Understanding Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
High Phenolic Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Not all extra virgin olive oils are equal when it comes to polyphenols or antioxidants. Some olive cultivars have higher polyphenols than others. And, depending on how green or how ripe the olives are at harvest, and how fresh the olive oil is can have an impact on polyphenol levels. A high polyphenol level in olive oil is important because the higher the level the more micronutrients (antioxidants) are present in the oil. Unfortunately, polyphenol levels are not a required measurement for extra virgin grade. And, polyphenol levels are not required to be listed on the label. All olive oil is a monounsaturated fat. So, it is a good fat and it contains lots of oleic acid which are both beneficial for cardiac health. However, only high polyphenol (High Phenolic) extra virgin olive oils offer the additional health benefits of anti-inflammation and anti-oxidation properties that benefit human cells.
Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil
To be certified extra virgin, the olive oil is tested in a laboratory to ensure that the olive oil meets or exceeds the standards for Extra Virgin Grade. California has the most stringent standards as compared to the USDA or international standards. If the olive oil passes the laboratory or scientific standards, then the olive oil is taste tested by an expert sensory panel to ensure there are no flavor defects, which could be missed by the scientific instruments. Flavor defects stem from poor olive quality at the time of milling, poor handling of the oil post milling, from dirty or poor bulk storage containers or from storage facilities that are not temperature controlled. The California Olive Oil Council (COOC) is one of the most reputable and stringent certifying organizations in the United States and olive oils that carry the COOC Seal have fully met or exceeded the COOC standards.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the Juice of the Olive
Pure and simple, extra virgin olive oil is the fruit juice of olives. It is pressed directly from olives using only mechanical means. No chemicals can be used to aid in the extraction of the oil. The extraction process must remain below 82 degrees (Cold Pressed) and it must be the first pressing. Lower grades of olive oil can be obtained from second presses using higher temperatures.
Filtered vs Unfiltered
When olives are milled and the oil is extracted, there is still some olive sediment present in the oil. At this stage, it is unfiltered and the Italians call it Olio Nuovo or new oil. The olive sediment is heavier than the oil and settles on the bottom of the bottle or bulk storage drum. This olive sediment oxidizes quickly and if the oil is not removed from the sediment the oil will make the olive oil taste musty or turn the oil rancid. So, the oil is then removed or racked away from the sediment preferably before bottling.
Filtering the olive oil at the time of milling removes the olive sediment from the oil. If filtered properly, the flavor of the oil and the majority of the polyphenols remain. Some producers believe that filtering the oil at the time of milling is better than racking because it eliminates the possibility of introducing oxygen to the oil every time the oil is racked. Olive oil oxidizes when exposed to oxygen and sometimes an olive oil has to be racked more than once to remove all of the sediment. And, by removing the sediment from the oil quickly, the filtered oil has a cleaner fruitier flavor.
So, there is no right answer. Look for the freshest, best tasting evoo you can find. Purchasing Olio Nuovo at harvest time is a real treat to experience the fresh grassy bitterness of fresh olive oil. Just remember that Olio Nuovo needs to be consumed quickly before the olive sediment in the bottle oxidizes and taints the flavor of the olive oil.
Other Grades of Olive Oil
Olive Oil grade or refined olive oil is obtained by pressing the olive paste, typically using high temperatures, following the first cold press. This olive oil is still provides a mono-unsaturated fat benefit, but looses most of the other health benefits.
Flavored olive oil, such as rosemary or lemon, are created using one of two methods. Either co-milled, pressing the herbs or fruit along with the pressing the olives, or infused, which typically involves heating the oil with the herbs or fruit added to infuse the flavor into the oil. The co-milling method is the better method for flavoring olive oil because it extracts the oils from the herbs or fruit and mixes with the oils obtained from the olives. When cooking with flavored olive oil the co-milled flavors will generally remain after cooking, where-as the infused flavors are generally lost after cooking. Consumers need to be cautious when purchasing flavored oils. Some olive oil producers use the herb or fruit flavoring to mask flavor defects or other defects in an oil that would not otherwise be able to achieve the extra virgin grade. Also, some of the olive cultivars that are used for the flavored oils typically have lower polyphenol levels, which don’t provide the best health benefit and shorten the oils shelf life. Our recommendation is to purchase the highest quality certified extra virgin olive oil possible and then add your own herbs or fruit juices to that oil at the time of serving. This assures that you are obtaining the best health benefits possible from your olive oil.