Shopping for Olive Oil

When you go to buy olive oil at the grocery store you face a dizzying array of choices – often more than a dozen different bottles or cans. Extra virgin olive oil. Pure Olive Oil. Light Olive Oil. First Cold Press. What does it all mean?

Here’s a primer.

Extra virgin olive oil: Top grade … and the most expensive. True extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) can’t have any flavor “defects” – moldy olives, for example, can make the oil musty. The oil must taste fruity and meet rigid standards set by the International Olive Oil Council. California is the only state that has legally adopted the international standards for any olive oil sold in the state. As a result, not all extra virgin olive oil sold in the United States is indeed the real thing. Even certain oils imported from some of the biggest olive growing countries don’t have to adhere to international standards.

Virgin: May contain slight flavor defects and has a higher acidity level than extra virgin oil. The higher acidity level may also affect taste.

Pure Olive Oil/Olive Oil: Oil has been refined to remove any defects. It’s typically blended with a little extra virgin olive oil to add flavor.

Light Olive Oil: Basically the same as Pure Olive Oil. It’s made from refined olive oil that’s “light in favor.” Don’t be fooled into thinking this oil contains fewer calories or less fat. It doesn’t.

First Cold Press: Represents the first pressing of the olives. It’s done with a hydraulic press at a temperature of less than 80.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The “First Cold Press” label doesn’t ensure good quality.

Pomace Olive Oil: Obtained by mixing solvents into the olive pulp that’s a byproduct of the milling process. Heat is then used to extract additional oil from the pulp. Pomace oil has been found to retain traces of the chemical process.

A paper at the University of California, Davis on extra virgin olive oil offers useful information, as does a recent article in the Sacramento Bee.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch