How to Select and Protect Olive Oil
There are a lot choices when shopping for olive oil and it’s super confusing. How are you to choose from a sea of dark bottles? When looking at the store shelves it can be really hard to know the difference between useful product information and marketing. In specialty stores you can taste olive oil like you taste wine. When I had the opportunity to visit the island of Mallorca in Spain, a prime olive-oil growing region, I stopped by the beautiful Aubocassa to tour their orchard, learn about making olive oil and taste their beautiful product. You KNOW I bought some of their amazing oil to bring back home. Seeing firsthand how olive oil is made reinforced the importance of knowing how to select and protect olive oil.
If you ever get the chance to visit Mallorca, I highly recommend it. If you’ve been, let me know what you did in the comments! This farm has 8000 trees that produce Arbequina olives biannually. They make olive oil once per year. I had always learned that you press the olives several times and the first press was the best and the one that you want to eat. However, Tiffany taught us this was more old-school with machinery of the past. Now they do it all in one press (which is actually an extraction) to create a delicate, fine olive oil.
Being on the farm was very cool! They use a shake machine, similar to what I’ve seen on almond tours in California where the machine moves quickly from tree to tree, grabbing the base and shaking violently yet briefly to loosen any ripe olives and drop them to the ground. They prune the trees every year to let the light and air into the olive fruit. They aim for three arms on each tree for optimal exposure.
On this olive farm, they pick in November and December when the olives are green and red indicating they’re not totally mature yet. From pick to press, it’s all about speed because time equals quality. At Aubocassa, they’re pressing about 90 minutes after they pick. They cold press and hold the oil in tanks without light or air and they bottle with nitrogen to stop any fermentation. The tour ended in the tasting room. It was incredible how different various oils tasted, I noticed the spicy sensation and flavors of the fruit.
While this was an incredible experience, I know not everyone will be able to tour an olive farm to learn how to select a quality olive oil.
Olive Oil in the News
Every few years it seems olive oil makes the news with an investigation into the purity and authenticity of the product. Ever since information came out about how most olive oil on the market is in fact just colored vegetable oil, consumers have wondered how they can tell if their product is real. The North American Olive Oil Association takes this seriously and tests products on retail shelves for authenticity. While it’s good to be aware of the challenge the industry has faced, progress has been made to ensure consumers can be confident in their olive oil purchases.
How to Select and Protect Olive Oil
Olive oil is famous for its potential to reduce the risk for heart disease so including it in the diet is important. Equally important is selecting and protecting your olive oil. There are many options on store shelves, here are some tips to help you decide which is best for you.
- Know some terms. “First pressed” and “first cold pressed” are essentially the same, all extra virgin olive oil is first cold pressed. “Cold pressed” takes the olives after the first press is done and presses them again, virgin olive oil is cold pressed.
- Choose the right type of olive oil for your intended use.
- Extra virgin olive oil has the lowest acid level and the most flavor and aroma. It has the most health benefits and is considered the gold standard of olive oils. Extra virgin olive oil is ideal for salad dressings and seasonings. It should not be used for cooking.
- Virgin olive oil has a slightly higher acid level and a milder taste compared to extra virgin olive oil. It also has health benefits and can be used for low heat cooking like sautéing.
- Refined olive oil is made from black and ripe olives. It does not have the same health benefits found in extra virgin or virgin olive oil. It’s primary use is for cooking and can be used at higher temperatures.
- Pure olive oil, also labeled “olive oil’, is a combination of virgin and refined olive oil. It’s often made when the quality of extra virgin or virgin olive oil is not suitable for bottling. Pure olive oil can be used for cooking or in beauty products like soap or massage oils.
Now that you know what type of olive oil you’re looking for, here’s more on how to select and protect it.
- Check the label for harvest, bottled and best-by dates. You may not find all three dates on the label. Look for harvest or bottled date that are closest to the current date and best-by dates that are the furthest from the current date. These dates are an indicator of freshness.
- Look for dark bottles or tins that will protect the olive oil from light. Light causes oxidation of the oil which leads to rancidity, a bad odor and smell making the oil undesirable for use.
- Don’t keep oil by the stove; store your olive oil away from light, heat, and air. Light, heat and air are the enemy of olive oil. It’s ok to keep a small amount readily available in the kitchen, but keep the greater quantity safely stored in a dark, airtight container on a cool shelf or pantry.
- If you are able to taste different olive oils, be mindful you may cough a bit as your throat tickles from the antioxidants. Subtle flavors you could notice include grass, herbs, or spices.
What do you think? Have you ever done an olive oil tasting before? Let me know in the comments!
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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