1. What does Extra Virgin mean?
Extra Virgin, by definition, means the best quality and is the highest grade for olive oil. The oil has been extracted from the olives simply by mechanical means (pressing or centrifugation) – without the use of solvents or high heat like virtually all other vegetable oils. It has also passed chemical tests to detect adulteration and defects, and then taste tests to ensure no other off-flavors that are not detectible chemically. Sometimes, extra virgin olive oil is simply called EVOO.
Unfortunately, oils that are not the highest quality and would not pass these tests are frequently mislabeled ‘Extra Virgin’. That’s why it is best to buy olive oil that is certified to really be Extra Virgin.
2. How can I find a true Extra Virgin olive oil?
There are a few indicators of extra virgin quality – Extra Virgin certification or medals won in reputed competitions. Certification of California extra virgins is done by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) and the bottles will carry the COOC seal. Check the label on foreign oils for the harvest date and an indication of authenticity, such as D.O.P. in Italy, D.O. in Spain, and A.O.C. in France.
Two other things to look for that indicate that the oil is still ‘extra virgin’ fresh, are the use of dark glass, and the harvest date on the label. Even extra virgins turn rancid quickly when exposed to light, or are too old.
3. Are imported olive oils better?
You may want to read this report: Tests indicate that imported “extra virgin” olive oil often fails international and USDA standards – UC Davis Olive Center, July 2010. The title just about says it all, and the results showed that “69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled as extra virgin olive oil and sold on retail shelves in California failed to meet the IOC/USDA sensory (organoleptic) standards for extra virgin olive oil.”
4. What does a good olive oil taste like?
A good, young olive oil made from sound olives has a pleasant aroma, a thin texture, and fresh flavors of raw nuts and vegetables, fresh grass or dry hay, with an aftertaste of spiciness (aka pepperiness or pungency) and slight bitterness. These flavors can range from delicate to intense, depending on the olive variety and ripeness, as well as on the milling technique. As the months go by, an oil like this will mellow, becoming softer and milder – but still quite pleasant.
In contrast, an olive oil that is too old will taste rancid, like stale nuts or old oil paints, and have a greasy texture. A defective oil made from bad olives will have unpleasant aromas, and disagreeable flavors that linger. Refined olive oil, which has been stripped of defective components, will have virtually no aroma or flavor.
An easy way to understand for yourself, is to compare a few different olive oils side by side.
5. How long does olive oil keep?
For real extra virgin olive oil, the generalized rule of thumb is two years from the harvest date. If there’s no date on the bottle, then there’s no way to know how old the oil already is. In reality, the keeping qualities depend on many factors, including the variety, harvest ripeness, processing variables, and storage conditions.
Be aware that the life of olive oil is cut short by light and accelerated by heat. Light causes photo-oxidation of the oil leading to rancidity, so dark glass bottles are preferable to clear glass.
6. How should olive oil be stored?
Once you get the oil home, keep it in a dark, cool place. The refrigerator is too cold – most olive oils become thick and cloudy, and may not recover their aromas and flavor at room temperature. Once a bottle has been opened, it is best used within 8 weeks; don’t wait for special occasions.
7. Are filtered olive oils better?
Yes, filtration extends the keeping qualities of olive oil and is a standard practice for most producers attentive to quality. The bits of olive flesh and juice in unfiltered oils may at first add ‘olivey’ flavors, but before long, the sediment decomposes anaerobically to produce off-flavors. Even if unfiltered oils have been certified Extra Virgin in their youth, they are liable to develop these off-flavors early on. Filtering stabilizes the flavors, and removes the risk of spoilage.
8. How can I use olive oil, besides on salads and sautéing?
The healthiest and most flavorful way to use a good olive oil is raw, as a condiment to finish almost any sort of dish, from salads, to soups, steamed vegetables, breads and grains, as well as fish, poultry, or red meats. Delicate extra virgins can partially or completely replace butter, even in baking. In addition, a real extra virgin olive oil will only smoke at about 405 °F, which is 40 °F higher than the recommended frying temperature of 365 °F.
9. Why don’t you have flavored olive oils?
We enjoy the challenges of making top quality extra virgin olive oils. The best use of lesser oils can be as the base for a popular flavoring. As tasty as flavored oils may be, they are not extra virgin due to the flavoring additives themselves. Also it is very easy to make your own flavored oil. Start with an excellent quality olive oil in a small dish, add your favorite herbs and/or citrus and let sit for 15 minutes, you now have your favorite flavored oil.
10. What are the health benefits of olive oil, and what are polyphenols?
Besides the generally recognized effect of olive oil to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, olive oil is the only vegetable oil that contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are a class of antioxidants found in olive oil, red wine, green tea, chocolate, and more. Olive oil has more than 30 different polyphenols that are especially bioavailable because they are dissolved in oil, not water. These are strong antioxidants and radical scavengers, and reduce cardiovascular risk factors. They also have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that benefit a host of other conditions and chronic diseases, including skin and digestive problems, low-grade inflammation and age-related diseases, obesity and weight loss, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and certain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. For a summary report of over 100 studies, see this report.
The polyphenol content for ordinary extra virgin olive oils ranges from about 50 to 250 ppm. The typical polyphenols in the Apollo Olive Oils range from 500 ppm to 800 ppm. The natural tocopherol (vitamin E) content is also impressively high, putting the total antioxidant levels from 800 to over 1,000 ppm. We achieve these high levels due to our state-of-the-art mill, and our careful harvest and milling procedures. In fact, in 2014, researchers reported two previously unknown polyphenols discovered while analyzing the polyphenols in our very own Apollo Olive Oil.
11. How much olive oil should I have in my diet for the health benefits?
Olive oil is the hallmark ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet – a diet associated with longer life and lower incidence of many chronic diseases. Including about 2-3 tablespoons of real extra virgin olive oil daily to a diet otherwise rich in vegetables and grains, moderate in fish, poultry, and dairy, and low in red meats and sweets may be all it would take to experience these benefits. Just remember to correspondingly replace other sources of fat in your diet, to maintain an appropriate calorie intake.
12. How can I tell if an oil has a lot of antioxidants?
Extra virgin olive oil tastes more or less spicy (peppery, or ‘pungent’ in tasting terms) and bitter. These are the antioxidants – the polyphenols and tocopherols, respectively – and are considered positive attributes, especially when balanced with other olivey flavors, as is the case with our award winning oils. When an oil does not have these peppery and bitter tones, it is poor in antioxidants. Fortunately, pungency and bitterness generally blend well with food, and add pleasing complexity to most dishes. You’ll find these beneficial flavors more and more attractive as they become familiar.