Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is considered by many as the gold standard for salad dressings. Not only does EVOO taste delicious, it is also packed with health benefits such as reducing LDL cholesterol (the bad type), lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, and anti-inflammatory properties (to name just a few).
But would you know a good EVOO if you tasted it? This is an important question when you consider that EVOO is one of the most frequently adulterated food products. Some producers have no qualms about mixing extra virgin olive oil with low-grade oils and artificial colorants, and selling them to the unknowing public as Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
As with many things, you often get what you pay for with EVOO. If you are unknowingly buying an adulterated oil, then you will not be getting the amazing health benefits you think you are getting when you consume your EVOO.
To help you determine whether you are getting a genuine product, I’ve put together some useful tips on what to look for when buying a bottle of EVOO and also how to taste-test your EVOO.
Write your comment below: If there is an Extra Virgin Olive Oil which you love, let me know about it in the comment section below (the name of the brand and why you love it) – only genuine recommendations please, no adverts.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
- TRY BEFORE YOU BUY: Good EVOO can be expensive, and it’s worth tasting a few varieties before you buy a bottle. If possible, try to purchase EVOO from a shop or deli which lets you sample a few different varieties. Some shops may not advertise that they let customers do this, so it’s always worth asking them.
- COLOR: Be aware that color is not a determining factor in the quality of an EVOO. Years ago, I watched a cooking show where the chef was adamant that the best EVOOs tend to be green in color, but I have since learned that there is no truth in that. Professional EVOO tasters usually use a blue tinted glass when taste testing oils so that they don’t take the color of the oil into account at all.
- FFA (FREE FATTY ACIDITY) LEVEL: Extra Virgin Olive Oil should have an FFA level of 0.8% or lower. The amount of FFA in an olive oil is a reflection of the quality of the oil, and the lower the number the better. Free Fatty Acids in olive oil are a result of any one of a number of factors including poor quality olives, bruising or damage of the olives during harvesting, fruit fly infestations, fungal diseases, or excessive time between harvesting and crushing. Some experts recommend looking for an FFA level of 0.5% or lower.
- PEROXIDE LEVEL: Extra Virgin Olive Oil should have a Peroxide level of 20 meq/kg or lower. Peroxides are the product of oxidation due to the oil coming into contact with oxygen. Peroxides can also be produced by degradation of the oil due to exposure to light or free radicals. This leads to rancidity. Some experts recommend looking for Peroxide levels of 10 meq/kg or less.
- HARVEST DATE: Check the bottle for the harvest date. That’s the date when the olives were picked, and an olive oil usually stays good for upto 18-24 months after the harvest date. Olive oil is a perishable good, and the closer to the harvest date you eat it, the fresher and better it will be. Most good EVOO producers will state the harvest date, but if there is no harvest date then look for the expiry date – the further away the expiry date is, the fresher and better the oil is (although be aware that an EVOO bottle that does not state the harvest date might be made from olives which have been picked and stored for a while).
- CERTIFICATION: Look for certifications on bottles of EVOO which indicate that the oil meets certain standards. PDO and PGI certifications are good ones to look out for, although they are not the only ones.
- TYPE OF OLIVE: Try to see if the bottle states which type of olive was used for this oil. There are around 700 varieties of olives, and they all bring their own flavor to an oil, so it’s good to get to know which olives are the ones which you like.
- BOTTLE/CONTAINER: Light, heat and oxygen tend to speed up the spoilage of EVOO, so look for oil sold in dark glass bottles or metal containers.
- COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: It’s good to know which country your olive oil comes from, and even which region within that country. The top 3 producers of EVOO are Spain, Italy and Greece, but you can also find good EVOO from other countries such as Tunisia, Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Portugal. Do be aware that if an oil says “Packed” or “Bottled” in a country, it does not necessarily mean that it was pressed in that country or even that olives from that country were used.
- TYPES OF OLIVE OIL: “Virgin” refers to an oil which was produced using mechanical means only, without any chemical treatment. ‘Extra Virgin Olive Oil’ is the highest quality olive oil with superior taste. ‘Virgin Olive Oil’ is a slightly lower quality olive oil with a good taste. ‘Refined’ or ‘Pure Olive Oil’ is virgin olive oil which has then been refined using chemical or physical filters (it might sometimes have a little Virgin Olive Oil added to it to improve its color and taste). ‘Pomace Olive Oil’ is a neutrl-tasting low-grade olive oil extracted from olive pulp (the residue which is left after the first press) and refined using chemical or physical filters.
- STORAGE AT HOME: Once bought, store your olive oil in a cool dark place (so, not on the counter next to the stove). Since EVOO is perishable once opened, try and use it within a month to get the best from your oil.
HOW TO TASTE EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
There are 5 important steps to tasting an olive oil:
1. Pour a small amount of EVOO (around 1 tablespoon) into a small tapered glass. Often tastings are done in small blue tapered glasses which mask the color of the olive oil because, despite what you might have heard, the color of an olive oil has no bearing on the quality of the product.
2. Hold the glass in the palm of one hand and use the palm of your other hand to cover the glass while while gently swirling the oil for 30-60 seconds. Some people quickly rub their palm over the top of the glass for added friction. This warms up the oil and allows it to release its aroma. Smell is an important component of taste.
3. Lift your hand slightly to uncover the glass and breathe in the aroma. Think about whether the aroma is delicate, strong, fruity, herbaceous.
4. Slurp the oil. This is done by sipping a small amount of oil into your mouth and then slightly parting your lips to ‘sip’ some air as well. Don’t be shy, when done correctly you will make a slurping noise. Slurping emulsifies the oil with the air and helps to spread it throughout your mouth.
5. Allow the oil to coat the inside of your mouth and tongue before swallowing it. Pay attention to whether it leaves a stinging peppery sensation at the back of your throat (this is a desirable trait because it is a sign that the oil contains health-giving polyphenol antioxodants). Some olive oil aficianados refer to a one, two or three cough oil. Anything which reminds you of fruits, vegetables or herbs/spices is generally a good sign in an olive oil. Some positive descriptions of a good EVOO include artichoke, grass, almond, dried fruit, herbs, fresh hay, floral, robust, mild, buttery, peppery, bitter, or pungent. Signs of a bad olive oil include tastes which are metallic, earthy, muddy, woody, moldy, winey, vinegary, fermented or rancid.
It is customary to drink some water or eat a slice of green apple or bread between oils.
The Olive Oil Source website has an excellent and comprehensive list of Desirable and Undesirable traits to look for when tasting extra virgin olive oil (for an explanation of each trait, go to the Olive Oil Source):
Desirable: Apple/Green Apple, Almond, Artichoke, Astringent, Banana, Bitter, Buttery, Eucalyptus, Floral, Forest, Fresh, Fruity, Grass, Green/Greenly, Green Tea, Harmonious, Hay/Straw, Herbaceous, Melon, Mint, Pear, Peach, Peppery, Pungent, Ripely, Round/Rotund, Spice, Sweet, Tomato/Tomato Leaf, Tropical, Walnut/Walnut Shell, Wheatgrass, Woody
Undesirable: Acetone, Blue Cheese, Brine, Bacon, Burnt/Heated, Cucumber, Dirty, Dreggish, Esparto, Fiscolo, Flat/Bland, Frozen/Wet Wood, Fusty, Greasy, Grubby, Hay-wood, Muddy/Sediment, Musty, Metallic, Rancid, Rough, Sour Milk, Stale Nuts, Unbalanced, Vegetable Water, Winey, Vinegary, Yeasty
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