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Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Checklist for the Integrity of Reports on the Quality of Olive Oils
There has been much publicity over the last year covering the failure of many brands of extra virgin olive oils to meet the international and local standards for this classification. The publicity has in most cases been fuelled by reports released to the media by various interest groups and consumer magazines.
It has been argued by some that most of these reports are instigated by vested interests seeking to discredit competing brands or imports in general so as to increase market share.
Bag the Can
Why pay a premium price for extra virgin olive oil delivered to your food with the help of a hydrocarbon gas such as propane or butane? The same sort of gas that drives your car - LPG.
At a leading supermarket one can buy an Australian extra virgin olive oil in a spray can for $2.33/100g, in a bottle the same brand will cost $1.29/100ml – around $1.04 less. The difference between buying the oil in a can or bottle varies, but if you buy it in a can you will be paying substantially more.
So we can argue that if we ‘ban the can’, and customers spend as much on olive oil, we will sell more oil and more of the income will come back to the producer and less to the canner and gas supplier!
Raw Deal for Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Draft New Australian Dietary Guidelines
The internationally recognised health benefits of extra virgin olive oil do not rate in the draft Australian Dietary Guidelines released on 13 December by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
While other ingredients in the Mediterranean Diet – grains, legumes, cheese etc - are recommended, the overall thrust is for reduced fat intake. The guidelines recommend that some saturated fat is replaced by vegetable oils high in monounsaturated fats – extra virgin olive oil doesn’t rate a mention despite being high in monounsaturated fats and anti-oxidants.
The Point about Smoke and Olive Oils
One of the most contentious issues between olive oil and competing vegetable oils is the smoke point.
When frying the oil in the pan is heated between 160-240°C. The optimal temperature is around 180°C. Lower temperatures are used in other forms of cooking – roasting, baking etc. In Asian countries where the wok is used for stir frying, temperatures higher than this can be expected.
The importance of smoke point from a chef’s point of view was brought home to me by a chef in Blenheim, New Zealand when I quizzed him about which oil he used for frying. His answer was avocado oil because of its high smoke point, and secondly he liked the flavour. Pursued as to why he didn’t use some of the locally produced extra virgin olive oil, his answer was that he was so busy in the kitchen that he could not watch the frying all the time and the lower smoke point of olive oil often caught him out with the food he was frying being spoilt. Price was not an issue.
Style and Flavour in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Factors affecting Style
The style of an extra virgin olive oil describes its strength or intensity – ranging from delicate to robust.
Extra virgin olive oil is the extracted oil from the olive without additives or alteration. What you extract is what you taste. The range of varieties of olive, growing conditions such as soil and climate, and management have an impact on the chemical make-up of the product. It is a complex mix of the molecular make-up of the oil that gives it the aroma and taste – the combination adding up to the flavour.The climatic and agronomic conditions are important determinants of the style of the oil, while ripeness of the olive also has a profound effect. As olives ripen, the ratio of aromatic compounds and phytonutrients such as polyphenols to oil changes, the latter reducing and the oil percentage increasing. It is this ratio that affects the intensity or strength of the oil.
Seasonal factors such as rain and drought also influence the concentration of polyphenols in the oil. Polyphenols such as the bitter component oleuropein, are water soluble and so tend to be reduced during a wet season or with the heavy application of irrigation. Hence the oils are less bitter.
Processing Olive Oil
There are two main processing streams for olives:
- Olive oil accounting for approximately 80% of olives.
- Pickling which accounts for the other 20%.
The products from both these processes can then be further processed to a wide range of products including cosmetics, margarines, and soaps from the oil; and olive pastes, sun dried olives, table olives from the pickled olives.
Small oil processing plants can be purchased for $15000-$30000.
Delivering to processors
Processors will purchase olives on a contract or ad hoc basis.
Some processors will process batches of your olives for you charging on the basis of tonnage.
When selling olives on contract the following are important in determining the price paid:
- Stage of ripeness.
- Percentage of oil.
- Extent of bruising.
- Time lapse between harvesting and delivery to processor.
- Size of fruit.