Olive Oil Labeling Terms and What They Mean

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Virgin: Rarely found in stores, virgin olive oil can have up to 2 percent acidity.

Pure, Pomace, or “Olive Oil”: This is refined oil—it’s been treated with heat or solvents. Although it’s an economical choice for frying or sautéing, to my mind, it’s in the same category as so-called cooking wine. It’s inferior stuff, and life is too short—supercentenarian or not.

First Cold Press: Whether or not it says so on the label, all extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is first cold pressed, which means that the olives were crushed just one time, rendering the freshest, fruitiest flavor. The word cold refers to the temperature of the fruits at the time they’re crushed; it can’t exceed 86°F/30°C. Lower-quality oils are made from olives that are crushed numerous times and at higher temperatures in order to extract more oil from the fruit. First Cold Press doesn’t necessarily signify good quality, and, for the most part, modern centrifuges have rendered the term obsolete.

Country of Origin: The label may say that the oil is the product of a particular country, but all that means is that it was bottled there. The oil could be from another country entirely.

Best By” or Harvest Date: Olive oil is fragile, and its flavor breaks down over time. Freshness, then, is the most important quality to look for in a good olive oil. If you see a “best by” date, it should be no more than two years out. A harvest date (look for the words raccolta, annata di produzione on an Italian bottle, or cosechar or recoger on a Spanish one) is preferable, although it may be in small type and hard to find on the label.

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