Being in the business of importing traditional foods from Calabria I had many people approaching me asking how to identify a good olive oil? Either whilst in Italy or here in the UK.
So in answer to all those questions I decided to write this article about how to identify and select a good olive oil for your table.
Sometimes when we are standing in front of the olive oil section in the supermarket with about 30 types of different oils we think, which one should I get? Is the famous brand better than supermarket brand? Or is the green one better than the brown one? Or is it the yellow one better? Or is the one with bits more flavoursome than the one without bits? WHAT SHOULD I DO??!! Help please!!! I just want an olive oil to add to my salad bowl…!!!
Well the answer is very simple and complicated at the same time. Olive oils are very difficult to assess once they are bottled. Usually the best way to know if the oil you want is good is by tasting it, of course when we are buying it in shop or in the supermarket we don’t have the leisure of asking Tesco’s manager to let us try the oil before buying it, so we need to guide ourselves by using the following recommendations:
1) In reality a good oil should not have a ‘best before date’ older than 18 months from the date bottled. This is because the oil has to be new never from a previous year.
One of oil’s worst enemies is light. Olives contain chlorophyll which is a great preservative and antioxidant but quite bad for the preservation and quality of the oil if exposed to light. In exposure chlorophyll will transform in antioxidant making the oil go from green to yellow very quickly. Some olive oil producers add synthetic chlorophyll to hide this effect. So, if you see a green olive oil in a shop think that it contains synthetic chlorophyll unless you know it comes from a local producer down the road and therefore the oil is new.
2) When choosing an oil place the bottle against a source of light for a few seconds. This will tell how clean or not the oil is and its real colour. Oils can be either filtered or not. Some oil producers prefer to leave the oil unfiltered as these ‘bits’ make the product more flavoursome and with a stronger olive taste, therefore, a better quality oil meaning a more expensive oil. However, this preference makes the ‘best before date’ even shorter. Be careful though as sometimes these unfiltered results are not purposely made by the producer but the result of a bad filtration process which leaves nasty flavours meaning a bad quality oil. It is also important that you don’t buy an extra-virgin olive oil yellow or brown as this indicates a badly preserved product.
How to know if your oil is good after purchasing?
Well, let’s think that you finally managed to decide which olive oil you are getting from the supermarket or shop. You got home and opened the bottle to taste that fantastic Mediterranean flavour you tried whilst on holiday, how do you know what you are getting is really a good oil or just a ‘mock’ of olive oil.
There many ways of testing this:
1) The acidity of the oil should not be more than 0.35%, however, by law producers in Italy are allowed to extend that percentage to up to 80%.
2) The polifenoli which are the bits that are good for the circulation system and in general for our bodies have to have the highest level possible. These ‘bits’ with time will decrease, that’s why oils should not be consumed after the 18 months threshold, the older the oil the less or non polifenoli will have, rending the oil without any goodness in it.
3) The oxygen quantity absorbed by the oil which comes from the initiation of its own oxidation activity that with the pass of time will bring nasty smells and flavours should not be less than 20.
So, after knowing all this information, have you asked yourself what we need to have to produce a good olive oil? Well here are some of the aspects producers need to have to be able to make a good olive oil.
1) The olives have to be collected in the right period when they start to change from green to brown.
2) A good olive oil will depend of course on the quality of the olive. Every olive has its own flavour. Climate, type of cultivation and place also play an important part on this. For example in the North of Italy a more light olive oil is produced, but in the South the production is more accentuated because the olives mature better helped by the warm climate and the quality of the soil. That’s why the best olive oil produced in Italy comes from Calabria and Puglia.
3) The olives have to be nice, healthy and without any insect marks or wholes.
4) They have to be collected in crates with opening so air can circulate and taken immediately to the frantoio to be process as soon as possible.
5) The ideal temperature for the process to be done in is between 25* to 30* for a period no more than 20 to 30 minutes.
6) Then the oil is left to decant for a few days. After is passed onto another container to separate the oil from the bottom and elevate residuals. After a few months of repeating the same procedure all residuals are eliminated.
7) At the end the oil is preserved in air tight containers at a temperature of no more than 20* and in a dry and dark place.
Have you ever asked yourself why we normally find extra virgin olive oil and not virgin olive oil?
Well the answer is very simple. The virgin olive oil is normally used to be mixed with the extra virgin olive oil. The extra virgin olive oil is added to a low quality oil as is the virgin olive oil until obtaining an oil with the right parameters, 0.8% acidity per 100gr. This means a cheaper way of producing a good oil without compromising completely in the quality, but, meaning we are not getting a 100% extra virgin olive oil.
Types of olive oil
– Extra virgin olive oil
– Virgin olive oil
– Olive oil
– Olio di sansa di olive
Well I hope you all enjoyed this long but very informative article about how to choose the right olive oil when you are at the supermarket or shop. Remember that the best place to buy your oil is at the producer; of course I bit difficult if you are in the UK!
Please feel free to leave a comment…
Article sources Jamie Oliver forum: Food, Wine and GardeningIs your olive oil good? (article from Jamie Oliver forum),