How do we classify olive oils?

Olive oil isn’t just “olive oil”! Let’s look at the different kinds of olive oil available to us and the characteristics that we must consider to ensure that we purchase wisely.
Before looking at the classification question as such, we should consider some of the terms we use. What, for example, do we actually mean when we say “olive oil”?
Olive oil is the liquid produced by pressing the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea), by mechanical means (olive milling). The liquid is also subjected to such physical processes as decantation, centrifugation and filtering, under controlled heat conditions.
This natural product serves as a hallmark ingredient both of Italy’s culinary traditions and of the Mediterranean diet as such. To safeguard the quality of this product, each batch of olive oil produced and marketed in Europe must comply with a set of strict parameters set forth by the European Community (see Regulation 2568/91, as amended). These parameters translate into a commercial classification of olive oils. This classification helps us understand what the labels say − for better-informed decisions when choosing an olive oil!

Let us now look at the full range of types of olive oil recognized by the European Community, and let us also consider the distinctive characteristics of each type.
The European Community classifies olive oil on the basis of three criteria. These are the type of extraction process adopted in order to obtain the olive oil; the composition of the olive oil, including the free acidity content (%) (a parameter gauged by means of chemical analysis); and organoleptic analysis.

Classification of olive oils

  1. Virgin olive oil
    1. Extra virgin olive oil
    2. Virgin olive oil
    3. Lampante olive oil
  2. Refined olive oil
  3. Olive oil composed of virgin olive oils
  4. Crude olive-pomace oil
  5. Refined olive-pomace oil
  6. Olive-pomace oil

1. Virgin olive oil

Virgin olive oil is obtained via mechanical olive pressing processes alone, in such conditions as rule out all alteration of the oil. In brief, this means that, to be classified as a virgin olive oil, the product must not be treated otherwise than by washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtering.

Virgin olive oils are also classified on the basis of their free acidity content. This content is given as the percentage value of oleic acid, which is the main kind of fatty acid in olive oil. These acids are generally present in the triglycerides that make up the fats, forming a chain. However various factors may lead to their release, free in the fat.

The increase in free acidity (which may come about in both in the olive and the olive oil) brings with it certain modifications determining the formation of components detrimental to the organoleptic characteristics of the oil.
The lower the level of free acidity is in a virgin olive oil, the higher the quality shall be.

The following is the goods classification of virgin olive oils:

    Extra Virgin olive oil is a defect-free virgin olive oil with superior organoleptic characteristics, with a free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, not in excess of 0.8 grams per 100 g (≤ 0.8%).

    Virgin olive oil presents a free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, not in excess of 2 grams per 100 g (≤ 2%).

    Virgin olive oil that cannot be distributed by the retail sector, presenting organoleptic defects and free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, in excess of 2 grams per 100 g (> 2.0%).
Oils termed “lampante virgin” received this name because they were once used for oil burning lamps. This type of olive oil presents many markedly healthful, naturally occurring components (essential acids, vitamins, antioxidant agents). However, for them to be consumed, these oils must be refined in order to lower the free acidity content and to remove unpleasant aromatic and color components, without bringing about other changes to the structure.

2. Refined olive oil

Refined olive oil is obtained by refining virgin olive oil. This industrial process lowers the acidity and removes oxidized substances. The free acidity content, expressed as oleic acid, is not in excess of 0.3 grams per 100 g.

Following refining, this olive oil presents to the taster as a defect-free fat. Before packing, to ensure a correct color and flavor, it must be carefully blended with an extra virgin olive oil or a virgin olive oil.

3. Olive oil

Olive oil is a combination of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils. It is obtained by blending refined olive oil and virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil. The level of free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, is not in excess of 1 gram per 100 g.

The law does not establish minimum quantities (%) of virgin olive oil or of extra virgin olive oil to be blended with the refined product. The general practice points to a 5-8% blend. The better producers may even reach 30%, and will use only extra virgin olive oils, to produce a more pleasingly palatable “olive oil”, while enhancing the oils’ qualities as a nutrient.

On the composition of our Pure olive oil.

4. Crude olive-pomace oil

Differing from olive oil, olive-pomace oil consists in the solid residues left after pressing the olives (skin, flesh and stone), still containing a certain amount of olive oil (quantities vary according to the extraction method adopted). This oil is extracted using a solvent (usually hexane). The technology is the same as that adopted for production of seed oil. The solvent is then separated from the oil by distilling.

5. Refined olive-pomace oil

This product is obtained by refining crude olive-pomace oil, thereby reducing the acidity of the oil and removing the oxidized substances.

6. Olive-pomace oil

An olive oil obtained by blending refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oil.