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What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Not all Extra Virgin Olive Oil is alike! In fact, in the United States, any oil, regardless of its quality, can be labeled “Extra Virgin.” This is because the U.S. does not have labeling laws regarding what can be called extra virgin. The only criterion is that the oil be cold pressed. The International Olive Oil standards dictate that olive oils labeled “Extra Virgin” must be subject to chemical and sensory analysis. It is very hard to make real extra virgin olive oil, and very expensive. That is why there have been cases where producers and importers add a small percentage of extra virgin oil for flavor to a batch of either canola oil or other rectified oil (oil that is defective and stripped of flavor, fragrance and nutritional benefits.)

Olivas de Oro Extra Virgin Olive Oils are certified “Extra Virgin” by the California Olive Oil Council and proudly displays the COOC seal of quality. The COOC has adopted the standards set by the International Olive Oil Council, but went one step tougher. The international standard for free acidity content is less than .8% and the COOC standard for free acidity content is less than .5%. Any producer can submit their oil for evaluation. Before the seal is awarded, the producer must submit a chemical analysis conducted by an independent lab and a certified panel of tasters conducts a sensory evaluation and before the seal is awarded.

Flavored olive oils cannot be “Extra Virgin”! As you read the standards for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, this will become clearer. How can a panel of tasters evaluate the sensory attributes of olive oil if there is something else in the oil?

Olive Oil Standards

Virgin Olive Oils must be obtained by mechanical or physical means under thermal conditions that do not lead to alterations in the oil; using only treatments such as washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration. Those fit for human consumption are:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: In the sensory evaluation, the olive oil must contain zero defects and at least one positive attribute of olive oil. Defects could be described as tasting or smelling muddy, winey, musty, and rancid (there are others, these are just a few examples). Olive oil positive attributes are fruity, bitter and pungent. Extra virgin olive oil must also have a free acidity percentage of less that 0.5. This is the highest quality rating for an olive oil and only those oils exhibiting these characteristics are awarded the California Olive Oil Council certification seal.

Virgin Olive Oil: A virgin olive oil may contain a defect and does not have to exhibit any of the positive olive oil attributes. The oil will have a free acidity percentage of less than 2%. Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil / Refined Olive Oil: This oil will contain more than one defect and will have a free acidity percentage of less than 3.3%. It is not fit for human consumption. The oil came from bad fruit or from improper handling and processing. The European Union will not permit this oil to be bottled and it must be refined. The refining process usually consists of treating bad virgin oil with sodium hydroxide to neutralize the free acidity, washing, drying, odor removal, color removal, and filtration. In the process the oil can be heated to as high as 430 degrees Fahrenheit under a vacuum to remove all of the volatile components. Refined olive oil is usually odorless, tasteless and colorless.

Olive Oil: Oils that are a blend of refined and unrefined virgin oils. It must have a free acidity of not more than 1%. This grade of oil actually represents the bulk of the oil sold on the world market to the consumer. Blends are made in proportions to create specific styles and process. Oils in the US labeled as “Extra Light” would most likely be a blend dominated by refined olive oil. Other oils with more color and flavor would contain more virgin or extra virgin olive oil.

Olive-Pomace Oil: Why would anyone want to go there? But I recently saw a can of this type of oil at a pizza restaurant who shall remain nameless. Olive-pomace is treated with solvents to extract any remaining oil. The oil is then refined and blended as described above.