What does VIRGIN Olive Oil mean

January 30, 2014

Olive Oils with Extra Virgin flair vs. ones that lost their virginity!

What does VIRGIN Olive Oil mean Olive oils described as ‘virgin’ are those that have been obtained from the original olive fruit without having been synthetically treated. In order for the olive oil to be considered extra virgin they must experience the following process: olives are picked, pressed, and washed, no other process takes place other than decantation, and centrifugation to extract the oil, and filtration. Thus to be virgin it cannot go through any chemical process to make the olive oil. It must be produced entirely by mechanical means without the use of any solvents, and under temperatures that will not degrade the oil (less than 86°F, 30°C). What does the “EXTRA” Virgin mean in Extra Virgin Olive Oil In simple terms it is the very first “virgin” oil that comes from the virgin olives or first squeezed. Often times referred to as the first pressed. Extra virgin is the highest quality and most flavorful of all the olive oil classifications. The USDA definitions are as follows: USA Retail Grades of Olive Oil U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently has a four-part grading of olive oil based on acidity, absence of defects, odor and flavor:
  • U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil for oil with excellent flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 0.8g per 100g (0.8%);
  • U.S. Virgin Olive Oil for oil with reasonably good flavor and odor and free fatty acid content of not more than 2g per 100g (2%);
  • U.S. Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing is a virgin oil of poor flavor and odor;
  • U.S. Olive Oil is an oil mix of both virgin and refined oils;
  • U.S. Refined Olive Oil is an oil made from refined oils with some restrictions on the processing;
Unfortunately to make matters more difficult to understand the USDA has not adopted the same definitions as the International Olive Council (IOC). The IOC definitions are more precise and as such offer olive oil producers less wiggle room in adulterating the product they offer the consumer. The loose USDA definitions allow the US sellers room to manipulate the system by mixing and blending other oils while still labeling their products Extra Virgin Olive Oil when in fact their product may be only 20% Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 80% Vegetable Oil. The IOC definitions are as follows: Extra-virgin olive oil Comes from virgin oil production only, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste.
  • Virgin olive oil Comes from virgin oil production only, has an acidity less than 1.5%.
  • Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.
  • Olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined production oil, of no more than 2% acidity.
  • Olive pomace oil is refined pomace olive oil often blended with some virgin oil. It is fit for consumption, but may not be described simply as olive oil. It has a more neutral flavor than pure or virgin olive oil
  • Lampante oil is olive oil not suitable as food; lampante comes from olive oil's long-standing use in oil-burning lamps. Lampante oil is mostly used in the industrial market.
  • Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. It has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams (0.3%).
In order for an oil to qualify as “extra virgin” by the IOC standards the oil must also pass both an official chemical test in a laboratory and a sensory evaluation by a trained tasting panel recognized by the International Olive Council. The olive oil must be found to be free from defects while exhibiting some fruitiness. Unfortunately the USDA has not included the official laboratory chemical test and trained and certified taste testers to verify the “Extra Virgin” standard. This has led to widespread manipulation and adulteration of olive oil on the US super market shelves.