Olives are a type of fruit that belongs to the Olea genus of trees and shrubs, which is part of the Oleaceae family native to the Mediterranean region and have been cultivated for thousands of years. From these oval-shaped fruits which range in colour from green to black, depending on their level of ripeness, we obtain olive oil, one of the pillar ingredients of the Mediterranean diet. Its components are mainly fats, specifically oleic acid and other fatty acids like linoleic acid and palmitic acid. But not all olive oils are the same: depending on the percentage of free fatty acids found in the oil, it can be classified as virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil.
But let’s take a step back in order to better understand what olive oil is, where it comes from and which is the difference between virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil.
Cultivation and Extraction
As we previously mentioned, olive oil is obtained from the olive tree fruit, the olive, which grows in the Mediterranean Basin, counting more than 200 varieties. Olive trees thrive in warm and sunny weather, that’s why the biggest productions can be found in countries like Spain, Italy, Greece and also Tunisia and Morocco.
Spain is the largest producer of olive oil, followed by Italy and Greece: depending on factors like the geographical area where the olive trees are cultivated, the altitude, the weather conditions, the soil composition, the olive tree variety and more, the olives harvested from the trees will offer a different aroma to the olive oil obtained.
In 2021, Greece exported €59,5M ($70.5M) worth olive oil, making it the 3rd largest exporter of olive oil in the world 1. Over 65% of olive oil production in Greece is located in Peloponnese, followed by the island of Crete and other Aegean and Ionian Islands. Among the hundreds of varieties of olives existing in the world, the main ones used for olive oil production in Greece are the Koroneiki variety, the Manaki variety and the Athinolia variety.
Olives are usually harvested from October to December and depending on the time of the harvest, the olive oil obtained will be different: when the olives harvested are still green, they will more likely contain a higher percentage of polyphenols and the olive oil obtained is more likely to have low acidity levels. Black, ripen olives on the other hand will more likely give a sweeter olive oil, with less polyphenol content and higher acidity.
All olive oils should be obtained by cold-pressing the olive fruits using only mechanical means and no chemicals.
What’s the difference between Virgin Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Olives are a good source of healthy fats and are rich in antioxidants, which can help protect against heart diseases and certain types of cancer. They are also a good source of vitamin E, iron and other essential nutrients. All these beneficial components are passed down to the olive oil when the olive fruits get pressed. As we mentioned previously, depending on the time of harvesting, the olive variety harvested and the level of ripeness of the fruit, the oil obtained can vary.
What make the olive oils different is not only the aroma and the taste but most importantly the acidity level, which corresponds to the percentage of grams of free fatty acids found in 100gr of olive oil. The acidity level is one of the most important parameters that define the quality of olive oil and also ranks it in different categories (virgin, extra virgin, premium).
An olive oil obtained by ripen and mainly black olives with an acidity level between 0,8% and 2% is considered to be a virgin olive oil following the European Commission regulation No. 2568/91. Other factors that can cause acidity levels to rise are the use of unhealthy or bruised olives, delayed harvest or delayed processing. Characterized by a sweeter taste and aroma, this olive oil can be used for cooking and frying although extra virgin olive oil should be preferred due to its enhanced nutritional properties.
Extra virgin olive oil is obtained from healthy green and black olives and its acidity level must be lower than 0,8% in order to be categorized as such. Extra virgin olive oil is qualified as nutritionally superior than virgin olive oil and it usually has a fruity aroma and more accentuated taste. Our Extra Virgin Olive Oil is produced in Peloponnese and has an acidity level of 0,4% approximately with a rich half-bitter flavour and fruity aromas. Extra virgin olive oil is perfect to consume raw or for cooking and frying, as it breaks down at a higher temperature than the frying temperature, compared to other vegetable oils, due to the antioxidants it contains.
Tips to use when buying olive oil
Now that you know more about the production of olive oil and the difference between virgin and extra virgin, you will be able to better understand the quality standards of this amazing ingredient. So whenever you will decide to buy olive oil pay attention to these 3 factors:
- Origin: olive oils produced within the European Union must respect strictest standards of quality.
- Processing: is the olive oil cold pressed or refined? Always read carefully the label and be sure that the olive oil is cold pressed through mechanical means and not refined with the use of chemicals.
- Acidity level: if you are looking for a high quality olive oil, always look for the acidity level indicated on the label. Remember that extra virgin olive oil must have an acidity level below 0,8%.
Discover our olive oil range in our shop section: our production is based in Peloponnese, where our family comes from, and we adhere to the highest quality standards offering you an excellent extra virgin olive oil and premium extra virgin olive oil, with acidity less than 0,3%.