The Allure of Olive Oil
For thousands of years olive trees have grown on Mediterranean shores becoming part of the rich heritage of ancient societies like the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. Olive oil found a wide use, ranging from medicine to lighting whole cities. Diets revolved around this delightful oil, adding a delicate aroma and flavor to dishes. In fact, the olive tree became so entwined in their culture, olive branches symbolized peace and friendship and even crowned the heads of winners in Olympic games.
Now in the 21st century researchers have discovered people living on a Mediterranean diet enjoy longer lives. Likely due to its extensive anti-oxidant properties, olive oil lessens heart disease, promotes healthy digestion, makes for healthy skin and is viewed as a preventative for cancer and diabetes.
Despite its many redeeming qualities, all olive oil is not the same. Much like fine wine experts, olive oil experts grade olive oil on its aroma and flavor. Usually eight to ten professional tasters will gather in a room to sample the oil. They sample it from opaque glasses, hiding the color so it doesn’t influence the tasting. Excellent quality oil varies in color from yellow to green. The type of olive and its ripeness will determine the color. Some of the finest oils come from the least ripe olives, making it spicier while other olive oils taste fruity. The tasters grade it on a scale from one to nine, nine being the highest, based on the pleasantness of the taste.
However the taste test doesn’t include examining acidity. A second test, done by laboratory testers, analyzes and grades acidic properties.
Several factors contribute to the excellence of olive oil:
- Picking olives based on their ripeness, at just the right time.
- Carefully gathering the olives without bruising them. As in any fruit, bruising affects the flavor.
- Ideally you store olives for as short a time as possible before processing them. Because they will deteriorate, 12 hours is best for storing and never more than 48 hours.
- Processing olive oil must take place in moderate temperatures. This includes crushing the olives into a paste, pressing out the oil, and pouring it off from the vegetable water.
- The oil must be stored or decanted under optimum temperatures as well.
You will know the quality of olive oil by the acidity and taste tests. Any flaws in processing the oil result in more acidity and less desirable flavor. So, all not being perfect, you have the following categories of olive oil:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil rates the highest –with tasting ranging from 6.5 to 9 and acidity at no more than 1 degree.
- Fine Virgin Olive Oil rates next – with tasting at 5.5 to 6.4 with maximum acidity at 1.5 degrees.
- Semi Fine or Virgin Olive Oil follows – with tasting at 3.5 to 5.4 and maximum acidity at 3.3 degrees.
- Any oil with lower grading and higher acidity isn’t fit for consumption. Manufacturers have to refine these olive oils further due to acidity and unpleasant taste.
Now that you understand the allure and method grading of olive oil, perhaps you’ll be more able to savor a quality oil. Also, you’ll heed my advice when I say, “Buy extra virgin olive oil.”