Olive Oil Basics


Did you know that olive oil has a USD price per Metric Ton on the global market? According to Ycharts (a financial cloud-based platform that helps investors and advisors make smarter investment decisions), the Olive Oil Price as of October 2022 is at a current level of 4777.18, up from 4316.42 last month and up from 4366.58 one year ago. This is a change of 10.67% from last month and 9.40% from one year ago. (Olive Oil Price)

Olive Oil Basics - A Brief Introduction

Olive oil has been a dietary staple for thousands of years, and it remains one of the world’s most celebrated foods on earth because of its unique flavor and many health benefits. It has a dark green or golden hue with a buttery taste and peppery undertones.

Olive oil, unlike other vegetable oils, is extracted from a fruit and not a seed. It is produced by crushing and grinding fresh whole olives, the fruit of the olive tree, into a pulp, then extracting the oil.

Italy, Greece, and Spain produce most of the world’s olive oil supply, with Italy as the number one world exporter of high-quality olive oil. In the northern part of Italy, the olives are collected and harvested from October to January, and in the southern part, from April to July.  Italian for New Oil is “Olio Nuovo” meaning the “first breath” of the annual olive harvest. 

Olive oil falls into two main categories: unrefined/virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a grade of unrefined/virgin olive oil.

Don’t be fooled, a high percentage of olive oil sold in the United States is fraudulently labeled as “extra virgin olive oil”. Extra virgin olive oil is time-consuming and costly to produce. It is very likely the olive oil labeled “extra virgin” on the grocery store shelves or in your kitchen is not olive oil at all but rather a blend of sunflower oil, soy oil, and other seed-based oils. Store bought extra virgin olive oil may also contain chlorophyll for color and beta carotene for fruitiness to make it look and taste like authentic extra virgin olive oil. 

The Process

Step 1:  Harvesting the Olives

Olives are harvested from trees when the olives are beginning to ripen, transitioning from a green to a purplish color. Riper olives, or more purplish color olives, produce a mild fruity-style extra virgin olive oil.

The traditional way of harvesting olives is to shake the tree or beat its branches with sticks to make the olives drop into a net. Modern methods use an electric rake to remove the olives from the trees. Carefully picking the olives is necessary to ensure the quality of the olive oil. If no net is used to catch the olives before they hit the ground, the olives can bruise resulting in lower-quality olive oil. After the olives have been picked, they go through a defoliator to remove any leaves, stems, or twigs. The olives are then washed with cold water to remove any dirt and debris.  

Step 2: Crushing / Grinding

The harvested olives, including the pits, are crushed and ground into a thick pulp. This process was traditionally done on stone wheels, but with today's modern systems, stainless steel rollers are used and olives are actually spun instead of pressed. These newer machines cause less oxidation of the pulp and are easier to clean, which means a healthier, higher-quality olive oil.

Step 3: Malaxation

After grinding, the olive pulp goes into a malaxer to mill the olives. The malaxation is the action of slowly churning or mixing the milled olives typically for 20 to 40 minutes. Churning allows the smaller droplets of oil to be easily separated and released from the water.  (Malaxation - Wikipedia)

Step 4: Centrifugation

The olive pulp is then run through a horizontal centrifuge, called a decanter. The centrifugal force of rotation separates the olive oil from water and pulp. After the oil goes through the decanter, the oil passes through a second higher-speed, vertical centrifuge to remove the last remaining water and particles. Exiting this vertical centrifuge is extra virgin olive oil or "olio nuovo" ("new oil").

This entire process is typically done within 24 hours of picking the olives from the trees.  Delays between harvesting the olives and processing the olives result in lower-quality olive oil as the olives, like any fresh fruit, deteriorate after picking.

Olive oil has been made this way since the dawn of civilization, and the process remains virtually unchanged to this day. Extra virgin olive oil has been appropriately coined as “liquid gold” and has certainly stood up to its name.

Extra virgin olive oil can have flavors from a fresh, peppery, and grassy taste to a ripe and buttery taste.  Earlier harvested EVOOs will have a bold peppery flavor, which you can actually feel in the back of your throat, while later harvested oils may be milder and smoother.

The color of the oil is not an indicator of quality. Rather, color indicates attributes of the oil such as the variety and ripeness of the olives and the climate in which the olives were grown.

Types of Olive Oil

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL is the purest form of olive oil making it the highest quality olive oil and most expensive available. It is considered the healthiest because it is an unrefined oil obtained using cold-pressed or cold-extracted techniques. Unrefined olive oil is so pure you can drink it right out of the bottle, and it can contain tiny pieces of olives that add even more flavor to the oil.  

In contrast, lower-quality oils must be refined to remove their impurities before they are suitable for consumption. This is done by using heat or a combination of heat and chemical additives like phosphoric acid. When heat and chemicals are used to extract the last traces of oil from already pressed olives (or lower quality oil is refined to remove impurities), the resulting product is a lower quality oil. Refining also makes it easier for producers to blend lower-quality oils with extra virgin or virgin olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil is also known as the “first cold-pressed” or “first cold-extracted”. According to the International Olive Council, all extra-virgin olive oils are extracted at temperatures under 27ºC (80.6ºF).  So by definition, all extra-virgin olive oils are "cold-pressed" or "cold extracted".

First cold-pressed or first cold-extracted means that the fruit of the olive tree was crushed or extracted only one time. The cold refers to the temperature range of the fruit at the time it is crushed or extracted.  The oil was not heated to a temperature above 81.9 degrees Fahrenheit during the process, thus retaining more nutrients and undergoing less degradation. Temperatures are kept low to preserve the natural aroma and flavor of the olives and to maintain the nutritional value of the finished product.

The difference between “cold-pressed” and “cold-extracted” is regulated in Europe where the use of a centrifuge, the modern method of extraction for large quantities, must be labeled as cold-extracted, while only a physically pressed olive oil may be labeled as cold-pressed. However, the vast majority of extra virgin olive oil is now made using a centrifuge and not a press, making these terms more of a marketing ploy than an actual production description.

The oil is extracted by grinding and pressing olives; no other chemicals, heat, or processes are used.  This process retains much of the olive flavor and crucial nutrients such as modest amounts of Vitamins K and E and powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation, protect cells and may help to prevent some forms of cancer.  

EVOO must be totally unprocessed and kept below 75 degrees Fahrenheit at all times during the mechanical extraction process. It cannot contain more than 0.8 grams of oleic acid per 100 grams of oil (0.8%). To be considered extra virgin olive oil, the oil must have an acidity level lower than 0.8 and must have zero taste flaws.

Extra virgin olive oil must meet strict chemical criteria as defined by the International Olive Council (IOC) and adopted by the European Union and USDA. It also must have perfect flavor and aroma as determined by a certified tasting panel.

Extra virgin olive oil tends to be darker in color than lower-quality oils, somewhere between a golden yellow and a dark green. EVOO has a distinct olive flavor.  In the highest quality olive oils, you should be able to taste almost a little bit of spiciness. Extra virgin olive oil has a perfect flavor with no flaws.

Extra virgin olive oil is a finishing oil and ideal for drizzling on your favorite dishes such as vegetables, soups, vinaigrettes and marinades or simply enjoyed over a warm bruschetta. EVOO has a lower smoke point than other oils so it is not ideal for high-temperature cooking. 

VIRGIN OLIVE OIL is the second highest quality of olive oil. Virgin olive oil is produced the same way as extra virgin olive oil and has good flavor with minimal flaws. Virgin olive oil is also unrefined and has a distinctive olive taste and scent, but it is slightly higher in oleic acid than EVOO, and its flavor is not quite as intense. The minor flaws of virgin olive oil can only be detected by a trained palate and would not be noticed by most consumers. 

Virgin olive oil is an unrefined form of olive oil extracted using the cold-press/cold-extraction technique. It has a slightly higher level of acidity content that ranges between 1 to 4 percent. This oil is temperature resistant and in comparison to extra virgin olive oil, the taste is milder. It is good for low-heat cooking and is also ideal for salad dressings.

PURE OLIVE OIL is created by mixing either extra virgin or virgin oil with refined olive oils. Pure olive oil, labeled as “olive oil,” is actually not very pure at all. It is made by blending refined olive oil with a small amount of virgin or extra virgin olive oil and has three to four times the amount of oleic acid as EVOO. The refining process also diminishes many of the oil's health-promoting nutrients. It is, however, rich in Vitamin E and is used for cooking, body massages, and therapies. Pure olive oil has less flavor than better quality oils, but it can be a good choice for cooking, especially sautéing or grilling. 

REFINED OLIVE OIL/Light Olive Oil is a refined olive oil and is considered a moderate-quality oil. This oil has a higher smoke point than other varieties and is suitable for all cooking techniques, especially high-temperature cooking like frying and baking.  

OLIVE POMACE OIL is the lowest quality olive oil available. Once the actual olive fruit is pressed, pomace residue of oil and water remains. Pomace comes from the residues and remains after the fruit’s pressing is completed. It is made by using heat and chemicals to extract whatever oil is left from olives that have been pressed multiple times. This remaining oil is extracted and mixed with high-quality oils to improve its quality. This oil is best suited for massages and other therapies.

What is the best way to store olive oil?

It’s important to keep olive oil tightly capped in dark, opaque containers away from heat and direct sunlight and sealed when not in use. Refrigeration is not recommended because condensation within the bottle can affect the flavor.  Prolonged exposure to open air, strong light, or higher temperatures significantly shortens the shelf life of olive oil. You can only experience the full flavor and aroma of olive oils at room temperature and above.

Shop the delicious authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil at Mercata Imports

Much love and gratitude, 


Mercata Imports is honored to exclusively offer in the United States rich, extra virgin olive oil produced by Società Agricola Torre Leti in Umbria, Italy!

Società Agricola Torre Leti is located in the heart of Umbria between Perugia, Orvieto and Assisi, in a mountain town called Todi. It is a family owned company that has been cultivating the unspoiled Umbrian land of olive groves for over 400 years. The ancient olive groves are rich, lush, quiet, and respected, creating an extraordinary treasure for those who appreciate this delicious liquid-gold called extra virgin olive oil. 

We hope you enjoy this amazingly delicious extra virgin olive oil from Società Agricola Torre Leti in Umbria, Italy on your favorite dishes as you enjoy celebrating the Italian tradition with us!


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