Sometimes buying the right olive oil can seem like reading a chemistry manual. Cold pressed, DOP, extra virgin and other terms can make it hard to know what you’re buying or even understand what you need. Luckily, with a little help you can easily read even the trickiest of labels and ensure the perfect oil for your needs, in or out of the kitchen!
Extra Virgin: Starting with two of the most common words printed on an oil label, have you ever stopped to wonder what it actually means? Extra virgin olive oil is the very first cold press of the olives, so it’s more pure (and generally better) than “virgin oil”. It has the lowest acidity (less than .8%) and at the same time, the highest polyphenols, which are the antioxidants in oil that make it so darn good for you. This is the highest grade of oil you can buy, and Dievole makes only this kind (in 6 different varieties).
Virgin Oil: This is a step below “extra virgin,” being the second pressing of the olives. The acidity of this oil has to be lower than 2%. It is also produced without heat or chemicals, like extra virgin oil.
Pure (Olive) Oil: Pure oil indicates an oil that is oftentimes a mix of refined and unrefined oils. It can therefore be partially or totally produced using heat and other chemicals to extract the oil, instead of pressing.
Acidity: So, what exactly is the acidity of oil? Acidity is also known as free oleic acid, and the amount of this acid in the finished product indicates how much the good fats in oil (the healthy ones) have been broken down. The less acid, the less breakdown.
Polyphenols: These are essentially antioxidants that protect the cells in our bodies from damage. The polyphenols are also what make up the flavors and aromas of olive oil. More complex the flavors are more antioxidants it has and more healthy it is. Olive oil is a great source of this antioxidant, hence is healthy in so many ways.
Cold Pressed: If an oil is cold pressed, that means that it has been extracted from the olives using only pressure. No chemicals or heat are used. With less external impact, the oil is higher quality – this works in the same way as wine, where it’s best to intervene as little as possible. Cold pressing is a low yield method of production, but the quality is outstanding.
DOP: If you go to an Italian market you are sure to see these three letters on many delicious products. The abbreviation stands for Denominazione di Origine Protetta. You will see this written on various things from wine to meat, cheese, preserved foods, olive oil, apples and more.
In our olive oil terminology, the DOP designation refers both to the location of production and type of olive used, and these elements are strictly controlled by legislation. Buying something like our DOC Chianti Classico Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a real guarantee of quality that certifies that it was grown in the Chianti Classico region and made following strict guidelines requiring annual re-certification.
Olio Nuovo: To fully understand the very nature of extra virgin olive oil, one has to go to its origins. When the olive is plump and ready for the picking, there is a special phase that stands between the olive mill and the finished product. Olio Nuovo is the first pressing of olive oil of the season, bottled unfiltered and usually in very limited quantities. Renowned for its full, green color and the tickle of spicy goodness at the back of your throat, Olio Nuovo (or “novello”) is the purest expression of the olive and its story and is at the center of many seasonal celebrations meant to treasure and share the first outcome of the harvest. In 2016 Dievole launched the “Olio Nuovo Primo Raccolto” project to give Evoo aficionados the chance to not only receive their very batch of ultra-fresh extra virgin olive oil, but also to choose the harvest date.
Refined or filtered: Olive oil can be finely refined or filtered to remove flaws such as cloudiness or dark green coloring while leaving the punchy taste. New developments in filtering technology, such as those used by Dievole, ensure that none of the flavour or health value of the precious liquid is lost in the process. Filtering creates a pure and beautiful olive oil with a longer shelf life than unfiltered oil.
Unrefined or unfiltered: This is an oil that hasn’t been treated to remove any of its flaws. It may appear cloudy and is likely to have sediment at the bottom of the bottle. The disadvantage of sediment is that it contains water, and thus will soon ferment, destroying the quality of the evoo a few months after pressing.
With these ten words, you can easily choose the right oil for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in flavor, production methods, clarity or even the antioxidant content; much can be discovered by simply reading the label. Now that you know the differences, why not see if you can taste them? Olive oils come in so many varieties; the options are almost as endless as the ways to enjoy it.