Olive Oil Classification
There are certain standards for classification of olive oil based on their quality. These standards are set by The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) and followed by the major olive oil producing countries. The USA is not an official member of the IOOC and therefore, the standards are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Olive oil is extracted by pressing or crushing of the olive fruit followed by processing techniques. Classification is based on method of production, the oil’s chemical nature and more importantly, on the flavor. Lesser processing means lesser handling, which results in a more natural flavor. Olive oil is classified as:
Virgin: Virgin olive oil implies that the oil was extracted and made by physical means and no chemical treatment was done. Virgin oil, when referred in terms of production differs in meaning from the term on a retail label.
Refined: Refined olive oil is generally regarded as being inferior to the virgin variety. Retail labels that state the terms virgin oil or extra virgin olive oil are not permitted to contain any refined oil. Refined implies that the oil undergone chemical treatment in order to neutralize the strong tastes (known as defects) and also neutralize the acid content (free fatty acids).
In order for the oil to be classified, the producer needs to submit a sample to an independent lab for chemical analysis. The acid content of oil is determined by quantitative lab testing, which is also a measure of its chemical degradation â€“ the more the oil degrades, the higher will be the level of free acidity. The peroxide level also gives a measure of the chemical degradation as it measures the degree of oxidation.
Classification of olive oil by taste is done by subjective judging by a panel of professional tasters. A blind taste test is done which requires that the olive oil must be of zero defect variety and have a minimum of one positive characteristic to be attributed the ‘Extra Virgin’ Seal.
The blind taste test reveals a number of defects. Some examples of defects that could be present are the oil may taste or smell winey, muddy, rancid or musty. Some positive features are a fruity, bitter or pungent taste and smell. Flavored olive oils are not categorized as ‘Extra Virgin’ as even professional tasters cannot detect the sensory characteristics of olive oil if it contains any other ingredients.
Extra virgin Olive Oil is most desirable because of the following:
– It is produced from one of nature’s finest organic fruits
– It is unprocessed and unrefined without addition of anything artificial, synthetic, or high heat. This is normally called cold pressed or cold process.
– It is made by natural and traditional methods that do not hamper its nutritive value.
– It adds an inimitable authentic flavor to the dish.
All authentic olive oil undergoes rigorous testing before being awarded the final seal of approval. Olive oil is very good for health, in addition to being a delightful addition to any meal.