What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

by Peggy OKelly on August 10, 2011

Extra Virgin Olive Oil?  You can see the answer in our pictures above.  It comes from caring for your trees from birth….harvesting with reverence and care……processing in a top flight facility……storing properly……honoring the earth.    It’s always great to know the technical aspects but just as important is to know the heart and soul…so for all you visual learners…your answer is in the pictures of our 2010 harvest above.

But now….on with the class……..

Does everyone use an Extra Virgin Olive Oil?.  Ah…. I can hear the resounding yeses falling from cyperspace.

So what is an Extra Virgin Olive Oil?  What…where did you go…wait…I hear some murmurs…..”first pressed”….”cold pressed”….”the best”.

If these were your responses, you are not alone.  I have yet to conduct a sensory evaluation class where anyone knows the true definition of an extra virgin olive oil.  There are confusing terms on the market as well so I hope to clear it all up for you in our series on “Unraveling the Mysteries Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil”.

First, before we do anything, I need to get “cold press” off of my chest.  The term actually stemmed from long ago when the norm was to press olive paste between mats to extract the oil.  The second (hot) press would squeeze out more oil from the paste producing a low quality oil which was eventually refined or burned in lamps.  Under European standards, the term “cold press” can ONLY be used if the oil was extracted using mats.

Most olive oil in America is produced using the centrifuge process….NOT mats.  Therefore, the term, “cold press” doesn’t even apply.   Also, to be categorized as an extra virgin olive oil, as noted below, the processing must take place under 86F.  So, technically, all extra virgin olive oil is processed at lower temperatures making the term “cold press” redundant at best but really just simply irrelevant.


Two olive oils are sitting side by side on a store shelf.  They both call themselves Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  One puts in bright letters, “Cold Press”  and the other does not.  Which olive oil is higher in quality?

ANSWER ………who knows?!!!!!   Get it?!


Now let’s get into the actual definition of an extra virgin olive oil.

  • Olives are only pressed once
  • Oleic Acid content is under 0.8%
  • No defects are found in the olive oil

Paul Vossen, UC Davis Cooperative Extension, gives us a more detailed description of an extra virgin olive oil:

  • Must be made from fresh olives — extracted from the fruit solely by mechanical means
  • Fruit must be of high quality, processed soon after harvest, and with clean equipment
  • Temperature during processing can not exceed 86ºF (30ºC)
  • No solvents can be used in the process
  • Must not be mixed with oils made from seeds, nuts, or pumace (milling leftovers)
  • Must meet specific standards for over 20 laboratory tests
  • Free fatty acid level can not exceed 0.8% and peroxide value must be
    < 20 meq O2
  • Contains naturally occurring antioxidants and polyphenols
  • Must be able to pass a taste test by an International Olive Council (IOC) recognized panel indicating some fruitiness and zero defects

So this gives you the technical details on an extra virgin olive oil and in my next post, I will attempt to make the definition consumer friendly…so you can navigate the sea of extra virgin olive oil with a decent GPS.

If you have any questions or need clarifications, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments so everyone has a chance to benefit.


Richard Gawel August 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Hi. It was nice to see that your blog mentioned that most EVOO in the US is now made with a centrifuge. It is worth mentioning that most EVOO’s in the WORLD is made this way. Spain makes over 80% of the worlds olive oil and 95%+ of all processing facilities are centrifuges. The exception is parts of Italy, where the press is still widely used (probably more out of the fact that it takes an enormous amount of capital to convert from a press to a centrifuge – but doing it the old ways also plays a role no doubt). But these hydraulically pressed oils rarely find their way out of even the region they are made let alone Italy itself, so unless you’re on holiday they really are a non-event commercially speaking.

If I may could I pick you up on one mistake in your blog. Olive oil contains a high proportion of monounsaturated fat – that being oleic acid. High oleic is good not bad. It can range from 55% (not that great) to 80+ % in excellent high quality oils. Oleic acid is a healthy fat and also resists oxidation (hence EVOO’s have a great shelf life compared to most other edible fats).

Unfortunately for some reason, many decades ago chemists decided to measure free fatty acidity (or acidity) in something called “oleic acid equivalents”. High FFA indicates poor quality oil. FFA is in effect broken up fat molecules caused by poor quality olives, excessive heat during processing or most commonly delays between harvesting and processing into oil where the olives have a chance to start deteriorating -as you mentioned in your blog.

Why the chemists chose this particular measure is a long story, and not worth covering here, but this does result in lots of confusion.

So consumers should look for oils with HIGH oleic acid content but LOW Free Fatty Acidity.

admin August 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Thanks for that information Richard…I’m going to be writing on the acidity in more detail next post so I will definitely address this in greater detail and learn more myself!

the old farmer August 11, 2011 at 8:24 am

Did you knoe that California olive oil council certifies it’s oil @ .06 and Hawk’s Feather is .02.
Nice job on the above info.

admin August 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I think that is self promotion Bill 🙂 but we are all for it since we carry your amazing oil! Ciao ciao

Annie August 11, 2011 at 8:48 am

This is interesting–thanks for sharing. AND, I’m really glad that clean equipment is one of the requirements. 🙂

admin August 11, 2011 at 9:46 pm

We are glad you enjoyed it Annie

Bailey August 12, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Love this blog. Interesting. Can’t wait to read more. Thank you.

admin August 16, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Thank you Bailey!

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