In our travels and studies, we've discovered there's much more to olive oil than meets the eye. By providing this look at olive oil history, varieties, and uses, we aspire to help our customers learn more about it so they can enjoy the fullest flavor and health benefits. In addition to learning different olive oil types, Olio2go also looks at how to evaluate oils, how to store them, and the meaning of certain terminology such as "extra virgin olive oil."
Although olive oil originated in the Mediterranean, it's become popular worldwide. The International Olive Council says that more than 3 million tons of olive oil are produced in a typical year. For the 2023-2024 season the Mediterranean Basin expects a significant decline, perhaps as much as 48%. While we are concerned about Italy, the forecast is particularly dismal for Spain, Turkey, and Greece, This year, we are continuing to see quality in the olive production, but many fewer olives. But if you want the best results, you don't just grab the first bottle of oil you see. The olives used, pressing techniques, and other factors impact the oil's quality and flavor. Different regions also produce certain olive oil characteristics based on other crops. This olive oil guide answers many common questions and some you might not have thought of to get the most from it whether for cooking, cosmetics, or pharmaceutical use.
We import all our olive oils from Italy, which is one of the world's largest and most respected producers. They take their olive oil very seriously - and so do we. The experts at Olio2go are happy to answer any questions you might still have. Call us toll-free, visit the Olio2go Blog, or check out our Olive Oil Buying Guide. We are committed to providing the knowledge you need to shop for olive oil.
What is the History of Olive Oil?
The pressing of olives to make olive oil dates back to about 3000 B.C.E. Historians generally believe that the olive tree originated in Ancient Greece and spread throughout the Mediterranean region as the Greeks and Phoenicians explored the territory. Cato, a Roman author, described the agricultural techniques for growing olives in his writings about the second century B.C.E.
This olive grove in Campania near Massa Lubrense, on the Amalfi Coast shows black netting rolled up. This netting is used to catch the olives as they are harvested, so that they are not bruised, and as a practical measure on such steep sloped land.
How is Olive Oil graded?
Olive oil is graded according to factors of pressing and quality of the oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the finest grade, and the grade is given to oil from the first pressing. In Italian, the method used is cold pressing (in which no heat is used above about 60 degrees Fahrenheit). Heat destroys antioxidants, so cold pressed oils are the healthiest.
Virgin Olive Oil is for all purposes the same as Extra Virgin Olive Oil but has a higher acidity. Virgin Olive Oil must have acidity below 4%. Fine Virgin Oil, Superfine Oil, Olive Oil, and Pure Olive Oil are all lesser grade oils, and while you might want to know about them, we only sell Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO).
What does “spremitura a freddo” mean?
In Italian, the phrase "spremitura a freddo" means cold pressed. Although ambient heat is needed to release the oil from the olives, no artificial heat or chemical is used in cold pressed oil. In addition, the acidity of Extra Virgin Olive Oil cannot exceed 1%. Olio2go.com sells only Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Olio2go.com occasionally also has oils that have an acidity below 0.5%, and these are graded Low Acidity Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Should I choose a Blended versus Single Variety oil?
Some oils are blended from several olive varieties to produce a unique taste, much like a vintner blends grapes to make a fine wine. Some olive oil producers press oils from a single estate or a single variety, which may produce a fine oil. Another name for a single variety olive oil is a monocultivar. These single-estate oils and artisanal oils are among the world’s best, and are always available in very small quantities.
What does D.O.P. mean?
Italy has a well-known system of classifying wines — the D.O.C. designation. Olive oil is now treated with the same standards of classification in a program carrying the designation D.O.P., which means Protected Designation of Origin. In order to earn this designation, the producer must apply for and pass certification standards that control the origin of the oil. In addition, some regions have a regional certification, such as that of Toscana (see information about the Consorzio dell’Olio Toscano), which further control standards for quality.
Are unfiltered oils better?
Some fine oils are unfiltered, which leaves the oil cloudy. This characteristic indicates the freshness of the oil, since the sediment will fall to the bottom of the container over time. But not all oil is sold unfiltered, so this characteristic is not necessarily an indicator of quality.
What does olive oil’s color tell us?
Color is also an indicator of freshness, but not necessarily an accurate indicator. Very fresh oil may range in color from bright green to green-gold. Some types of olives will produce an oil that is more golden-green. It is fair to say that olive oil past its prime will be a warm gold color. At that point, pour it out. The color also depends on the ripeness of the olives at the time of harvest. Very ripe olives will produce oil that is more yellow than green olives will.
How do you evaluate olive oils?
The quality of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is, above all else, indicated by the taste. The taste standard put forth by the International Olive Oil Council is used by the EU countries as well as other countries of the Mediterranean region. An assagiatore or assagiatrice is an expert in the tasting of oil. Our own assagiatori have expert taste buds — ask them to show you. Of course, your own taste buds are the best experts for your oil selections.
As you taste an oil, consider characteristics such as whether there is a strong and appealing olive fruit aroma, bitterness (a positive characteristic), and pungency or peppery bite. Due to the differences in olives, soils, and microclimates, olive oils tend to vary by region. The Ligurian oils, which are nicely fruity are generally less peppery than the Tuscan oils.
One great way to test an oil is to grill a slice of bread, rub it with a bit of garlic, and drizzle on some oil. Good bread makes a big difference, and of course, some chopped tomato and basil wouldn’t hurt
How should olive oil be stored? What color should the bottle be?
Olive oil lasts about 18-24 months. If stored in a sunny spot, expect less than 12 months. If stored in a dark spot, at less than room temperature, the oil will last a long time. For best storage, find a spot in your kitchen close at hand, but away from heat and light. You’ll have to balance the need to show off your best oils against the need to keep them away from light.
Exposure to light and heat can turn olive oil rancid. This destroys the healthy, antioxidant properties of the oil. Most oils from Olio2go are sold in darkly tinted bottles. A few truly fine oils are sold in clear bottles. At home, find a dark, cool cupboard for storage. Exposure to air is another enemy of the fragile antioxidants.
Are you totally confused about hydroxytyrosol?
We get lots of calls asking which olive oil has the most hyrdoxytyrosol. All the extra virgin olis contain hydroxytyrosol. Italian producers do not test for that chemical so we don’t have information about which one has the most. However if you want that peppery taste, we recommend you stick with oils from Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo, and Marche regions.
See our Health page for more information.
What happens if my olive oil freezes during shipping?
During winter months, we include instructions in every package. When shipping during the winter we have no control over how long the packages sit in the delivery truck. If exposed to freezing temperatures, the olive oil will freeze solid. If not frozen solid, the oil changes appearance — you may notice globs of oil floating in the bottle.
First, do not open the bottle. Leave it unopened and let it gradually warm to room temperature. This may take a full day. Do not heat the oil or the bottle. When the oil has reached room temperature, shake the bottle vigorously to re-suspend any particles that may have settled to the bottom. The oil should now be back to normal.