oleic acid), which has anti-oxidizing effects and helps to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The olive tree was brought to Spain by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, but it was under the Romans that cultivation became widely extended and production techniques improved. The Arabs contributed further to the evolution of the olive tree; in fact, the world for oil in Spanish (aceite) comes from the Arabic ‘al-zeit’ (juice of the olive).
How Olive Oil is Made?
After olives are picked and washed, they’re crushed – sometimes between two big stones, but now more commonly by steel blades. The resulting paste is stirred to release the oil droplets in a process called maceration, before being spun in a centrifuge to pull out the oil and water. After the water is removed, what is left is olive oil.
But there is still one major problem with olive oil… it isn’t always what you think it is. Some lower quality versions can be extracted using chemicals, or even diluted with other cheaper oils.
What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Extra virgin is the highest quality and most expensive olive oil classification. It should have no defects and a flavor of fresh olives. Since extra virgin olive oil is simply pressed fruit juice without additives, the factors influencing its quality and taste include the varieties of olives used, the terroir and the countless decisions, production practices and the dedication of the producer.
In order for an oil to qualify as “extra virgin” the oil must also pass both an official chemical test in a laboratory and a sensory evaluation by a trained tasting panel recognized by the International Olive Council. The olive oil must be found to be free from defects while exhibiting some fruitiness.
Other Grades of Olive Oil
In countries that adhere to the olive oil standards of the International Olive Coincil (IOC), the following grades are used:
Virgin olive oil has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 2 grams per 100 grams and the other technical characteristicsin the IOC standard.
Ordinary virgin olive oil virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams and the other characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category in the standard.
Virgin olive oil not fit for consumption as it is, designated lampante virgin olive oil, is virgin olive oil which has acidity of more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams and/or the organoleptic characteristics and other characteristics for this category in the standard. It is intended for refining or for technical use.
Olive oil consisting of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption as they are. It has a free acidity of not more than 1 gram per 100 grams and its other technical characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category in the standard.
Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams.
Olive-pomace oil, crude olive-pomace oil and refined olive-pomace oil can never be labelled “olive oil.”
Therefore, buying the right type of olive oil is incredibly important.
The best type is extra virgin olive oil, but keep in mind that there is a lot of fraud going on in the olive oil market and it is essential to buy from a reputable seller. Even oil that is labelled as “extra virgin” may have been adulterated with cheaper oils.
How to Taste Olive Oil