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What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The International Olive Council is based in Europe and sets standards for classifying olive oil for member countries.  The US is not a member.


There are three main ways used to classify olive oils


1- Processing of olives


  • physical

  • chemical

  • refined - physically processed oil that is refined by filtering with charcoal or chemicals


2- Chemical analysis of acidity and other measures


3- Taste


1- Processing


  • Physical - Olives from the trees are physically pressed to extract the olive oil. Traditionally this would have been done by crushing the olives between stones often throwing hot water on the pulp and then separating the vegetable matter and oil in a press or rack.  This is now done in a stainless steel crusher followed by a stirring process, with separation taking place in a centrifuge (spinner) which is a faster, cleaner process.  The taste and quality are maintained  by controlling duration and heating.


  • Chemical- chemicals are used to extract oil often from the pomace or left over matter of the physical pressing.


  • Refined - poorer quality olives are physically processed and the oil produced is refined by filtering or chemical means.


2- Chemical Analysis


The standard chemical analysis sets quality levels linked largely to the speed of deterioration.


  • ACIDITY %: (max 0,8)

  • k270: (max 0,220)

  • k232: (max 2,500)

  • ΔΚ:  (max 0,010)

  • PEROXIDE VALUE(meqO2/kg):  (max 20,0)


Additional tests can be done to determine purity,  and mostly establish if the oil has been adulterated, usually with other lower quality oils.


3- Taste tests


Taste tests are performed by panels of eight to twelve tasters who have been trained for more than two years to evaluate olive oil for positive and negative sensory attributes.  Oils are assessed based on the intensity of their smell, taste, and mouthfeel. This costly process is rarely done by small producers outside of trade show competitions.






Olive cultivation has been around for more than 6000 years and is believed to have started in Crete and Syria. Trees live an average of 500 years and some in Portugal, Greece and Palestine have been dated to over 2000 years old.  


The bulk of world olive oil production today is in the Mediteranean with Greece the third largest producer  (2013 statkstics - 22% Greece, 24% Italy, 37% Spain).   82% of the Greek oil is Extra Virgin, making it by far the highest producer of this quality product (Italy 45%, Spain 30%). In recent years, production in Italy and Spain has fallen dramatically due to bad weather and disease and it remains to be seen what the long term impact will be on price and quality.  


Greeks consume the largest amount of olive oil per person in the world at an average of 26 liters a year vs the next runners up, Spain and Italy where consumption is around 14 liters a person.  We take our olive oil very seriously!


Greece is a mountainous country. About 23% of the land can be cultivated and of this around 60% is dedicated to olives.   Olives do well with the poor but well drained soil and tend to be resistant to drought.   Most groves are like ours are often older, small and family owned and not conducive to orderly planting or mechanical picking.  Production is highly fragmented. 


The mills hold  the bulk of the oil produced.  They take a percentage of the harvest in payment for pressing the olives and usually will buy up any oil that a family does not need.   The oil is collected and stored to be sold on to buyers mostly from other Southern European countries. They turn up with tankers trucks, purchasing in bulk and take oil directly for shipping to the home country where it is mixed and sold as local produce.    About half of the annual Greek production is exported primarily to Italy where it is mixed with local oils to improve the quality.  Only 5% is sold internationally as Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  


Olive oil is an organic product subject to variations in taste from year to year depending on climate and other conditions.  


Storing your Olive Oil


Extra Virgin Olive Oil is organic and will degrade over time; it can keep for up to two years or more depending on quality and storage. Exposure to  heat, light and air will speed up degeneration and affect the taste and beneficial elements of the oil.   It is important to keep it in a well sealed container such as a stainless steel tin or a dark glass bottle, away from light in  a pantry or in a cupboard.  Keep a smaller bottle of oil for daily use, topping up from the larger container as needed.   If you refrigerate your oil, it will go cloudy but will return to its normal state after warming up.


Your oil may have some sediment made up of small olive particles which collects at the bottom of the tin or bottle.  This is normal and some find it desirable.  In the case of the tins, I suggest filtering the oil at the bottom through cheesecloth and then storing it in bottles. The sediment will settle quickly.


Types of Olive Oil


The are a variety of olive oils available on the market.  They are classified by quality, which is largely linked to how the olives are processed as well as chemical and taste factors.


  • Extra Virgin is the highest quality. It is physically pressed, has acidity of <0.8% and is judged to have excellent taste. 


  • Virgin olive oil is also physically pressed, but has higher acidity level (<2%) and an ok taste.


  • Pure olive oil and olive oil are a mix of both physically and chemically processed olives, with <1.5% acidity and little flavour.


  • Refined oil takes physically processed extra virgin oil that has high acidity levels or taste flaws.  These are filtered out along with any taste.  It is frequently used as a base of flavored oils.

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