First let’s understand what an olive is. An olive is a fruit which grows on an olive tree. They can be green or black depending on the type of olive. In order to get the oil from an olive it must be pressed once the olives are ripe. The olives can be pressed multiple times to extract additional olive oil.
However, not all olive oil is the same. It depends on a number of factors such as the variety of olives, the soil and the climate. These fruits are mostly grown in Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. If you look at the labels you will find that the label may say “from Italy”, but if you look at the where the olives are from, they may include other countries which supply the olives. So if you want a true Italian olive oil – make sure the olives are grown, cultivated and pressed all in Italy.
Here are the various classifications of olive oil:
Extra Virgin First Cold Pressed
This is the oil which is extracted during the first pressing thus giving the term “virgin”. Extra virgin produces the lowest amount of acidity (less than 1%) which is why it is recommended for salads. It is also known for having the best flavor of all pressed olive oils. I use it on my Italian Simple Salad and in many of my other Italian food recipes.
Regular Virgin Olive Oil
Still first pressed, but has up to 4% acidity.
Regular or Pure Olive Oil
Typically these contain some virgin olive oil to help with flavor. The more the olives are pressed, the flavor begins to lose intensity. Don’t let “pure” make you think it is the best – extra virgin olive oil is the best. This is often used in basic cooking when the “oil flavor” is not the focal point such as frying.
This is not the same as First Cold Pressed. It just simply means it used a chemical free process when extracting the oils.
In regards to which brand makes the best olive oil I would say take a trip to Italy or Spain. The flavor is so intense and puts many of our name brands to pure shame. I still have not found an olive oil which comes close to the ones they had in Italy when I visited there a number of years ago. But that does not mean we are without hope. If you can, get the Extra Virgin First Cold Pressed (not just cold pressed), and that will help tremendously.
I hope this helps make it easier to know what kind to get!