Thinking that ‘olive oil is just olive oil’ would be like saying that all ‘wine is just wine’. There are important factors to know a little about so that you can make informed decisions about what to buy and how to enjoy olive oil.
EVOO (pronounced ee-voo) stands for Extra Virgin Olive Oil – is the highest grade and most expensive of virgin olive oil, derived by mechanical cold extraction at below 30°C, (which means it is not altered by temperature) without the use of solvents or refining methods. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is free of any defects and rich in positive attributes, such as fruity bitter and pungent or peppery. Fruity refers to the flavours and aromas of correctly harvested and processed fresh, healthy olive fruit.
EVOOs can be categorized according to three styles: intense; medium and those delicate oils. The style of EVOO is largely influenced by the specific cultivar or blend of cultivars used; the maturity of the fruit; and by the area of origin, terroir and seasonal climatic conditions. Of the more than 200 olive cultivars grown around the world, there are around 20 different cultivars used to make olive oil in South Africa.
The more well-known cultivars of olives used to make EVOO in South Africa are:
- Leccino – produces an oil with soft, subtle herbaceous flavours.
- Frantoio – a typical Tuscan varietal, with strong green overtones.
- Coratina – can produce a rather bitter oil.
- Favolosa – produces an intensely fruity oil.
- Mission – a table olive which can be used to produce smooth delicate fruity oils, often contributing to roundness in a blend.
Many producers choose to blend different cultivars and batches to maintain a more consistent product every year, while others offer separate varietals which display differing characteristics with each harvest.
- Virgin Olive Oil is a natural, unrefined, but lower quality olive oil. It is not as tasty or as healthy as EVOO.
- Olive Oil / Pure Olive Oil / Light Olive Oil are refined olive oils occasionally blended with a minimal amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They look the part and cost less but are simply not as good for you.
- Olive Pomace Oil is extracted from the pulp left over from the first press using solvents, and is not fit for human consumption unless refined and blended.
- Lampante Oil is the lowest grade of olive oils and is not fit for human consumption. The name originates from its use as fuel for lamps.
Always look out for The South African Olive CTC seal on a bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). This is a seal of confidence and it’s the guarantee that the producer is ‘committed to compliance’ in quality olive oil production. It confirms that the EVOO is 100% locally (South African) produced and is authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil.