Olive Oil, another thrilling school paper

28 Dec

Found this paper while cleaning out some old files. Not exactly thrilling (as promised by the title) but informative none the less. Enjoy. I promise more posts and recipes in the new year 🙂

Extra virgin olive oil is perhaps one of the most well known ingredients in cooking. As paint is the artist’s medium, extra virgin olive oil allows the chef the creation of well-balanced, beautiful dishes.  Extra virgin olive oil is used by chefs in everything from   flavor bases in vinaigrettes to finishers in soups. With flavor profiles ranging from mild and fruity to deep and peppery, the versatility of extra virgin olive oil is amazing. Discussed here will be the history, evolution, processing, and chacateristics of this culinary giant.

Extra virgin is the king of the olive oils. In fact, the Greeks revered olive oil so much it was used as sacrifices to the Goddess Athena. Ancient cultures used it in medicine, religion, and purification. Although the exact origins of olive oil are not completely known yet, it is believed that it originated in the Mediterranean, most likely near modern day Turkey. The olive trees were transported throughout Europe where it remains largely exported from Italy, France and other countries.

The variety of olives used for extra virgin olive oil, is as varied as the grapes used for wine. All olives start out green and slowly turn to either a deep purple or black color. Because of this progression, the question of which color is used for olive oil is both. Most of the olives used are 2/3 the way to purple. This ensures that the olives are not too ripe for processing. Just as with grapes, the region in which the olives are grown affects the flavor of the final product. Some of the many regions in which olives are harvested include Italy, Spain, France, California, Morocco and Greece. All have unique flavors, colors and each country finds theirs to be the very best.

Before extra virgin olive oil can be applied for use in the kitchen, it has to be extracted from the olives. Typically, olives must be brined before they are pressed in order to get the fruit soft enough to be pressed. Originally this process was done by hand. The olives were crushed and placed in a salt-water bath. Over time the olives and oil would float to the top and the water would sink to the bottom. The first evolution of oil extraction is with a mechanical press. Traditionally the presses were made of two stones. The top stone fits into the lower stone and as the olives got pressed, the oil ran into a groove that was carved into the lower stone. There was a spout that allowed the oil to run out of the press and into a collection container. Today, with a few artisan exceptions, the presses are large industrial machines that press olives in the huge quantities. While the classification of first press originally meant that the oil that had been pressed was of a better quality, the machines of today press so many olives at once, this classification no longer has any bearing since there is only one press. The classification of extra virgin versus regular olive oil is now one of ph levels.

When no heat is applied during the pressing, the process is considered cold pressed. This results in a better quality product. All extra virgin olive oils are cold pressed.  Because of this,, other characteristics that help to define the quality between the good and the best are; filtration, whether or not it is organic, and acidity. Not filtering an olive oil causes the olive flavors to remain very prominent and gives the oil a slightly cloudy look. It also, actually decreases the shelve life in some cases.. The organic attribute simply implies that the olives that were used in the oil were grown in with the organic farming techniques. The acidity of extra virgin olive oil is another distinct characteristic. In order to classify as extra virgin, the oil must have an acidity level between  .8% and 3% so that the taste and quality are of the highest degree. It’s actually said that any oil higher than 3% is called “lamp oil” because the when it is compared with extra virgin olive oil, it is not worth cooking with. These characteristics also make extra virgin the most expensive of all the olive oils.

When choosing an extra virgin olive oil, there are some characteristics the need to be considered. A good quality extra virgin olive oil should not smell strongly of anything. It should smell lightly of fresh olives. When you taste it, there should not be an overwhelming feeling of fattiness coating your mouth, and there should also be a slight acidity that helps to break up any kind of coating that does remain on the palette. There should be a slight peppery taste as the flavor finishes, but nothing too strong. Personal taste is also a factor in choosing a good extra virgin olive oil, but by using the characteristics as described above, the decision should be much easier.

Extra virgin olive oil is one of nature’s greatest gifts to the kitchen. While the world will always debate where the best olive oil comes from, the idea that extra virgin olive oil is the king of oils will never be challenged. With a history of reverence and presence that is undeniable, it can be assured that extra virgin olive oil will continue to be a culinary staple for a long time.

Always thinking of the next meal-


Works Cited

Olive Oil 17 August 2008. Wikipidia. 19 August 2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_oil>

The History of Olive Oil 6 April 2008. The Olive Oil Source. 19 August 2008. <http://www.oliveoilsource.com/history.htm>

Olive Oil Demystified 24 July 2008. DaVero Ingredienti, 1 September 2008.


Montague, Prosper, comps. and eds. Larousse Gastronmique. New York; Clarkson Potter 2001.

Herbst, Sharon Tyler, and Ron Herbst. Food Lover’s Companion. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. 2007.


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