A Quick lesson in olive oil
Olive oil is the only oil that is extracted from a fruit, all others we use come from seeds or nuts which must be extracted using chemicals, solvents or heat. This is one of the reasons extra virgin olive oil is so healthy: it is unadulterated. But there are several different terms around it that are important to understand to know what you are buying and eating.
First things first, extra virgin olive oil from the first cold press is the highest quality best olive oil you can get. No exceptions. But here are what these terms mean, plus a few more to watch out for.
First cold press
'First cold press' refers to the way the olives are treated at the mill.
Cold pressing is the traditional method of producing olive oil where the oil is extracted without using any heat. In the cold press, they are pressed solely with the mechanical force of the press to extract the oil from the olives, without the aid of heat or chemicals. Using heat or chemicals can extract more oil from the olives, but it degrades so has a much lower quality.
The reason that the 'first' in first cold press is important is that some producers will re-press the olive paste (called pomace which we will explain below) after this first press to make a second or even third press oil which will produce more oil but of a lower grade oil. Nudo never does this, all our oil is from the first cold press.
'Extra Virgin' is when the olives go through this press within 24 hours of being picked which maintains the lowest possible acidity. To be classified as extra virgin olive oil the acidity level must be less than 0.8%. This also means there is the highest proportion of polyphenols which are the anti-oxidants in the oil that are so beneficial to health.
So not only is extra virgin olive oil the highest-grade oil with the best flavour, it is also the healthiest.
extra virgin first cold press olive oil is the freshest, purest, and highest quality oil you can get.
Virgin olive oil
'Virgin' olive oil is the next grade down from extra virgin and refers to oil with an acidity of less than 1.5%. Some of it is ok but you’re on the downhill slope.
'Olive oil' is the lowest of the heap and contain partially refined oil. You’re probably better off using a sunflower oil. While conversationally extra virgin olive oil can be shortened to olive oil, in terms of buying a tin, avoid anything labelled simply 'olive oil'.
If you choose this lower quality oil, sometimes misleadingly called 'Pure olive oil', this is where you need to start being very careful with reading your labels. Not only is this already lower quality - multiple presses or pomace oil - it can often be blended with other oils such a nut or seed oils.
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'Polyphenols' are the main antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil which make it so healthy and a key reason why you should ensure you are using extra virgin and not simply olive oil which doesn't contain the same polyphenols. Polyphenols degrade over time which is why it is crucial that the olives are pressed within 24 hours of picking and why extra virgin olive oil is best fresh. They are the bitter notes and the spicy kick in the back of your throat when you have fresh, real extra virgin olive oil, so always look out for those when you are tasting your EVOO.
'Acidity level' refers to amount of fatty acids the oil contains, in extra virgin olive oil it must be below 0.8%. A lower acidity level means a higher quality oil; the fatty acids are released as the olives damage and age, so a lower acidity level means the olives were high quality fruit that were pressed fresh soon after picking. Acidity level of an oil is not something you can taste test, it must be checked by scientific testing in a lab.
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'DOP' is the other term worth knowing as you have likely seen this on many labels. Though it applies only to European olive oil, it is still a well recognised and important term. DOP stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta and is an accolade given to a quality product made in a specific local area. It is the European Union’s way of trying to protect great traditional products and methods. DOP is also used for cheeses, prosciutto, wines and many other products.
'Pomace' is the pulpy olive flesh creating in the olive press when the olives are crushed to make extra virgin olive oil. The olives are mulched to start to separate the oil from the flesh, then this pomace is pressed to extract the majority of the oil. Remember earlier when we explained the first cold press? Well it is this residue pomace which after this first press can be pressed again in very low quality oil production. Avoid anything called pomace oil, as further to this last extraction as it will be extracted suing chemicals and certainly mixed with other oils.
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