How to recognize a good extra virgin olive oil?

When it comes to buying a real extra virgin olive oil, it is difficult to know whether the product you are buying is what the label promises, or is just a low quality oil sold at a high price. What’s worse, many of the tricks and tips for recognizing real olive oil are just myths but fortunately we can offer some useful tips to help you recognize good olive oil.

1. The acidity of olive oil is important, but not for its taste

The higher the acidity, the stronger the flavor of the oil, but is it really so? The fact is that you cannot tell the acidity of an olive oil from its flavor. When the olive is on the tree, it has 0º of acidity. However, the moment you separate it from the tree, that is when the acidity starts to rise. Acidity is the olive’s reaction to any aggression it has been subjected to. If you knock the olive down, the acidity increases. When the olive falls to the ground, acidity grows. And despite popular belief, acidity has no taste. Acidity does not affect the taste of olive oil, but it can affect health. Although olive oil is one of the healthiest vegetable oils, you can still find differences between them. Read on to learn more.

2. Learn the difference between extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and olive oil

Only manually extracted olive oil can be classified as virgin or extra virgin. This olive oil is extracted only by mechanical means, and is of the highest quality because of its physicochemical and organoleptic qualities. Extra virgin olive oil has no defects, while virgin olive oil has some stability defects and loses the word extra. They also differ in their acidity: extra virgin olive oil has a maximum of 0.8º, while the acidity of virgin olive oil can be as high as 2.0º. When the acidity is above 2.0º, it is no longer edible. When olive oil becomes unfit for human consumption we call it lampante because it was the olive oil that was used to light lamps. If an olive oil is determined to be lampante, it can be refined. The refining process is a chemical treatment to remove all defects, but the oil also loses all its virtues. It loses all color, aroma, taste, vitamins…the oil becomes a clear, tasteless, odorless liquid (but retains all the calories of oil!). This sterilized olive oil is mixed with virgin or extra virgin olive oil to be sold as olive oil.

3. Color and taste are not related

It is usually said that a good olive oil should have a deep green color, while light yellow olive oil is weak and tasteless, probably refined. This is a myth that has been proven false, which is why olive oil tasting glasses are always colored, so the perception of color does not affect the palate.

4. The real olive has a complex and strong taste, but not necessarily peppery and spicy

The fastest way to know if you are eating real olive oil and not mixed is to taste it. Have you ever found yourself pouring a lot of olive oil on a salad because it was tasteless? It is likely that the olive oil you were given was not extra virgin olive oil, even though the label said so.

It is not true that real olive oil is always peppery and spicy. Similar to wine, the taste of an olive oil depends on the olive. After all, olive oil is just pure olive juice (and olives are fruits!). Depending on the type of olive, how it was grown, how and when it was harvested, how it was brought to the mill, how much time elapsed between the time the olive was harvested and the time it was pressed, how the olives are prepared to be pressed, and so on, the taste of the olive oil will change. These are the positive attributes that you can find with different intensities on a good extra virgin olive oil:

Fruity attribute: this is essential and should be reminiscent of the taste of the olives from which it was extracted.

Fruity: is the set of olfactory sensations characteristic of virgin olive oil, and depends on the variety of olive. It can be perceived directly and via retronasal (indirectly). This attribute is considered:

  • Green when olfactory sensations are reminiscent of green fruits. Appears in olive oil processed with green fruits (especially in early harvest specialties).
  • Ripe: when the olfactory sensations are reminiscent of ripe fruits. It is characteristic of olive oil derived from green, ripe fruits.
  • Bitter: is an elemental taste characteristic of olive oil from green olives. It is felt at the back of the tongue.
  • Spicy: tactile sensation of spiciness, characteristic of oils obtained early in the harvest, mainly from green olives. It can be felt throughout the mouth, especially in the throat.

Each attribute can appear in different intensities: intense, medium or light. This means that an olive oil can be intense in fruity attributes and light in spiciness and bitterness, and it will still be a perfectly fine olive oil. Olive oil cuts can mix with different olives to create a very complex and rich olive oil whose flavor evolves in the mouth. Some olive oils will remind you of tomato, grass, almonds … but all those flavors can appear naturally in olive oil without needing to infuse it with anything else.

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