As you’re surely familiar with from reading this blog, not all olive oil is the same. Depending on the grade you buy, you’re going to get a different product. The grades go beyond standard olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, by the way. What are the various olive oil grades?
The grades of olive oil are as follows:
- Olive oil
- Virgin olive oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Light olive oil
- Refined olive oil
- Pomace olive oil
- Lampante olive oil
Wait, what are pomace or lampanate olive oils? You’ve never even heard of those before? Well, keep reading, as we’ll cover each of the above olive oil grades in much more detail. You’re not going to want to miss it!
Olive Oil Grades Explained: What Each One Means
First, we’ve got your standard olive oil. Sometimes, this is referred to pure olive oil. This is the first and most basic grade of olive oil. To meet the requirements of being called pure olive oil, the oil must have undergone a refinement process. This occurs to get rid of defects that can take place during production.
Also, despite that it’s called pure olive oil, it isn’t. You see, this basic olive oil gets extra virgin olive oil added to it. It’s not a lot, but it is there. Otherwise, the flavor of pure olive oil would be nothing to write home about.
U.S. olive oil fits in this category as well, but it’s not exactly the same as pure olive oil. Instead, it has both virgin and refined olive oils added to a standard olive oil. For each 100 grams of the olive oil, there’s 1.0 grams of oleic acid, a type of fatty acid content. This provides a taste and odor that’s on par with virgin olive oil despite that U.S. olive oil is not that.
Virgin Olive Oil
One step above pure olive oil is virgin olive oil. As it’s not quite extra virgin, this variety of olive oil does have defects. As a consumer, would you notice it? No, not really. Professional olive oil tasters can tell the difference between pure and virgin olive oil as well as virgin and extra virgin olive oil with ease, though.
The odor and flavor of this type of olive oil is quite pleasing. For each 100 grams, the virgin olive oil contains 2.0 grams of oleic acid, the free fatty acid content we talked about before. The defects have a median range of zero to 2.5. There’s also some slight fruitiness to virgin olive oil compared to pure olive oil, although not much (the median only hovers slightly over zero).
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
There’s a huge jump between virgin and extra virgin olive oil in terms of quality. That’s because extra virgin is the best grade of olive oil your money can buy. Removed completely of defects, extra virgin olive oil, also affectionately referred to as EVOO, has all the benefits you’d get from consuming olive oil as well as the fullest depth of flavor.
The production process to make extra virgin olive oil leads to a more juice-like final result that makes EVOO super beloved. Here’s how it all goes down. First, freshly harvested olives travel to a mill. Then, they get crushed down and transferred to an extractor. Since refined olive oil (which we’ll talk about a little later) undergoes chemical extraction and sometimes heat extraction, it’s not as pure as EVOO. This is made using mechanical extraction, aka a machine.
The extractor may crush down the olives, but that does depend on the olive oil manufacturer’s production process. If the olives are crushed, then they may next pass into a centrifuge in their paste form. The centrifuge separates all the parts of the olive paste, including the solids, water, and oil.
Since it’s the best kind of olive oil on the market, extra virgin olive oil has very strict labeling requirements. These are set by such organizations as the U.S. Department of Agriculture or USDA, the California Olive Oil Council or COOC, and the International Olive Council or IOC in Madrid, Spain.
Even if it passes those standards, extra virgin olive oil will still undergo testing to check its chemical composition, including peroxide values and free fatty acid content. It can pass with flying colors, but the olive oil will get sent to professional tasters nonetheless. They’ll be on the lookout for flaws in flavor, fruitiness, and taste. If the quality is lacking or the flavor isn’t quite there, then the olive oil may not get the extra virgin label.
Light Olive Oil
Okay, so we’ve covered the big three olive oil grades: pure or basic olive oil, virgin olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil. We’re not done yet, though. Next, we’ve got light olive oil.
Normally, when you go to the grocery store and buy a light product, it’s lower in calories or fat when compared to its regular counterpart. That’s not so with light olive oil. It’s named that way less for its fat or caloric content and more for its color, which may look lighter compared to other olive oils. It also has a lighter flavor than pure, virgin, and extra virgin olive oils.
There are also extra light olive oils, but again, these have nothing to do with the oil having less fat or fewer calories. In fact, for each tablespoon of light olive oil you eat, the fat content is 14 grams. That makes these products no better than vegetable, corn, and canola cooking oils.
Refined Olive Oil
We mentioned refined olive oil in the section about EVOO, but it deserves its own section as well since it’s another grade of olive oil. As we talked about, the production process for making refined olive oil differs than that used for extra virgin olive oil. That’s the key difference between it and other olive oil grades.
As the name implies, this olive oil has its own refinement process it undergoes. The initial glyceridic structure does not change during this refinement, which can be anything from bleaching to neutralization and degumming. Heat or chemical extraction may also be used.
There’s also U.S. refined olive oil. This oil comes partly from virgin olive oil. For each 100 grams, the oleic acid or free fatty acid content is 0.3 grams for U.S. refined olive oil. U.S. refined olive oil doesn’t have much of an odor or a flavor.
Pomace Olive Oil
Remember how when we talked about the production process for extra virgin olive oil, we said that the olive paste goes through a centrifuge? We also mentioned how the centrifuge can pull out solids, water, and the oil itself. Well, those olive solids have a name, and it’s pomace.
Pomace doesn’t occur naturally in olives, but only when the fruit undergoes milling. It’s a type of production waste that constitutes flesh, skin, and pits from various olives. It’s possible to make olive oil from the pomace, which is appropriately named pomace olive oil.
From pomace, you can get olive oil at a rate of one to five percent, but a heat extractor can generate even more olive oil. Solvents will get blended in to add more substance.
There are three sub-grades for pomace olive oil: U.S. crude olive-pomace oil, U.S. refined olive-pomace oil, and U.S. olive-pomace oil. Let’s talk about these in more detail now.
We’ll start with U.S. crude olive-pomace oil. While it’s edible, it’s only for use in food. U.S. refined olive-pomace oil, like refined olive oil, maintains the oil’s initial glyceridic structure. For each 100 grams of this olive oil, there are 0.3 grams of oleic acid or free fatty acid content. It has a decent odor and flavor.
Then there’s U.S. olive-pomace oil. This is a combination of virgin and olive-pomace oil that undergoes little processing. While it smells mostly like olive oil, the odor may not be as strong as many of the other olive oil grades we’ve covered (except for maybe refined olive oil). The flavor is fine. This olive oil has 1.0 grams of oleic acid or fatty acid content for every 100 grams of the oil.
Lampante Olive Oil
Last and least in this case is lampante olive oil. This has another long name, which is U.S. virgin olive oil not fit for human consumption without further processing. Lampante olive oil, while it does tend to be virgin then, has a lot of defects in both odor and taste. The defect median is 2.5 to 6.0, which is pretty significant.
Lampante olive oil isn’t completely useless. If it goes through a refinement process, it’s possible to improve the flavor to the point where it can be sold on store shelves. Unless that happens, though, you shouldn’t consume lampante olive oil.
You may have never heard of lampante olive oil for that very reason: because it’s not sold to consumers (or at least, it shouldn’t be!).
Olive Oil Grade Terms to Know
Did some of the terms we mentioned above not quite make sense to you? That’s okay. Here’s a glossary that can help you better understand olive oil grades.
- Wax control: Wax control refers to a means of using wax to determine how much seed oil or pomace oil an olive oil contains. Olive skin has wax, which means pomace oil tends to contain more wax than other olive oil types.
- Triglycerides: To form triglycerides, one must combine glycerol and ester, which comes from fatty acids. The most common glycerol to use to make triglycerides in olive oil is oleic acid.
- Trans fatty acids: Olive oil will obtain trans fatty acids during the production process, specifically during refinement or hydrogenation.
- Sterol analysis: With a sterol analysis, an olive oil manufacturer can determine if there’s seed oil present in the olive oil. Sterols may also be able to pick up on other olive oil impurities.
- Stigmastadiene: As a type of steroid, stigmastadiene is a hydrocarbon that naturally appears in crude olive-pomace oil and even virgin olive oil (although there’s not much of it). In testing stigmastadiene content, olive oil manufacturers can determine if virgin olive oil has refined oils in it, including seed oils and olive-pomace oil.
- 2–glyceryl monopalmitate content determination: If there’s animal fat in the oil or the olive oil has been re-esterified, this content determination can confirm it.
- Peroxide value: If olive oil has oxidized, that will show up in its peroxide value. This value is written as follows: milliequivalents of active oxygen per kilogram of oil.
- Organoleptic: Another type of analysis, with organoleptic testing, manufacturers will look at the odor, taste, and visual characteristics of an olive oil in grading it.
- Median of fruity: Professional olive oil testers have created this median. Used mostly in virgin olive oil, median of fruity includes flavor ratings like tomato, nutty, grass, sweet, green, apple, or olive.
- Winey–vinegary: If yeasts grow in olive oil, then aerobic fermentation can occur. This causes the development of ethyl acetate, acetic acid, and ethanol, defecting the flavor of the oil.
- Rancid: We’ve written about olive oil rancidity on this blog before. It too is a type of defect. The olive oil oxidizes, developing aldehydes. The odor and flavor then have a taste like paint or even varnish.
- Musty: If the humidity is too high but the temperatures low, mold can appear during olive oil production. The Penicillium and Aspergillus bacteria are the most common. This too is considered a defect.
- Muddy–sentiment: Yet another type of defect, muddy-sentiment refers to a defect that happens if olive oil sits in storage too close to a sediment. The odor and taste have a putridity that makes it very unappealing.
- Fusty: Fustiness is a defect in flavor as well. Like muddy-sentiment, if a manufacturer improperly stores olives during the production process, bacteria can grow. This time, it’s either the Pseudomonas or Clostridium bacteria.
- Median of defects: Professional olive oil tasters can also determine the median of defects. This median score considers such defects as rancidity, muddy-sediment, winey-vinegary, fustiness, and mustiness.
- Linolenic acid is a fatty acid component found in olive oil: This term refers to an olive oil’s purity level. In olive-pomace oil and standard olive oil, the fatty acids should comprise only 1.5 percent of the oil’s composition. The only exception is linolenic acid levels, which may be higher.
- Glyceridic structure: Olive oil has its own molecular structure that includes esters and fats. Fatty acids’ glycerol can interact with this molecular structure, changing the glycerol’s hydroxyl groups. They then become mono-glycerides, di-glycerides, or triglycerides depending on the alteration to the hydroxyl group.
- Free fatty acid content: For every 100 grams, olive oil contains a certain amount of free fatty acid content, a weight percentage. Oleic acid is one such free fatty acid.
- Poor flavor: If olive-pomace oil or even standard olive oil has a poor flavor, then that means the product cannot be sold to consumers.
- Acceptable flavor: While it’s not the best-tasting olive oil ever, one that has acceptable flavor can be sold. The flavor may not be particularly strong or noticeable, though.
- Good flavor: A step above acceptable flavor, good flavor has very few flavor defects and more positive qualities in the taste.
- Excellent flavor: Only extra virgin olive oil can have excellent flavor. It must not have any taste defects, although it can possess flavor attributes like tomato, nutty, grass, sweet, green, apple, or olive.
- Flavor and odor: All olive oil should have a certain odor and flavor. It’s best to avoid defects in odor and flavor like rancidity, muddy-sentiment, winey-vinegary, fustiness, and mustiness. Instead, manufacturers should aim for the better flavor attributes like tomato, nutty, grass, sweet, green, apple, or olive.
- Fatty acid composition: Oils and fats have fatty acids in different percentages, which change depending on the olive oil grade.
- Erythrodiol and uvaol: These are titerpenic alcohol ingredients in olive-pomace and standard olive oil. If olive oil is produced via solvent extraction or through pressing, it will have less erythrodiol and uvaol.
- ECN 42 content: Short for Equivalent Carbon Number 42, ECN 42 content stands for the triacylglycerol levels found in oil molecules. The High Performance Liquid Chromatography or HPLC determines ECN 42 content through fatty acid composition.
- Desmethylsterol composition: To determine the purity and origin of an olive oil, this testing will be done.
- Absorbency in ultraviolet: Another type of test, absorbency in ultraviolet uses a spectrophotometric device and UV light to determine how fast olive oil absorbs. The olive oil then gets an extinction coefficient or K value per wavelength.
Which olive oil producers rank best?
You already know extra virgin olive oil is the highest-graded olive oil you can get your hands on. What about olive oil producers? How do they stack up?
Here’s a list of olive oil manufacturer ranks courtesy of data from World’s Best Olive Oil:
- Almazaras de la Subbetica SL in Andalusia, Spain
- Aceites Oro Bailen Galgon 99 SL in Andalusia, Spain
- Rafael Alonso Aguilera S.L. in Andalusia, Spain
- Muela Olives S.L. in Andalusia, Spain
- Casas de Hualdo SL in Castilla La Mancha, Spain
- Knolive Oils SL in Andalusia, Spain
- Aceites Nobleza Del Sur in Andalusia, Spain
- Sovena Portugal Consumer Goods S.A. in Lisbon, Portugal
- Sol Fruit S.A. in San Juan, Argentina
What kind of olive oil is the healthiest?
Since extra virgin olive oil has the least defects (none), it boasts the most perks for your health. EVOO contains antioxidants, vitamin E, vitamin K, and fatty acids that are good for you. Just 13.5 grams or a tablespoon delivers you seven percent of your daily nutritional value of vitamin K, 13 percent of your daily nutritional value of vitamin E, 73 percent of your daily nutritional value of monounsaturated fat (thanks to the oleic acid), and 14 percent of your daily nutritional value of saturated fat.