Unique features of olive oil
Olive oil is extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, Olea europaea, which humans have been cultivating since the 28th century BCE. It’s comprised mainly of monounsaturated oleic acid, but also contains smaller quantities of linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid.
It’s often favoured for culinary use thanks to its unique flavour, and also contains beneficial micronutrients, antioxidants, and other plant compounds when unrefined. Several religious observances also include the use of it.
Almost half of the world’s olive oil comes from Spain, and over 2.5 million tonnes are consumed worldwide each year!
What is olive oil used for in products
Aside from its use in food, many beauty products and cosmetics contain olive oil, including hair treatments, shampoos and conditioners, skin creams and lotions, as well as soaps and body washes.
It is also sometimes still used a fuel for lamps, and as the base for detergents.
Products that contain olive oil
Thanks to its distinct flavour, it is frequently used as an ingredient in:
- Blended oils
- Salad dressings
- Luxury pickles, pestos, and relishes
- Some lower-fat bread spreads and butter alternatives
Types of Olive oil
Aside from hundreds of different cultivars and varieties, it is generally graded for retail and commercial sale according to the process used to extract the oil as well as its level of free oleic acid.
Olive oil grades and classifications
Store-bought is normally classified into different grades, namely refined, virgin, extra virgin, light or extra light, and cold-pressed.
Refined, pure or regular olive oil has been heat-processed, which gives it a longer shelf life and higher smoke point. This process removes most of the nutrients and flavours from the oil, so it is usually used in cooking rather than served ‘raw’. Regular olive oil is often blended with a small quantity of it to give it a more distinctive taste.
Extra virgin olive oilis unrefined, meaning it hasn’t been altered by heat above 30ºC or chemicals. It’s considered the healthiest of the olive oils, as none of the antioxidant or anti-inflammatory compounds have been removed. However, this also means it has a shorter shelf life and lower smoke point. Because of this and its strong taste, it is normally used raw for dips and salad dressings.
Virgin olive oil has a slightly higher level of oleic acid and less intense flavour than extra-virgin olive oil. It’s slightly lighter in colour. So it varies.
Light and extra-light olive oil are made from extra virgin olive oil which has then been partially refined to remove some of the strong flavour.
Cold-pressed olive oil is made without any added heat at all, giving it a richer flavour.