Two events recently led me to write up this post on olive oil. One was doing research for my last post covering Madhouse Munchies from Vermont who uses canola to fry their chips. Although a different type of oil, it got me to thinking about distinctions between oils and what makes some better than others. But the clincher was when I personally ran out of olive oil. A pricier extra virgin bottle that I coveted in the pantry was replaced by a more common bottle from the supermarket out of convenience. I immediately noticed the difference in color, taste, and as far as using it as a substitute for shortening, the purity was unmistakable. That got me to asking myself, “What really creates the distinctions between olive oils and why do some cost so much more?” Here’s what I discovered:
Like wine, olive oil flavor and appearance can vary dramatically depending on the source, variety of olive, soil conditions, and weather. Some olive oils are even single-estate, meaning they come from a single variety of olive grown in the same region. Others, like most Italian oils, are blends from different types of olives and countries.
Olive oil is pressed from ripe olives soon after they are harvested. Oil from the first pressing is classified as virgin. Extra virgin simply means oil resulting from the first cold pressing that is particularly low in acid (less than 1%). It’s considered the finest oil, and is likely to have the fruitiest and most pronounced flavor. Just remember that although “extra virgin” is on the label doesn’t necessarily guarantee that this particular oil’s quality and taste are superior.
Virgin olive oil is made from olives that are a bit more ripe than olives used for making extra-virgin oil. Although it is produced using the same cold press method, it’s still lower quality since it may contain as much as 4% acid.
Olive oil that’s simply labeled without distinction or as “pure” is considered commercial grade. After the olives have been pressed for extra virgin or virgin olive oil, the olive mash left behind receives a second cold press resulting in pure olive oil. This type often has a lighter color shade and a bland flavor. The only reason it is “pure” is because there are no other oil types mixed in.
The only type of oil that you absolutely want to stay away from is refined olive oil. It’s an extremely poor quality tasteless oil with an unpleasant odor that is neither good for cooking or eating straight.
So is it really worth spending $25 on a bottle when a $10 generic can be had? The answer depends on how you plan on using it. Extra virgin is excellent with salads, marinades, serving with bread, and other uncooked uses since it’s so flavorful. A good-quality pure olive oil is perfect for frying or baking since it won’t overpower the other ingredients and resulting dish. So it can really be worth springing for that pricey bottle if you want to savor the oil’s flavor.
photo courtesy of http://topnews.in/health