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What Is Extra Virgin, Anyway?

Let's say you had a time machine and spoke fluid Latin, and you decided to take a trip to ancient Rome!

After taking in the newly-built Coliseum and wandering around the Forum in it's heyday, you might get a little hungry.  If you were to go into a restaurant and ask for some "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" to go with your meal, they just might look at you like you had a second head.

But, everyone knows that ancient Romans used olive oil, right?  Well, yes, but the term "extra virgin" part was unheard of until 1960 (AD)!

At the time, there were no distinctions in olive oil grades, so consumers didn't know if they were getting cold-pressed fresh oil or industrially extracted lampante oil (not fit for human consumption), so the European Parliament passed a law creating different grades, including Extra Virgin!

The original definition required EVOO be made solely from mechanical methods (no heat or solvents), included some chemical requirements (free acidity of no more than 1%) and that the oil "must not demonstrate disgusting odors such as rancidity, putridity, smoke, mould, olive fly and similar".

And thus, Extra Virgin Olive Oil was born!

This definition remained in place until the EU strengthened it in 1991.  As of 1991, EVOO must have no taste flaws and some perceptible fruitiness, and it lowered the free acidity requirement to no more than 0.8%.

The interesting thing about this law is that it makes olive oil one of the only foods in the world whose legal definition includes at least some references to taste!

The 1991 EVOO law is still in effect today.  The weakness of the law is that it doesn't really specify exactly how taste defects are to be detected, and that has largely been left to the International Olive Council (www.internationaloliveoil.org).  Visit their site for everything you ever wanted to know about olive oil (including their definition for different grades).

Here at the Olive Basket, we have laboratory and tasting panel results available on all of our Extra Virgin Olive Oils, and we post those right here on the website.

Although our Agrumato and Infused Olive Oils can't technically be called Extra Virgin (because they contain more than just olive oil), they are as close as possible to EVOO. 

Agrumato is a process in which fruits or herbs are crushed with the olives at the same time, so technically speaking, they never have the chance to be considered EVOO.

Our Infused Olive Oils do start life as an EVOO, but then the oil from whatever is being infused is mixed in with the olive oil, which technically violates the strict definition of EVOO.

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