At Old Town Olive, we know quality olive oil is more than just a processed fruit from a tree. Once the olive leaves the tree it goes on an incredible journey and the steps involved determines whether it is virgin, extra virgin, and so on.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture the only acceptable grade of olive oil is Virgin Olive Oil. The Food and Drug Administration definition is, “Olive oil is the edible oil expressed from the sound, mature fruit of the olive tree."
There are two ways to assess virgin olive. The first is chemical and the second is organoleptic analysis; each are equally important even though one is objective and the other is subjective.
Laboratory analysis can tell us about the levels of beneficial polyphenols and oleic acid, and the products of deterioration free fatty acids and peroxide. Of course this tells us nothing about the joy to be had from using fresh, well made oil.
Organoleptic analysis happens with the senses of the tester, specifically smell and taste. This taste tester can either be a professional or an end user. Notes ranging from fruity and nutty to fresh grassy and peppery, and many others give complexity to the oil. Lab analysis can track down the chemical nature of those flavors and aromas, but the human senses are still the best organoleptic analysis device.
Most grading is based on how it was produced and designations are a marketing tool used by producers. The terms can sometimes be confusing and potentially misleading. Like anything, it is important to know as much as possible about what you choose.
Extra virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only. It contains no more than 0.8% acidity and is judged to have a superior taste. Extra virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries.
Virgin olive oil is produced by the use of only physical means. It has an acidity less than 2%, and is judged to have a good taste. Over 50% of the oil produced in the Mediterranean area is of such poor quality that it must be refined to produce an edible product.
Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods which 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%) and its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. This is obtained by refining virgin olive oils which have a high acidity level and/or organoleptic defects which are eliminated after refining. Over 50% of the oil produced in the Mediterranean area is of such poor quality that it must be refined to produce an edible product. Note that no solvents have been used to extract the oil but it has been refined with the use of charcoal and other chemical and physical filters. An obsolete equivalent is "pure olive oil".