What does Extra Virgin mean anyway?

Posted by Eric Gisler on

You've heard it all your life and seen it on supermarket shelves...

"Extra Virgin Olive Oil", or as Rachel Ray made famous, "EVOO!"

But what does that mean?  Well, "Virgin Olive Oil" is usually fit for human consumption, and is loosely defined as:

"Virgin olive oils are the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea L. ) solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration."

Within "Virgin" oils, Extra Virgin is the highest grade of olive oil available.  By regulation, the International Olive Council defines EVOO as:

"Virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams, and the other characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category in the IOC standard."

So it comes down to chemistry?

Well, sort of...

The olive oil industry has had a dark side for literally thousands of years, but that's a different story.

The IOC definition above is good, but, the IOC is a voluntary organization, not a government regulatory body.  In addition, it is an industry group that includes many large oil producers with a vested interest in lowering their expenses.  

So, while there is a definition that is "sort of good", most countries aren't strict about enforcing it.  In the past, the FDA has even taken the position that they don't care to enforce regulations about the term "Extra Virgin" as long as people don't get hurt.

The result is that many times, the "EVOO" you buy at the grocery store may not meet the standard, or it may contain oil that did meet the standard at one time, but has been cut with other, cheaper oils.

This produces an "extra virgin" olive oil for $4 a bottle, but it isn't true EVOO and you can taste it!


Of course, this hurts both smaller-scale olive oil producers AND consumers.  Smaller-scale producers can't compete on price with mass-produced, lower-quality, mislabeled "EVOOs".

On the consumer side, EVERYONE has heard about the health benefits of EVOO.  But if what you are buying is supermarket-brand "EVOO", you aren't getting those benefits.

So what is a consumer to do?

There is an awakening happening in the world of olive oils.  

Stores like The Olive Basket source our olive oils from distributors that purchase direct from the smaller oil producers.  Our distributor purchases bulk oils from some producers, and purchases olives from others to produce the highest-quality EVOOs available.

In addition, all of our EVOO varietals comply with the newer Ultra Premium certification, which is a higher quality standard than the IOC requirements mentioned above.

Even our fused and infused oils start out as true EVOOs (they just can't keep the name when other flavors are added).

So there are chemical requirements and standards and all that, but what it really comes down to is flavor.  A true EVOO should have a fruity bouquet, a pungent flavor, and a peppery aftertaste.  To learn more about how our oils compare to standards, check out our Olive Oil Chemistry page.

And of course, stop by for a sample.  We are sure you will love it!