How to Evaluate a Bottle of Olive Oil - The Public Goods Blog How to Evaluate a Bottle of Olive Oil - The Public Goods Blog

How to Evaluate a Bottle of Olive Oil

Reading the labels on a bottle of olive oil can make you feel lost in a sea of confusing jargon.

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There are so many terms — and synonyms for those terms — that it’s hard for regular consumers to know if what they’re picking up is better than what’s next to it.

To make the buying process easier, we wrote a guide that explains what the labels mean and which qualities ultimately determine how good the product is. Use it as a handy reference next time you shop or double check something you already bought.

What Factors Determine the Quality of Olive Oil?

There are dozens of pieces of information on a bottle of olive oil, but only a few tend to indicate the quality of the finished product. Here are the factors to zero in on as you scan all around the bottle:

Grade: Extra Virgin, Virgin, etc.

Extra virgin is the highest grade of olive oil. There are synonyms for it and types of extra virgin olive oil, such as first pressed, first cold pressing and unfiltered (more on those terms later). If you want supreme quality, don’t settle for anything less.

In case you’re curious, however, here is the hierarchy of olive oil grades, from best to worst:

  1. Extra Virgin: meets International Olive Council [IOC] standards for quality and freshness, at acidity level of 0.1 or lower
  2. Virgin: decent quality but may have defects, including zero fruity flavor, staleness, winey-vinegary, musty, muddy sediment or rancid
  3. Pure: defective but refined to remove defects
  4. Light: lighter flavor than pure but same amount of calories
  5. Olive Pomace Oil: made from residue left over from previous pressings

The other grades of olive oil should still be OK for cooking, and they are usually cheaper. If you don’t care about quality, you can save money by purchasing virgin or an even lower grade. The vast majority of sections you will see on store shelves and online will be either extra virgin or virgin.

Harvest Date

The date the olives were harvested should give you a sense of how fresh the product is. It should still taste fine as long as it doesn’t pass the expiration or “best before” date, but a more recent harvest date can add a bit of flavor.

Many bottles do not list this information. If you are dying to know, you can ask the brand.

Olive Varietal

If oil olive is made of only one type of olive, it is likely to have a stronger, more defined flavor. Sometimes olive oil contains a mixture of several varieties of olives.

Again, you’re not guaranteed to see this information on the actual label. If you’re curious, you might need to research the brand online or ask someone who works for the company.

Number of Geographical Origins

Olive oil is usually better when it comes from one region instead of bouncing around all over the world before making it to a shelf or your doorstep. Many countries produce olive oil, and it’s not clear if any of them are better at it than their competitors. You might notice differences in flavor, though.

Proximity of Production

Chances are you live hundreds of miles away from the nearest source of olive oil. Even the highest quality bottles will lose a bit of their freshness before they reach you.

Nonetheless, there are degrees of distance. If you live in New York and order a bottle produced in Italy, it might have a little more freshness than something from Greece.

Glossary of Terms

This section of the guide will have a quick explanation for every word and phrase you might see on a bottle of olive oil. Scroll through it next time you have no idea what a label means, and please let us know if we’re missing anything. Keep in mind there might be slight variations on the exact wording.

Affioflor (see Flor de Aceite)

A “flower of the oil” system that collects olive oil dripping down naturally from a huge pile of olives (more than 20 pounds).

Blended

Olive oil that contains multiple types or “varietals” of olives

Cold Extraction

Extra virgin or virgin olive oils obtained at a temperature below 27 °C by percolation or centrifugation of the olive paste

Cold-Pressed

Pressed at a temperature that does not exceed 80 degrees fahrenheit. This method is used for extra virgin olive oil.

Date and Year Pressing

The date and year in which a cold pressing occured.

Designation of Origin

The region or country where the olive oil was produced.

Estate-Bottled

Olive oil that is produced and bottled in the same location, often on an estate.

EU Organic Logo (leaf shape made with stars)

If you see a logo that features a leaf with borders made of stars it means the European Union has certified that the product is organic. The example on their site is green and white because, but these colors are not a requirement. The logo can be any color and is often modified to mesh with branding on the bottle. What matters is that the basic shape and design of the logo looks legitimate.

Expeller-Pressed

This method uses more heat than cold pressing. It is usually not associated with the highest level of quality.

Extra Virgin

The highest grade of olive oil, usually made from cold pressing and certified by the IOC

First Cold Pressing

Another way of saying cold pressed. This language tries to highlight the fact that the olives are from the first press of the machine, but this doesn’t mean much because there is usually only one press that occurs.

First Press

Another way of saying cold pressed. This language tries to highlight the fact that the olives are from the first press of the machine, but this doesn’t mean much because there is usually only one press that occurs.

Flor de Aceite

A “flower of the oil” system that collects olive oil dripping down naturally from a huge pile of olives (more than 20 pounds).

Lagrima

A specific type of extra virgin Spanish olive oil.

Light

This low grade has a lighter flavor than pure grade, but it contains roughly the same amount of calories.

Made with Organic

At least 70% USDA certified organic ingredients, not allowed to feature USDA seal

Non-GMO

There are little to no genetically modified organisms [GMOs] in the product (usually this quality is part of the USDA organic certification). Because there are no GMO olives, this label does not have much value.

Olive Pomace Oil

This is arguably the lowest grade of olive oil. It is made from residue.

Organic

This term can be ambiguous. Sometimes it refers to a product being USDA organic (see below). In other cases it has no meaning and instead functions purely as marketing language. This use is not necessarily legal.

Organic Ingredients

Small percentage of organic ingredients, not allowed to feature USDA organic seal or refer to product as “organic”

Proof of Origin

A label or seal that proves the olive oil originated in a certain place.

Protected Designation of Origin [PDO]

This label means most of the manufacturing of the product and its supply chain steps occured in the region where it originated.

Pure

Olive oil that was defective and has since been refined to become useable

Refined

Olive oil that was defective and has since been refined to become useable

Single-Estate Oils

Olive oil that is produced and bottled in the same location, often on an estate.

Single Varietals

Olive oils that only use one type of olive.

Superior Category (see Extra Virgin)

The highest grade of olive oil, usually made from cold pressing and certified by the IOC

Unfiltered

Olive oil that is usually extra virgin and has bits of olive skin floating in it, often at the bottom of the bottle.

USDA Organic

This label means the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] has certified that at least 95% of the ingredients in a product meet its standards for being considered “organic.” Companies that produce USDA organic products have agreed to USDA inspections and other regulations.

Virgin

Olive oil with decent quality, but it may have defects, including zero fruity flavor, staleness, winey-vinegary, musty, muddy sediment or rancid. This is the second highest grade of olive oil.

100% Organic

This label means the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] has certified that 100% of the ingredients in a product meet its standards for being considered “organic.” Companies that produce USDA organic products have agreed to USDA inspections and other regulations.

Time to Dip and Drizzle

Now that you’re an olive oil connoisseur, it’s time to buy a bottle. Drizzle a bit next time you cook, or set it out as dip for your favorite bread. Every time you purchase a different type, take note of the subtle differences in flavor and how they correspond to all those labels.

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