What Does “Extra Virgin” Mean?
“Extra Virgin” is the highest grade of quality an oil may be awarded.
International standards dictate that olive oil meets both chemical and sensory standards to be sold as extra virgin. The California Olive Oil Council’s regulations holds its membership to amongst the strictest standards in the world for extra virgin olive oil.
To produce olive oil, freshly washed olives are crushed and then malaxed (a process of slow and continuous churning under controlled temperatures to help release oil droplets from the fruit). The oil is then separated from solid matter and water using centrifugal force. What’s left is freshly squeezed olive juice, a.k.a. olive oil!
During the extraction of oil in the milling process, olives are milled mechanically, but can never be produced using chemicals or extreme heat. The oil’s chemistry, tested in a laboratory, must meet or exceed specific parameters that indicate the careful handling and storage of the olives and oil. “Extra Virgin” also denotes that the oil has fruitiness and is free of defects of flavor or odor. This is evaluated by a trained sensory panel and cannot be detected by chemical tests.
Unfortunately, in the U.S., many of the oils that are labeled as extra virgin are not required to undergo any such testing. For this reason, in 1998 the California Olive Oil Council established its Seal Certification Program. Under this program, all COOC producing members must comply with the certification process to ensure their oil meets the criteria to qualify as extra virgin grade.
In the Kitchen
Discover how to optimize your extra virgin olive oil experience with information and tips that will help you:
- Learn what the smoke point is of extra virgin olive oil and why it’s safe to sauté and fry foods with it.
- How to substitute extra virgin olive oil for other fats.
- Ideas for making vinaigrettes and foods to drizzle extra virgin olive oil on, as well as additional cooking and storage tips.
How to Taste
Understand what it means to be an extra virgin olive oil. Learn how to taste the oils through the 4 S’s of extra virgin olive oil tasting. Learn about the three attributes; fruity, bitterness, and pungency, and the numerous descriptors used to highlight the nuances of extra virgin olive oil.