Once you understand the label, buying extra virgin becomes easy
How often have you stood in front of a row of extra virgin olive oil, bewildered by the choice and confused by the labels? Don’t worry, you are not alone. The wording manufacturers use is not always easy to follow, the bottles come in various sizes, different colors, some with impressive sounding labels such as ‘lite olive oil.' Mandatory information such as provenance, quantity, and company brands are clear but how can we be sure of the quality of the contents, what does lite olive oil signify?
As consumers, we scrutinize the label because we want to buy the best olive oil especially now that we are more aware of the health benefits and the organoleptic aspects of extra virgin. Buying the right olive oil, however, is not easy these days because of complicated phrases, confusing terminology and besides, we are put off by the alarming increase of fraud in the olive oil world.
Phrases like ‘packed in Italy’ or ‘bottled in Italy,’ do not mean that the oil was made in Italy, or that it was made from Italian olives. Often too, a label claiming that the oil is extra virgin is nothing but cheaper oil sold at the same price as good quality extra virgin olive oil or even worse, blending cheaper low grade oil with refined olive oil and passing it off as fresh olive juice.
To safeguard these fraudulent practices and to protect the consumer, The International Olive Oil Council has enforced strict standards for their member countries - this account for 98% of the world’s olive oil supply. Most non IOC members also have established norms and practices to ensure that the contents live up to what the label says, regarding chemical and organoleptic standards.
Things were different a few years ago when olive oil was mostly a Mediterranean product and a Mediterranean way of life, but. EVOO has become a global product present in 150 countries. Because of the considerable increase in olive oil consumption with new markets and new producers all over the world, it is important to protect consumers with common regulatory statements: compulsory declarations relating to bottling and selling all types of olive oil everywhere.
If you can, it’s best to buy from a reputable producer, but this is not always possible. That is why it is vital to study the label paying close attention to the compulsory statements; it is the best guarantee that you are getting the real thing.
Look for two magic words on the display panel – extra virgin
Ignore any bottles labeled 100% pure olive oil, light olive oil or any such terminology. Pick up instead one, which says extra virgin, the two words that tell you that this is the highest grade of olive oil, made without any added chemicals and that that the producer took extra care during the extraction process to keep the temperature at below 27° or lower. This is sometimes labeled as “First cold pressure.” It means that you are getting the maximum nutritional and organoleptic qualities. Heat matters because although excessive heat yields more oil, the quality becomes inferior when it is processed this way. The Extra Virgin label also tells us that only the best olives were used, that the oil was laboratory tested and that it meets the required chemical and organoleptic standards. It is in the best commercial category approved by IOC.
Following closely behind the extra category virgin is the description of the category, also a mandatory statement:
“Virgin olive oils are the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions; that does not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration.”
Check the dates
The second important thing you should look for is the ‘best before date’ or the ‘harvesting Date’. Shelf life can be variable, and though some producers might give an optimal ‘use by date’ or say ‘preferentially to two years,' a lot depends on the olive variety. The harvesting date is probably most useful for consumers but bear in mind that you need to think about how the oil was stored in the supermarket, all factors which play an important part in the lifespan of olive oil. Remember that the younger the oil, the better it is for your health and don’t buy oil that is more than 18 months after harvest time.
Check for the origin of the olives
The label is a kind of contract between the producer or the bottling enterprises and the consumer. The source of the fruit and the geographic region for some consumers serve as a guarantee of quality; they like to see the clear direct path right up to the production process. However, if the identification of the supplier is necessary, the origin of the fruit is not always mentioned. In most cases, the supplier is not the person who owns the olive plantation. One example is Italy, one of the world’s major
importers of olive oil. Surprisingly, much of the fruit comes from orchards in Spain, Greece, and
Also, Italians consume some of the oil imported into Italy, but much of it is blended, packed
and re-exported. New legislation laws in Europe now protect consumers with a more detailed
traceability chain, regulations that stipulate either the origin of the olives or the place of harvesting to
to be mentioned on the label.
be mentioned on the label.