Olive oil is the liquid fat extracted from the olive fruit, a traditional crop native to the Mediterranean region. Thus, it has long been a staple ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, including ancient Roman and Greek specialties. The earliest history of olives dates back to the 8th millennium B.C., where wild varieties were collected by Neolithic people in Asia Minor.
Nevertheless, olive oil is the most common vegetable oil. And, it is traditionally used as a cooking oil and a salad dressing. Although its flavor, texture, and aroma vary depending on the producer and terroir, it generally offers salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and pungent flavors, along with a rich aroma and a buttery mouthfeel.
Besides its culinary uses, olive oil is also being used in medicine, cosmetics, soaps, and even as a fuel for traditional lamps.
Olive Oil Trivia
- Olive trees can live up to 6 centuries.
- The National Olive Day is celebrated every June 1st.
- There is an International Olive Oil Council that creates standards, guidelines, and promotions for olive oil around the world.
Olive Oil Buying Guide
There are many things to consider when buying olive oil, especially that they have an official standard classifications. While discussing all of that can be overwhelming, here are some general tips to look out for when buying one:
- Check out how the product is packaged. Olive oil should only come in glass bottles or opaque tins. Otherwise, PET or plastic bottles will diffuse the oxygen, giving the oil an unpleasant, rancid smell and taste.
- Check out the color of the container. Olive oil should only come in dark containers as exposure to light will lose most of its flavor and aroma, and will eventually turn them rancid.
- Don’t be afraid to read the label. Even though it can give you a headache when you see something written in Italian, Spanish, or French, you can probably recognize “harvest” and “use-by” dates. The finest producers of olive oil are always proud of their harvest date and they often show this on the label. But, don’t confuse them from the “use-by” date, as it is usually 18 months from bottling. That being said, choose the freshest ones.
- Be aware that bottles labeled “packed in Italy” or “bottled in Italy” don’t necessarily mean that the olives were grown or pressed there. It only means that the bottles were filled in Italy.
- Be aware that the term “first cold pressing,” which you will often see on labels, doesn’t quite make sense. By legal definition, extra-virgin olive oil must come from the first press of olives, which should be accomplished with no added heat (not higher than around 80ºF.)
- That being said, it’s best to buy products labeled “extra-virgin.” While this alone doesn’t guarantee that the oil will be the best, it can assure you that it’s not one of the worst. Otherwise, bottles that are labeled with plain “olive oil” and “light olive oil” are refined oils, and most of them barely taste olives.
- Unlike wines, extra-virgin olive oil doesn’t improve as they age. So, the fresher the olive oil, especially if it’s right out of the mill, the best-tasting olive you can get. However, it is natural for fresh oil to have an unexpected bitterness and pungency that sometimes overpower the fruitiness. But, these flavors are actually indications of good and high-quality oil, and they’re valued for their higher levels of healthful polyphenols.
- As always, it’s best to buy from trusted retailers who know how to maintain the quality of their products.
Shop by Type or Grade:
Now, if you want to go further into details, you can shop based on these types or grades of olive oil:
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil – This type is the highest quality and most expensive form of olive oil. It’s made from the first-pressed olives. Thus, it’s the least acidic among all varieties, and it also has the most natural aroma and fruitiest flavor. This type of olive oil makes the perfect seasoning and salad dressing. Or, you can consume it straight, without any other ingredients, to reap its extensive benefits.
- Virgin Olive Oil – Also unrefined, this olive oil is extracted through the cold-pressing method. Like the Extra-Virgin mentioned above, it also provides a natural aroma. However, it has a milder fruity flavor and slightly high acidic content (between 1 and 4%). This type of olive oil makes the perfect oil for salads, low-heat cooking, sautéeing, and baking.
- Refined Olive Oil – This olive oil is extracted from ripe and black olives. It has the least amount of virgin olive oil, which is noted for preventing colon cancer. The “lite” variation of this is better than the regular one, but it’s still considered to be low in quality and therefore is only good for culinary applications, especially if you’re cooking at high temperatures. Despite this, it contains the same amount of calories and fat content as the others.
- Pure Olive Oil – Despite its name, this olive oil is not “pure” at all. Instead, it’s a blend of the first three types of olive oil mentioned above, which is made when the initial refined oil is not as good as expected. Therefore, in order to market it with an improved quality, the refined oil must be mixed with a better quality one, either EVOO or virgin olive oil. As a result, this oil has a higher vitamin E content, and it also has a better flavor and aroma compared to the regular refined olive oil. Nevertheless, this type of olive oil can be used not only for culinary applications but also as a body massage and preparation herbal oil.
- Olive Pomace Oil – This type is the lowest quality and most affordable form of olive oil. It is made from the residues that remain after pressing olives. Thus, it is often mixed with virgin olive oil to improve the quality. This type of olive oil is great for cleaning purposes such as polishing furniture. It’s not recommended for culinary use, but it is sometimes used as one otherwise.
- Organic Olive Oil – This type only means that the olives used for extraction are organic. The growers didn’t use any chemicals or pesticides on trees.
Shop by Geography:
While you can always shop based on the olive oil’s geography, the taste of olive oil is a matter of personal preference.
- Spanish olive oil – Accounts for 45% of the world’s supply, olive oils from Spain commonly feature a golden yellow color along with a fruity and nutty flavor.
- Italian olive oil – Accounts for 20% of the world’s supply, olive oils from Italy commonly feature a dark green color along with an herbal aroma and a grassy flavor.
- Greek olive oil – Accounts for 13% of the world’s supply, olive oils from Greece commonly features a green color along with a strong aroma and flavor.
- French olive oil – Olive oils from France commonly feature a pale green color along with a subtle flavor.
- Californian olive oil – Olive oils from California commonly feature a light golden-green color along with a subtle, quite fruity flavor.
- Other countries – Olive oils from different countries commonly feature a combination of different olive varieties. They are usually blended in bulk and they’re the most economical olive oil. Despite this, they’re still considered to be of high quality. On the other note, some producers use olives that are grown in specific areas or regions of a certain country and these oils boast a unique flavor and aroma compared to the other varieties.
- Estate olive oils – Just like wine, olive oils produced by a single olive farm are the cream of the crop. The olives used are typically handpicked, pressed, and bottled right at the estate. Thus, they provide the best flavor. But, also expect to pay more.
Olive Oil Production & Farming in Texas
Olive is considered to be an exotic fruit in Texas. The Mediterranean Basin, where olive originally came from, has mild, rainy winters, and hot-dry summer days. On the contrary, Texas has severe winter freezes that can easily kill olives. Thus, the best-attempted area in the state for commercial production of olives and olive oil is located in the southwest region, north of Laredo and southwest of San Antonio, commonly known as the Winter Garden. Olive trees were brought in this area from the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station around the 1930s and some of these trees are still surviving up until today. Nonetheless, olives can also be grown in large parts of the East, Central, and South Texas. But, growers should expect the severe winter freezes, especially if they’re consistent, to kill olive trees to the ground within 3 years.
Nevertheless, the production of olive oil in Texas is now rising, primarily in the Hill Country and southwest of San Antonio. The region’s climate well suits olive trees, and EVOO is becoming really popular, thus providing great opportunities for growers. Not to mention that Texans prefer trusted and local resources.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
Fortunately, almost all the olive oils in the market do not contain additives and chemicals that are not good for health. However, even though olive trees require little to no pesticide to grow, few growers still use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. In that case, it’s better to buy products that are organically certified.
As mentioned, olive trees thrive in areas with humid winter and dry summer. Thus, the major producers of olive oil are Spain, Italy, Greece, Morocco, and Turkey. Despite being the third major producer, Greece remains to be the leading consumer, followed by Spain and Italy. In the United States, the leading producers of olive oil are California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, and Hawaii.
Olive oils are commonly packaged in dark glass containers or bottles. However, you can also find them in tin cans, clear or colored plastic jars, containers, PET, and spray bottles.
Eating Olive Oil
The best way to consume olive oil depends on its type or grade. While all of them have a high smoking point of up to about 420ºF, EVOO is best to consume fresh, either as a dip for bread, a salad dressing, a pasta or pizza garnish, or eat it straight up from the spoon. All the other types are commonly used in cooking. You can use it as a base for pizza, pasta, stir-fries, potatoes, roasted vegetables, and more!
There are only two things to avoid when storing olive oil: light and heat. Thus, keep your olive oil in a dark or opaque, preferably glass container, and store it in a cool and dark place away from sunlight. Most of the store-bought olive oil lasts for 2 to 4 years but its potency and freshness remain optimal within the first 20 months. Despite this, it’s still best to follow its use-by date.
Make Your own Olive Oil:
While it’s relatively easy to make olive oil at home, one must spend a significant amount of money to buy a good quality olive oil press. Other than that, all you need is a dark glass bottle, a funnel, and of course, the olives.
Yield: 1 Liter
- 9 to 11 lbs of ripe olives
- Remove and discard olive twigs and leaves, if there are, and wash the fruits thoroughly with water.
- Put them in the oil press and start extracting.
- Use a funnel to transfer the oil into the bottle and seal it tightly. Store accordingly.
Olive oil, compared to other cooking oils, is rich in healthy fats. As a matter of fact, around 73% to 83% of olive oil consists of heart-healthy oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. On top of that, it’s also high in omega-6 and omega-3. These fatty acids not only reduce cholesterol, prevent strokes, improves heart health, but it’s also beneficial to the skin. Not to mention that it’s also an excellent source of vitamins E and K.
Nutritional Information per tablespoon serving:
- Calories: 119 cal
- Carbohydrates: 0 g
- Sugar: 0 g
- Fiber: 0 g
- Protein: 0 g
- Fat: 13.5 g (21% of DV)