The classification of the different types of olives actually refers to what the European Union legislation (Regulation CE 1019/2002) recognizes as suitable for consumption, categorizing them into four types. Each category mirrors the quality and purity of the oil, providing consumers with a clear framework when making purchasing decisions.
These oils vary in quality and boast unique characteristics that make them ideal for diverse culinary applications. European regulations on olive oil surpass mere classification, aiming to ensure quality and transparency in marketing.
Parameters such as the extraction process and acidity are scrutinized through physical-chemical tests in authorized laboratories. For the highest-quality oils, an organoleptic evaluation, examining aspects of smell and taste, is conducted by a panel of expert technicians. This comprehensive approach guarantees that each culinary choice is supported by authentic and exceptional olive oils.
The four types of olive oil are:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) stands out as the highest-quality category, with its acidity level below 0.8º. This pure oil, obtained through mechanical processes, is distinguished by its meticulous production, starting with the harvesting of olives at their optimal ripeness. Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, this variety contributes valuable natural antioxidants.
To fully appreciate its qualities, it is recommended to use EVOO in its raw form, such as on breakfast toast, in dressings, vinaigrettes, pickles, preserves, and especially for frying, as it undergoes less degradation than other oils. Its quality is measured by its acidity, with a crucial maximum of 0.8%, a direct indicator of the health of the olives used.
However, acidity is not the sole criterion for quality. Factors like peroxide index (an indicator of oxidation), K270 (a sign of alterations), and the presence of waxes also influence quality. A peroxide index below 20 meq/kg is essential, while K270 reveals alterations due to manipulation or contamination. The presence of waxes, caused by various conditions, is also evaluated.
Single-Varietal Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Within the category of extra virgin olive oil, there are the single-varietal oils, a distinguished expression of the diversity of available olives. These oils result from the extraction of a single olive variety, such as Hojiblanca, Picual, Arbequina, among others.
The uniqueness of single-varietal oils lies in their ability to concentrate the particular nuances of a specific variety, providing unique aromas and flavors that highlight the intrinsic characteristics of each type of olive.
Virgin Olive Oil
While virgin olive oil is a natural product, it may present some defects, and its acidity levels are below 1º. Similar to extra virgin olive oils (EVOOs), this type of oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, making it a healthy choice for everyday cooking.
Versatile in the kitchen, it is suitable for frying due to its similarities with extra virgin olive oil, as well as for stews, fish and vegetable confits, and roasting in the oven. It can also be used in emulsions like mayonnaises and sauces, with a preference for varieties with milder flavors in such cases.
The extraction of virgin olive oil follows the same process as extra virgin, with the difference that its acidity level tends to be between 0.8% and 2%. This higher level of free fatty acids is generally due to the less optimal condition of the olives used in its production. Although it may meet the physical-chemical requirements to be considered extra virgin, an organoleptic analysis by expert tasters could reveal defects in its taste or smell, classifying it as virgin olive oil instead of extra virgin.
It is often used more in cooking than raw, as its flavor tends to be milder and contains fewer organic compounds and natural antioxidants beneficial to health compared to extra virgin olive oil.
Although this resulting oil is healthy and essential in daily diet due to its high proportion of antioxidants, confusion among consumers arises in the commercial category of olive oil. This type of oil carries the labels «mild» or «intense,» but in reality, it is a blend of virgin oils with refined oils obtained from defective oils (lampantes).
These oils undergo chemical or thermal processes with a maximum acidity level of 1.5%. During this process, acidity and other physical-chemical parameters can be manipulated to reduce them drastically. However, this type of oil often lacks flavor and has lost a significant portion of the organic compounds and natural antioxidants present in higher-quality oils, and it is mixed with extra virgin oils. The intensity of the final oil’s flavor depends on the proportions of this blend, being more intense with a higher amount of extra virgin and milder with less.
It is crucial for consumers to pay attention to the label and not be deceived by marketing when buying mild or intense olive oil, as they are, in fact, refined olive oils. Transparency in label information is essential for making informed decisions about the quality of the olive oil being acquired.
Olive Pomace Oil
Olive pomace oil is produced using the residual oil and remnants of olives, such as pits, skin, water, and pulp. There are three main designations: crude olive pomace oil, refined olive pomace oil, and olive pomace oil. This type of oil is a blend of virgin olive oils and oils obtained through chemical processes from the solid residue of olives, known as pomace, with a maximum acidity level of 1.5%, making it suitable for human consumption.
However, it is important to note that part of the oil used in its production comes not only from refined lampante oil but also from oil extracted through industrial refining of the solid residue generated in the mechanical extraction process in mills, known as pomace. This material is stored in specific tanks during the olive season and is transported to pomace mills for processing, where olive pomace oil is extracted along with other by-products commonly used in cosmetics.
Although olive pomace oil is suitable for human consumption and is commonly used in bar and restaurant kitchens for its greasing function at a low cost, it lacks the health-beneficial properties present in higher-quality extra virgin olive oils.
Furthermore, being a less dense and more processed fat, it tends to impregnate food more and burn easily, adding more calories to dishes and potentially causing digestive issues if reused inappropriately.
Lampante Olive Oil. Not suitable for consumption
Lampante olive oil is a type of raw olive oil that does not meet the quality standards for human consumption due to its high acidity content, typically exceeding 3%. This oil is extracted from overripe, damaged, or ground-picked olives, negatively impacting its taste and quality.
The term «lampante» originates from the Italian word «lampa,» meaning lamp, as historically, this oil was not fit for direct consumption and was primarily used for lamp production. To make it suitable for consumption, lampante oil undergoes a refining process to reduce its acidity and eliminate impurities, although this process may result in the loss of certain beneficial compounds and organoleptic characteristics found in higher-quality oils.
Exploring the diverse categories of olive oil immerses us in a fascinating world of flavors, aromas, and properties. In the selection of olive oils, transparency in labels and knowledge of production processes are essential. Ultimately, incorporating these oils into our kitchen not only involves choosing the right one for each use but also appreciating the art and tradition that each bottle encapsulates, contributing to the richness of gastronomy and the well-being of our palate.
At Oliveo Escapes, we accompany and guide you in the art of olive oil, from its origin in the olive groves of Andalusia to its production in mills and mills, and finally its tasting. Discover all the experiences here.