Everything Olive Oil

Cooking | January 3, 2017 | By

I like to refer to virgin olive oil as the little black dress of the culinary world. It can be dressed up or down, is suitable for most occasions and is great either by itself or as an accompaniment.

This guide will give you a snapshot of the differences between the different Virgin Olive Oils available. It’s by no means a comprehensive comparison – it is merely a starting point to help take away some of the confusion when selecting Virgin Olive Oil. 

All Olive Oil is not equal

Virgin olive oil is produced purely from the fruit of olive trees. Oil is extracted from the fruit mechanically so as to ensure that the oil structure is not altered by any means. If you wander your grocery aisle or your local gourmet food shop, you will notice there are many types of olive oils, and they vary in price. The major difference between the types of olive oils is the level of acidity. Acidity in the olive oil refers to the proportion of free fatty acids rather than acidic taste. Here is a basic breakdown:

Oil Type: Acidity Level: What it is used for:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) 0.8% This is the premium grade virgin olive oil and has the most taste. The best use for this type of oil is for salads, dipping, and adding to soups and stews.
Virgin Olive Oil 2.0% This is the medium grade virgin olive oil with a milder taste than Extra Virgin. It is also used for salads, dipping, added to stews and soups.
Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil (sometimes referred to as Blended Olive Oil) 3.3% This is the lower grade virgin olive oil and has very little taste. It has a higher smoke point than the other virgin olive oils, so is used frequently for frying. As it doesn’t have a strong olive taste, it is also used in baking.

Be wary of “light” or “lite” olive oils. These do not have any less calories than regular olive oil. These are generally blended oils and the reference to light merely refers to the light flavor.

Selecting Virgin Olive Oil

Selecting virgin olive oil is like selecting wine, it is all about your taste preference, and while everyone will have a recommendation, it really is up to you and what tastes good for you. If you are looking for an olive oil with loads of taste, bypass the regular olive oil sold at your supermarket and head either to the gourmet section of your supermarket or to a specialty food store. Many stores have started olive oil tasting which is a great opportunity to see which olive oils you prefer.

Olive oil varies from region to region because of the different olives grown in different climates, the ecological influences such as weather and soil types, as well as differing oil processing methods.

The following table provides an overview of the tastes of olive oil, where they are likely to come from and what sort of dishes they compliment:

Taste: Bold Taste
Sometimes referred to as “Fruit Pungent”, has a spicy, peppery taste
Medium Taste
Olivey fruit taste
Mild Taste
Buttery, sweet taste
Region: Central Italy
Greece
Spain
France
Northern Italy
California
California
Matches well with: Good with traditional and rustic Italian dishes, such as bruschetta or panzanella Good with grilled meats and vegetables, pasta, sauces with garlic Good for fish, soups, delicate sauces, cooked or steamed vegetables, cheeses

Other regions to look out for:

Australia and New Zealand are producing some good boutique oils that are becoming accessible internationally.

Pricing

Specialty virgin olive oils start at approximately $10 for a 12 fl oz bottle and go up.

Storage

While Olive Oil does not go rancid as quickly as some of the nut oils on the market, don’t leave it for a rainy day – use it as soon as you get it because it won’t keep indefinitely.

Buying larger quantities of olive oil is more cost effective, so split your bounty with your friends.

Olive oil should be tightly capped in a cool dark place. Never refrigerate or freeze olive oil as it will become cloudy and start to congeal. Rapid changes in temperature can cause oil to become rancid faster.
Tags: