For those who love olive oil, there’s a good comparison between olive oil and wine. Both are highly subjective, each has distinctive taste and texture, aroma, and color, and you’ll find equal numbers of people ready to discuss why one is better than another.
The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) provides the standards by which all olive oils should be graded. All olive oils except those grown in the United States, that is. Currently the United States does not recognize the IOOC’s standards and instead grade olive oils based on standards set before the IOOC even existed. There is effort at this moment to encourage adherence of standards similar to those set forth by the IOOC.
These standards, or grades, are as follows and each grade has categories or types of oils under it.
- Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- Premium extra virgin
- Extra virgin
- Fine virgin
- Semifine Virgin
- Olive oil
- Refine olive oil
- Pure olive oil
The main differentiator in the grades is the acidity level. The lower the acidity, the higher the grade. Premium extra virgin will have no more than 0.225 percent acidity whereas extra virgin will have a 0.8 at most. Looking at these percentages, you can see there’s very little difference so a little means a lot!
Alongside the acidity, how the oil is processed, it’s color and it’s taste is also important to it’s final grade.
Extra virgin and virgin olive oils are pressed to the point where about 90% of the juice of the olive is removed. No chemicals or high heat are used during the processing of extra virgin and virgin olive oils and neither can contain any amount of refined olive oil. Extra virgin and virgin are as pure as olive oils can get.
So what is the difference to you, the consumer?
Premium extra virgin and extra virgin olive oil is best used uncooked and in dishes where it’s aroma and flavor can best be appreciated. Think dipping oil for bread or as a salad dressing. The taste is somewhat fruity and the color tends to be on the light side of yellow or green.
Fine virgin olive oil can have an acidity rating of no more than 1.5 percent. You’ll find that fine virgin is very close in quality to extra virgin with similar taste and texture but at a less expensive price.
Virgin olive oil must contain 2% or less acidity and is routinely used for cooking.
Semifine virgin olive oil must contain 3.3% or less acidity and really doesn’t have a flavor conducive to using uncooked.
You’ll also see a variety of lesser grade oils marked as “refined”, “lite”, “mild”, etc. These are the oils that are usually heat and/or chemically treated during processing and will generally have higher than 3.3% acidity, possibly and unpleasant aroma, and are not considered as human consumption oils but rather used for frying or “packed in” type offerings.