Olive oil is a staple commodity found in homes, restaurants, and religious institutions all over the world. Known for its versatility, it can be used as a meal, skin treatment, fuel for lamps, and much more. The biggest claim to fame, however, is olive oil used for enhancing foods. Primarily in Italian and Greek cooking, olive oil is essential when it comes to making a meal complete.
The oil comes from the fat of the olive. Despite the constant grouping with vegetables, olives are actually a stone pit fruit, similar to a cherry or plum. You can think of olive oil as a cold pressed juice from a fruit. The process of extracting the oil from the olive is called pressing and it is done at an olive mill. Olives must be pressed at the right maturity; young green olives make for a bitter oil while overripe olives are rancid. That is also the distinction between green and black olives. Green olives are simply immature black olives.
There are two ways of pressing olives: cold pressed or mechanically pressed. The cold press is a method that does not use chemicals to artificially heat the olives to extract more oil. The term cold is a bit of a misnomer; they are not pressed cold, but rather at temperatures lower than 81 degrees. Only olives that have first undergone this cold press process can be labelled as extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, also means that is has less that 0.8% acidity, and it has been flavor tested to ensure quality. Some people think EVOO is only for salad dressings. Actually, EVOO can be also used as a finishing oil or as a sautéing oil and probably not wasted on deep frying items.
Fine, or virgin olive oil, has an acidity of less than 2%. Also, it has been heated by chemical means to extract more oils at a higher temperature, however, doing so alters the flavor profile and can destroy the natural aromas as well. Virgin olive oil will be comprised of lower quality olives and may contain a flavorless profile.
What To Keep an Eye Out For:
Buyer beware; read the label before you purchase.
The organic food trend has everyone running for the fair trade olive. You must, however, keep a vigilant eye when purchasing your oil, as some may be mislabeled. The prime example is oils that say Imported from Italy, which can be skewed in such a way to distract you from knowing the oil was actually produced in Turkey, Spain, or Morocco. The International Olive Council (IOC) ensures that oils are labeled appropriately. Although the United States does not adhere to the IOC, they have their own council with comparable rules.
As mentioned before, EVOO is the highest standard followed by virgin olive oil. Virgin oil is still good quality and it is of better quality than refined or blended oil. The oil you decide to purchase should be reflected in its use. Whichever one you purchase, keep in mind that oil has a relatively short shelf life. Use within the first ten months of purchasing it for optimal taste. Olive Oil differs from wine, which gets better with age. Olive Oil is at its best when it is fresh.
Also, be careful of spoilage. Olive oil is very delicate to light. Store it in a dark container away from heat and direct light.