Telling the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil to the uninitiated can be like trying to compare ordinary salt to rock sea salt. Both are good but the later is the premium grade product. Our customers are (rightly) becoming increasingly conscious of the quality of the Moroccan Gold they purchase.
Not all olive oil is the same. There are different grades of olive oil according to its level of acidity, or level of free oleic acid. The amount of free oleic acid in olive oil indicates the extent to which fat has broken down into fatty acids.
Olive oil also falls into two distinct categories: refined and unrefined. While unrefined oils are pure and untreated, refined oil is treated to remove flaws from the oil to make it more sellable.
In summary there are five different types of olive oil:
1/ The Best Quality
Extra-virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil and the highest-quality olive oil you can buy. Genuine extra virgin olive oil is rare and as a result is slightly more expensive.
There are very specific standards oil has to meet to receive the label “extra-virgin.” Because of the way it is made, it retains more true olive taste, and has a lower level of oleic acid than other olive oil varieties. It also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.
It is considered an unrefined oil since it’s not treated with chemicals or altered by temperature. What sets it apart is the low level of oleic acid and the absence of sensory flaws. It contains no more than 0.8% oleic acid and typically has a golden-green color, with a distinct flavor and a light peppery finish.
The chemical characteristics (as with all vegetable oils) give an indication of the care with which it was made and stored: how the fruit was grown, transported and harvested, how it was pressed into oil, and how the oil was packaged and bottled. Stringent chemical analysis also helps to determine if the oil is adulterated in any way. The chemical standards are the highest of all the grades and, as such, offer a guarantee of quality. These are set out in the standards of the International Olive Council.
The definition of extra virgin olive oil is very precise regards production methods, taste and chemical composition. To be certified as extra virgin, an olive oil must:
- Come from a single source, it is not mixed / blended with other olive oils, even if they are of extra virgin quality
- Come from the first pressing of fresh, young olives, normally within 24 hours of harvesting
- Be extracted purely by mechanical means at temperatures specifically below 28C.
- Have free fatty acid or acidity level (normally measured as oleic acid) of less than 0.8%.
- Be defect free and have a perfect taste and aroma.
It is the best tasting olive oil. The organoleptic (taste) characteristics of a high-quality oil are typically:
- It has pleasant spicy, fruity flavours characteristic of fresh ripe or green olives. Fruitiness varies with the variety of olive. Green fruit yields olive oils that are grassy and herbaceous.
- More mature, ripe fruit yields olive oils that are milder, aromatic, buttery and floral.
- Creating a pleasant acrid flavour or sensation on the tongue
- Creating a peppery sensation in the mouth and throat.
High quality extra virgin olive oils also contain the antioxidants and polyphenols that give the health enhancing qualities associated with olive oil.
2/ Virgin Olive Oil
Next in quality, as categorized by the standards of the International Olive Council, is virgin olive oil. It’s made using a similar process as extra-virgin olive oil and is also an unrefined oil, meaning chemicals or heat are not used to extract oil from the fruit. Virgin olive oil also maintains the purity and taste of the olive, though production standards are not as rigid.
According to the standards of the International Olive Council, virgin olive oil has a slightly higher level of oleic acid of up to 2%. It also has a slightly less intense flavour than extra-virgin olive oil. Virgin oil is rarely found, if ever, however, in grocery stores; usually your choice will be between extra-virgin, regular, and light olive oils.
3/ Refined Olive Oil
These are olive oils that have been refined by using agents such as acids, alkalis and heat to extract as much oil as possible from the olive pulp that remains after the first pressing. The result is a fattier and more acidic oil which lacks taste, aroma and natural antioxidants.
Producers then need to add unrefined extra virgin to give some flavour, colour and aroma into the blend. Terms such as “pure” or “100% pure” or “Light” are made up terms used by large producers and supermarkets. If the label states “pure” or “100% pure” or “Light” then the olive oil is a refined oil lacking the taste, aroma and quality.
4/ Olive Pomace Oil
The lowest grade is pormace oil made from the by-products of extra virgin olive oil production. Olive skins, seeds and pulp are heated and the remaining oil is extracted using solvent. The result, pomace oil, is then put through a refining process, similar to pure or light olive oil.
Pomace olive oil is bland and extremely low in antioxidants.
5/ Lampante Oil
Lampante oil comes from bad fruit or poor processing practices and has severe taste defects. It is not fit for human consumption until it has been refined.
Now you have an idea of the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive we encourage you to read our article on how to read the Morocco Gold label.
We also describe the process of how are olives are grown.