The smoke point of EVOO is 2070C; once olive oil is refined, the smoke point increases to 2380C. The high smoke point of EVOO is due to its chemical composition, including the presence of natural antioxidants. Normal frying temperature is around 1600C.
The “smoke point” of an oil or fat is the temperature at which it begins to break down; both flavour and nutritional degradation begin at this temperature.
EVOO is rich in Vitamins E, A, D and K. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant.
The antioxidants also maintain the integrity of the oil by protecting it from oxidation.
EVOO is unique amongst vegetable oils in that it can be consumed in its natural state without any need for refining. The refining process that other vegetable oils require in order to be fit for human consumption destroys these valuable antioxidants as well as the flavour components, minerals and vitamins.
- 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 – specifically selected for oil production and produces an intensely fruity oil.
- Mission – produces a delicate oil which is best consumed within 6–9 months; more suited to table olive production
- Kalamata – a table olive cultivar which makes a very delicate oil.
The monounsaturated fats in olive oil decrease the low density lipoproteins (LDL) levels in our bloodstream, while increasing the high density lipoproteins (HDL) levels, hence achieving the most desirable balance of these fractions. The monounsaturated fat can also benefit non insulin-dependent diabetics.
Quality olive oil is rich in healthy antioxidants and anti-inflammatories (which are responsible for the bitterness or pungency of the oil).
- the oil is completely natural and unadulterated, with no additives;
- the oil is free of any defects – not rancid, winey, musty, fusty etc.;
- the oil has a fruity characteristic;
- the oil has a free acidity level of LESS than 0.8%;
- the oil has been cold-extracted which indicates that it retains all its aromas, natural antioxidants and minerals.
The blend of different olive varietals (or cultivars) in an EVOO result in a more balanced oil with a specific style or characteristic. Many producers choose to blend different olive oils to maintain a more consistent product every year, while others offer individual varietals display unique characteristics.
The Canola and Olive Oil Blends masquerade as olive oils, but the consumer has no guarantee of the quality nor the amount of olive oil in the blend.
Other grades of olive oil include (in decreasing order of quality):
- Virgin Olive Oil
- Refined Olive Oil
- Refined and Virgin Olive Oil Blends
- Olive-Pomace Oil
Fruitiness, detected in the nose, should be characteristic of green or ripe olives and can be associated with nuances of green grass, dry grass, almond, walnut, pine kernels, apple, green banana, tomato or wild berry.
These delicious flavours are largely influenced by the cultivar used, the terroir and harvest maturity. Greener, fresh grassy notes are associated with green, early harvested fruit, while ripe notes are associated with late harvested fruit.
When tasting olive oil, the tongue should perceive a measure of bitterness, which should be pleasant, not too harsh, while the absence of bitterness is associated with sweetness.
Mouthfeel will indicate sensations of density/limpidity or fattiness. Pungency or peppery, acrid notes, sensed in the cheeks and throat, usually as an aftertaste is associated with phenolics and is a desirable attribute.
Fruitiness, bitterness and pungency should all be balanced in harmony in a high quality oil. Although a measure of personal preference is involved in oil tasting, it is important to realise that a defective oil (rancid, winey, musty, fusty, etc.) will spoil food, while a good quality EVOO will enhance the flavor of food.
EVOO is, according to international legislation, the highest quality grade of olive oil available. Genuine EVOO involves good care and high levels of management all along the process from growing, harvesting, handling, extraction, decanting to packaging and storage.
Cheaper grades of olive oil are therefore of poorer quality, and cheap EVOOs are suspect. You normally get what you pay for.