Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Are you confused by the number of extra virgin olive oil brands you see on the shelves when you go shopping? Do you know what distinguishes extra virgin olive oil brands from other grades of olive oil? Here's an easy primer on everything you need to know about olive oil.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Extra virgin olive oil is a grade of olive oil that contains one percent or less of oleic acid. In most parts of the world, the standards regulating olive oil grades conform to benchmarks set out by the International Olive Oil Council. In the United States, standards are maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Extra virgin olive oils are made from the first pressing of the olive. Extra virgin olive oils are never treated with chemicals or processed with heat. They are known for their distinctive color, clarity and flavor. Extra virgin olive oil brands can be used for cooking or enjoyed as a condiment when drizzled over bread or a green salad.

What Are the Difference Between Extra Virgin Olive Oil Brands?

Much like wine, the flavor of extra virgin olive oil brands depends upon the variety of olive used to produce the oil, and the growing conditions and soil where that olive is produced. Spain grows approximately 45 percent of the world's olives, and Spanish extra virgin olive oil brands have a distinctly nutty, fruity flavor that gourmets love. In contrast, Italian olive oils are generally darker in color and have a more herbal, grassy flavor. Strongly flavored Greek olive oils area also popular, particularly among cooks who prefer bold tastes.

Often, olive oils produced in different regions are blended together though true olive oil fans prefer artisanal olive oils that use only fruit grown in one particular region. These olive oils are frequently produced by a single estate that has been manufacturing olive oils for many years. The fruit is handpicked, pressed and harvested right on the estate.

The time of harvest will also affect the flavor of the olive oil. Oils manufactured from less ripe green olives tend to have a sharper flavor than oils manufactured from the riper, blacker fruit. Olive pressing techniques will also affect the flavor of the oil. Some pressing techniques allow the fruit to oxidize slightly before it is pressed, which imparts a slightly sour flavor to the resulting oil.

Which of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Brands Is Best?

It's a matter of personal taste which extra virgin olive oil brand is best. Recently, more and more Americans have been discovering Spanish extra virgin olive oils, which have a more delicate taste than the Italian olive oils they're familiar with. Oliflix North America distributes a very fine organic extra virgin Spanish olive oil, produced from olives that grow on trees over 1,000 years old.