Having recently graduated as a fully-fledged olive oil sommelier (you can read about my experience here), I wanted to share with you some of the fascinating facts about olive oil I learned during my week in Tuscany.
Whether you are an olive aficionado or pick every remnant of olive off your pizza (that was me a year ago!), these facts will make you look smarter at the dinner table at the very least.
Did you know….?
- Olive trees are not natural trees. They were domesticated by the Romans.
- Cold pressed olive oil is a consumer-driven marketing myth. In fact, olive oil labeled as ‘cold pressed’ is usually cold-extracted, as mass-produced olive oils aren’t made with presses anymore. Also, outside of the EU there are no regulations on using the term ‘cold pressed’ or ‘cold extracted’, so you can never even be sure that’s what you are getting!
- There are more restrictions on the production and sale of olive oil than there are on meat, wine or milk.
- Olive oil is the only product that must go through both a chemical analysis and sensory analysis before being allowed to go on the shelves. Every single olive oil must go through a human tasting panel, which is what determines what category the oil is.
- What is the difference between extra virgin olive oil and olive oil? Well, during the above-mentioned tasting panel, the oil can have zero defects (mouldy, musty, rancid etc…) to be classed as an extra virgin olive oil.
- During a tasting panel, an olive oil that is found to have a high level of defects is labeled as ‘lampante’, which originates from the Roman times, as it’s what they would use as lamp oil. Lampante is usually a result of bad olives or careless processing and is not considered fit for human consumption.
- Unlike wine, olive oil should be consumed within one year of purchase, so always check the label to see when it was produced!
In Japan, they use olive oil medicinally, often taking it as a daily shot!
- If anything is added to extra virgin olive oil (such as rosemary or other infusions), it can no longer be labeled as such. Instead, ‘extra virgin olive oil’ can only be listed as an ingredient of the product.
- When you’re cooking with olive oil and see smoke coming off of it, don’t be alarmed. This is just the natural debris burning off.
- The food industry is fraught with fraud, including olive oil. During the course, we heard of numerous stories of the ways people try to convince people to buy cheaper types of oils, or blends. Believe it or not, there is a high chance you have bought olive oil that isn’t actually 100% olive oil.
- A key component of the Mediterranean Diet is olive oil. In fact, nearly 25% of calories consumed by people who follow this ‘diet’ comes from olive oil. The Spanish and Italians also report some of the longest life expectancies in the world. I am totally converted to olive oil on toast, instead of butter (the way the Spanish do it). Yum!
- There are no green olive trees. The color of the olive depends on its ripeness. Early harvest olives are green, while the late harvest olives are black. There are dozens of shades in between.
- Black-ripe olives are picked when green, but then pumped with oxygen to turn them black. They can often also be artificially coloured!
So there you go — lots of things you may or may not have wanted to know about olive oil 🙂