The quality grade of olive oil is chiefly based on commercial criteria established by the International Olive Oil Council. The major quality criteria are acidity, oxidization and organoleptic features. Many consumers find it difficult to evaluate quality olive oil, because the public is not informed of the differences in quality and taste among the various categories of olive oil on the European market.
Consumers do not always have the financial means to buy brand name olive oil. Even in Greece, only 30 percent of consumption comprises standardized brand name olive oil; the remaining 70 percent is unstandardized or unbottled. However, this doesn’t mean that olive oil from small-scale growers is always of low quality. Thus, we must first sort out the quality grades that are on the market.
A. VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Virgin olive oil is taken exclusively from the olive tree fruit by physical or mechanical means, which don’t cause alterations in its final quality. Virgin olive oil is a natural fruit juice that contains all the nutritious elements that are beneficial to health. This oil has not undergone any process apart from crushing, decanting, centrifuging or filtering. Depending on its degree of acidity, as well as its taste characteristics, virgin olive oil is divided into the following categories:
1. Extra virgin olive oil has an acidity of 1g per 100g of oil or 1 percent and is considered the highest quality. It is taken from the olive crop exclusively by mechanical or physical means and always under low temperature conditions.
2. Fine virgin olive oil is often labelled “choice” or “fancy” and has an acidity of less than 150, according to the IOOC. On the other hand, according to EEC regulations, the acidity level may rise to 2 grams per 100 grams of olive oil.
3. Semi-fine virgin olive oil has an acidity of 3 grams per 100 grams of olive oil.
4. Lampante virgin olive oil has high acidity, resulting in poor taste, smell, and colour. It is impossible to consume, as it must undergo chemical processes and refinement.
B. REFINED OLIVE OIL
Refined olive oil is chemically treated and comes from the industrial lampante. This limpid olive oil is usually light yellow and free from high acidity (3 to 5). Generally, it is neutral with no distinctive flavour or aroma and also lacks the beneficial elements of virgin olive oil.
C. OLIVE OIL
Olive oil is a blend of high quality virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. The mixing analogies vary and depend on the demands and commercial policy of the companies. Nevertheless, the final product must taste and smell pleasant, be a light yellowish green colour, and have an acidity between 1 and 5.