Olive oil, a staple in Mediterranean kitchens, is widely used by American chefs—sought after for its flavor and health benefits.
Reading the label is key to getting the genuine product. The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) specifies the designations of olive oil in member countries and provides this definition and classifications:
“Olive oil is obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents…”
Virgin oils are produced by physical means under specific thermal conditions that do not alter the oil. The acidity indicates the degree of rancidity, which affects the quality of the oil: the higher the acidity, the lower the quality.
Extra virgin olive oil has a free acidity of no more than 1 percent.
Virgin olive oil has a free acidity of no more than 2 percent.
Refined oils are chemically altered to neutralize the acid and strong flavors or defects; these are lower quality oils. “Virgin” and “extra virgin” olive oil cannot contain any refined oil.
Pomace oils are extracted from the pomace—the olive pulp left after pressing—using chemical solvents (mostly hexane) and heat.
Other terms used by producers
100 percent pure olive oil is a lower quality oil; better grades have “virgin” on the label.
Light olive oil indicates that the oil has been refined, not that it has a lower fat content.
First cold press is the first oil from the first press under cold conditions to preserve top quality.