Does an Olive Oil’s Color Tell You Quality? No. But It May Tell You Other Things

Harvest time begins within just a few weeks. We plan to begin picking our olives next month and pressing them into extra virgin olive oil. It reminds us of a question we hear about olive oil: Is the color of an oil a reliable indicator of quality?

The short answer: No.

Color isn’t an accurate indicator of whether an oil is good or bad. That’s why professional olive oil tasters use a special blue glass when they taste oils.  The blue tint is intended to mask the oil’s color so it won’t influence a taster’s judgment – although perhaps a black glass might do an even better job!

High-quality oils can be green … or golden. That said, the two oils’ styles can differ. A green color can suggest a robust tasting robust oil that tickles your throat more when you swallow the oil. A golden oil might be delicate, buttery and mild in profile.

Color also will tell you other things, like when the olives were harvested. Those harvested early in the season, for example, are naturally very green and therefore produce a greener oil.

“Olives picked early in the season tend to make green colored oil as they contain higher levels of chlorophyll,” Australian olive oil guru Richard Gawel writes in an excellent FAQ.

“Olives harvested late in the season will typically produce more golden colored oils due to a higher level of natural occurring levels of carotene-like substances. Both oils may be technically equivalent in quality but very different in style.”

But even then there are wrinkles. Gawel notes many green oils become more golden when stored. The bottom line: “Don’t place too much emphasis on color,” Gawel says.

Which reminds us: Avoid the temptation to buy olive oil that comes in a clear bottle. Light is among the enemies of extra virgin olive oil.

Together, heat, light and oxygen promote oxidation and can make the oil rancid. That’s why we package our extra virgin olive oil in dark green bottles and boxes.

“Dark bottles or some outside covering like a box help protect the oil,” olive oil expert Fran Gage writes in her book The New American Olive Oil (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009).

“But many curious consumers want to see the color of the oil (even though the color is not an accurate indicator of quality or taste), so producers often use clear glass.”

Bon appétit,

Your friends at California Olive Ranch


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