1.Olive Oil acidity is important, but not because of its taste
This is a very extended myth among Spaniards: the higher the acidity, the stronger the oil tastes. But the fact is that you can´t tell the acidity of an olive oil by how does it taste. “When the olive is on the tree, it has 0º acidity. However, at the moment you separate it from the tree, is when it starts growing acidity”, tells us Marta, a high-quality olive oil trader from Jaen. “The acidity is the olive´s reaction to any aggression suffered. If you knock down the olive, its grows acidity. When the olive falls to the floor, it grows acidity. When you transport it to the mill in a truck, the vibrations from the truck make the acidity grow. And despite the popular belief, acidity does not have any taste”. Acidity does not affect the olive oil taste, but it can affect your health. Even if olive oil is one of the healthier vegetable oils, you can still find differences between them. Keep reading to learn more about that.
2. Learn the difference between extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and olive oil
Only the manually extracted olive oil can be classified as virgin or extra virgin. This olive oil has been extracted by mechanical means only, and they are the highest quality because of its physical-chemical and organoleptic qualities. Extra virgin olive oil does not present any fault, while virgin olive oil presents some stability fault and loses the word extra. They are also different in their acidity: extra virgin olive oil has a maximum of 0.8º, while virgin olive oil acidity can be up to 2.0º. When the acidity is higher than 2.0º it is no longer edible. When olive oil becomes unsuitable for human consumption we call it lampante because it was the olive oil that was used to lit the lamps. If an olive oil is determined to be lampante, it can be refined. The refining process is a chemical treatment to remove the all the faults, but the oil also loses all its virtues. It loses all the colour, aroma, taste, vitamins… the oil becomes a clear liquid, tasteless and with no smell (but it keeps all the oil calories!). This neutered olive oil is mixed with virgin or extra virgin olive oil to be sold as olive oil.1
3. Colour and taste are not related
It is usually said that a good olive oil should have an intense green colour, while pale-yellow olive oil is weak and tasteless, probably refined. This is a myth that has proven itself false, and it is the reason why the olive oil tasting glasses are always coloured, so the colour perception does not affect the palate.
4. Real olive has a complex and strong taste, but not necessarily peppery and spicy
The fastest way to know if you are having real, not mixed olive oil is to taste it. Have you ever find yourself pouring a lot of olive oil over a salad because it was tasteless? Chances are that the olive oil you were given was not extra virgin olive oil, even if the label said so. I should know it because I found myself in that situation several times. And there is even more bad news: poor olive oil has exactly the same calories than good olive oil (and not many healthy properties). However, it is not true that real olive oil is always peppery and spicy. In a similar way to wine, the taste of an olive oil depends on the olive. After all, olive oil is just pure olive juice (and olives are fruits!). Depending on the kind of olive, how was it grown, how and when it was harvested, how has it been carried to the mill, how much time passed since between the moment when the olive was harvested and the moment it was pressed, how the olives are set up to be pressed, and so on, the olive oil taste will change. Those are the positive attributes that you can find -with different intensities – on a good extra virgin olive oil:
- Fruit-like attribute: it is fundamental and should remind the taste of the olives it was extracted from.
- Fruitiness: it is the set of characteristic olfactory sensations in the virgin olive oil, and they depend on the olive variety. It can be perceived directly and via retronasal (indirectly). This attribute is considered:
- Green when the olfactory sensations remind green fruits. It appears in the olive oil elaborated with green fruits (especially in the early harvest specialities).
- Mature: when the olfactory sensations remind ripe fruits. It is characteristic of the olive oil coming from green and ripe fruits.
- Bitter: it is an elementary taste characteristic of the olive oil coming from green or envero olives (envero olives are those in the exact point to be harvested). It is perceived in the rear part of the tongue.
- Spicy: tactile spicy sensation, characteristic from oils obtained at the beginning of the harvest, mainly from green olives. Can be perceived in the whole mouth, especially in the throat.
Each attribute can appear in different intensity: intense, medium or light. This means that an olive oil can be intense in the fruit-like and fruitiness attributes and light in spiciness and bitterness, and it still will be a perfectly fine olive oil. Some varieties, as arbequina (especially the Arbequina olives grown in Catalonia), are softer and more fruity, while Picual and Hojiblanca are more peppery and spicy. While some people might think that coupages are a way to hide a poor oil quality, it is another myth. Olive oil coupages can mix with different olives to create a very complex and rich olive oil whose flavour evolves in the mouth. Some olive oils will remind you to tomato, grass, almonds… but all those flavours can naturally appear in the olive oil with no need of infusing it with anything else.
5. The fridge test
Probably, I´m not going to tell you anything new here, but a way to check if your olive oil is 100% virgin olive oil is to stick it in the fridge. This method has, however, some limits:
- It is an after-purchase test. During the past winter, due to the low temperatures, all our olive oil bottles went solid (especially on Monday because our shop stays closed on Sunday and the heaters remain off). But olive oil is usually presented at room temperature and in a liquid state, so you can only make the test at home.
- It won´t tell the difference between extra virgin and virgin olive oil. Both get solid exactly the same.
If you want to run the fridge test at home, here is how to do it:
- You don´t need to stick the whole bottle in the fridge. You can use a small sample, that will take shorter in cooling down.
- You want the oil to get fully solid. If the olive oil you are checking contains a mix of virgin or extra virgin olive oil and other oils, the portion of olive oil will get solid, while the rest will stay liquid. The result will be a cloudy olive oil. Proper extra virgin olive oil gets fully solid. The pictures below were taken in our own shop, where we store different varieties of extra virgin olive oil. Even the 2L bottle was fully solid. Don´t be content with anything less.
There are also a couple of things you might want to know about the fridge test:
- Cool temperatures won´t damage the oil quality.
- If you let some olive oil to cool down in a wide container when it gets solid you can spread the oil straight over a bread roll as it was butter. The difference in texture will surprise you!
6. Check the label
Luckily most brands are pretty straightforward about what are they selling. While the acidity is not usually displayed on the label, most labels will let you know about the general quality of the olive oil. If the label says “olive oil” instead of “extra virgin olive oil” you will know that this olive oil is a mix of virgin or extra virgin olive oil and refined olive oil (which has it´s own use, for example, if you want to make home-made mayo or allioli and you don´t want a strong olive oil taste, or if you are looking for a good frying olive oil). You can also check on the label if the olive oil has been mixed with other vegetable oils to soften the taste, and even which variety of olives have been used to make the oil.
7. If it is too good to be true, probably it is not true
At this point, you probably have realized that creating a good olive oil takes a lot of work, care and effort. Every detail matters… and there is only one harvest per year. Olive trees take a very long time to grow and a lot of lands, that can be used only for that purpose. Olive oil farmers and producers work all the year round for only one yearly harvest, and from the tree to the bottle, a long process that involves many families is required to produce the best olive oil. In Spain, olive oil is called “liquid gold”, and gold is not cheap. If you find an inexpensive extra virgin olive oil, probably it is not real extra virgin olive oil, or it comes from unfair trade.