How to Translate Olive Oil Labels

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on April 30, 2012

I really like olive oil~ it is useful in so many ways.  It can be used on it’s own to soften skin, it can be used in the creation of many salves, soaps and lotions, and it can even be used to make an emergency lamp!

And then of course you can always cook with it ;)

I knew when Walmart asked me to write a post about olive oil that I’d have no problem coming up with an idea for the post.  I could make an olive oil lamp!  I could show folks how to make their own flavored Italian “dipping” oil!  I could list 37 things to do with olive oil!  I headed off to Walmart to buy some oil and decide which of my fabulous ideas to use.

That’s when it happened.  I stood there in front of row upon row of olive oil of every size, shape, type and grade and realized-I didn’t really know what I was looking at.  I had no idea what all the different terminology on the bottles actually MEANT.  So it hit me, I need to write a post on how to translate those olive oil labels into useful information.

As I’m sure you can guess, olive oil is made from olives.  Yeah-I know, shocking.  The production starts with the olives being ground into a paste.  The paste is then slowly mixed to allow the tiny oil droplets to form.  The oil is then either pressed out or flung out with a centrifuge.

The United States Department of Agriculture has 4 part grading of olive oil based on the flavor, odor and acidity.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the highest quality and typically most expensive olive oil.  To be labeled as “Extra Virgin” internationally it must be made from the first pressing of fresh olives and the oil must be extracted using only mechanical means-so no chemicals or solvents are used.  The acidity of the oil must be f 0.8g per 100g.

EVOO is intended to have the flavor of olives-described in most of the sources I found as “fruity”.  EVOO is best used in places where the oil is used cold and you want the actual olive oil flavor to shine through-like in dipping oils, dressings, a light saute etc.

When EVOO is heated to 350 or higher the unrefined particles in the oil start to burn which will change the flavor.  The more pronounce olive flavor most likely would be unwelcome in baking or fried foods.

Note:  Virgin Olive Oil (which apparently my Walmart doesn’t even sell-I guess folks either want Extra Virgin or else plain old Olive Oil) is made the same way as EVOO, but the acidic content can be up to 1.5%.

First Cold Press / Cold Pressed

First Cold Press is another term you see on some EVO bottles.  This theoretically means that the oil has been pressed out at 89 degrees or less in the first pressing.  However the phrase is somewhat meaningless as in today’s day and age all EVOOs are created from a first processing without heat.

“This is a relic of the days when olive paste was actually pressed between mats to extract the oil (nowadays almost all extraction is done with a centrifuge),” write the UC’s Vossen and Devarenne.

“The second (hot) press was done to squeeze out more oil from the fermented waste pomace, producing a very low quality oil which was then refined or burned in lamps.”

First press may indicate that the oil was pressed rather than extracted by a centrifuge-however that term is not regulated by the USDA.

Pure Olive Oil

Pure Olive Oil takes the odorless and tasteless “refined olive oil” and adds a little EVOO  for flavor.  Pure Olive Oil is usually more economical than EVOO, and is good for general all purpose cooking.

The “Refined Olive Oil” used to make this usually starts out as a first press olive oil that does NOT meet the acidity standards to be considered EVOO (which is 0.8%).  This more highly acidic  oil is then refined until it is 0.3% via charcoal and other chemical and physical filters.  The use of solvents is still prohibited.

Extra Light Olive Oil

Extra Light refers to the olive oil’s flavor, not it’s calorie content.  Since it is still 100% olive oil it has the same number of calories as all the other forms of olive oil.

The phrase “Extra Light Olive Oil” is another term that is not regulated by the USDA.  The oil can either be made by heavily processing the oil using heat and multiple filters.  The other way is to combine other vegetable oils with virgin olive oil.

Extra Light Olive oil doesn’t have much flavor.  It has a higher smoke point– that means it can be used at a higher temperature without burning/smoking– which means it can be used for frying.

Low Acidity

Seeing a bottle labeled “Low Acidity” was a new one for me.  I had never really considered the acidity level of an oil.  According to USDA Standards EVOO has free fatty acid content of 0.8g per 100g.  Obviously the low acidity olive oil has taken that a step farther and reduced it down to 0.3%.

Organic Olive Oil

Organic olive oil must adhere to the USDA regulations for organic food production.

Country of Origin

The US Customs regulations on “Nation of Origin” state that if a non origin nation is shown on the label that then the country the product really originates in should be show on the same side of the label in equal sized letters.  However some brands still put “Imported from Italy” on the front than the country of origin on the back in smaller sized letters.  If it really matters to you that your oil specifically comes from Italy (the 2nd largest producer of olive oil-actually Spain is the largest ) then you may want to take a peek on the back to make sure.

There!  Did you get as much of an education on Olive Oil as I did?

Sources:Wikipedia: Olive Oil, University of California Cooperative Extension publication 27425, The Olive Oil Times: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, California Olive Ranch Blog: What does first cold press really mean?, Wisegeek: What is extra light olive oil?
****This is a sponsored post****
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post I am participating in with the Walmart Moms. Walmart has provided me with compensation for this post. My participation is voluntary and opinions, as always are my own.
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