Extra Virgin Olive Oil Quality Demystified

This week at Oliver’s Market, one of our main focuses is olive oil, or more specifically, California Olive Oil Council (COOC) certified extra virgin olive oil. You might not be familiar with the COOC, but we know you will be glad once you are! Anyone who buys olive oil can take a few minutes to read this post and emerge a savvier consumer.

What Is The COOC?

The COOC is a trade association that encourages the consumption of certified California extra virgin olive oil through education, outreach and communications. Extra virgin is the highest grade an olive oil can receive. The COOC is committed to upholding the highest standards in the olive oil industry with its Seal Certification Program. In order to bear the seal, each oil is tested by an independent lab for grade and labeling standards. It is then verified to be 100% olive oil produced from only California olives, and then tasted by a certified taste panel for sensory analysis. This certification is important because it provides consumers with the assurance that the olive oil they are purchasing is actually extra virgin. This program also gives producers and marketers a standard method of grading their 100% California extra virgin olive oil.

When purchasing a bottle of California extra virgin olive oil that bears this seal, you can rest assured that it is the freshest olive oil available on the market, and is of the highest quality and purity. 

Olive Oil’s History

The olive tree is native to Turkey and spread to the rest of the Mediterranean Basin 6,000 years ago. The olive tree is also one of the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. The Western Hemisphere was introduced to olives by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers during the 15th and 16th centuries. The spread of the olive tree throughout California is due in large part to the Franciscan Monks, as they moved from South to North building the state’s missions during the 18th century. As they built the missions, they also planted olive groves. This is where the Mission variety of olive came from. Today, olive oil is produced in many countries world-wide.

Olive Oil’s Health Benefits

Olive oil has a wide range of health benefits. It’s high in monounsaturated fat, which can help lower your cholesterol and control insulin levels. It is also full of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage. Certain polyphenols can also have anti-inflammatory properties as well. Extra virgin olive oil can also help boost your immune system and help fight off high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. The most important thing to remember is that freshness is key: an olive oil has the most health benefits at bottling.

Cooking With Olive Oil

When cooking with olive oil, many people will use it for finishing dishes or enriching flavors, but how many think of it when they are sautéing? There are many advantages to sautéing with olive oil. Your food can actually retain its nutritional value better when it is sautéed in olive oil as opposed to other oils or butter. Olive oil performs a nifty trick in that it forms a protective crust on food while it cooks, helping seal in moisture and preventing the food from absorbing too much oil. It also has more nuanced flavors than other oils, which will give whatever you’re sautéing more depth of flavor.

How to Taste Olive Oil

Professional olive oil judges use a special blue glass that is tapered, which concentrates the oil’s aroma. However, if you’re an at home taster, a wine glass will work just fine. The glass is blue so that the taster isn’t influenced by the color of the olive oil, which is not an indicator of quality or flavor profile. The optimal temperature for tasting olive oil is 82 degrees F. If the oil seems a little cold, cup the glass in your hands and allow it to gently warm up a little bit. Much like when tasting wine, you should taste your olive oil in an odor-free environment so that other scents don’t mingle with the oil.

Think of tasting olive oil much like you would tasting wine. Follow the “4 S” plan: Swirl, smell, sip, and swallow.

Swirl: This releases the oil’s aromas, and helps to warm the oil to its optimal tasting temperature. Cup the glass with one hand, and cover it with the other to trap the aromas inside.

Smell: Uncover the glass and quickly inhale. This allows you to evaluate the aroma of the oil, and to get an idea of possible flavors.

Sip: Take a small sip while also taking in a little bit of air. This helps to spread the oil throughout your mouth. Think about how you would describe the oil, if it tastes good and if you can see yourself using it in cooking.

Swallow: The only way to judge oil’s pungency is to swallow it. A pungent oil will make your throat feel scratchy or like you have to cough. The sensation you feel from swallowing the oil is caused by the polyphenols present. They are what make olive oil so healthy for you. The more intense the sensation typically means there are more polyphenols present, and the healthier it is.

Whew! Tasting olive oil by itself to evaluate quality is not for everyone, which is why the COOC seal is so valuable. Whether you want to become an olive oil connoisseur, or just make a great choice every time you purchase it, remember to look for the COOC seal on the bottle. It guarantees you a 100% certified California extra virgin olive oil every time.

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