Next time you take a trip to your grocery store, take note of how many different types of cooking oils line the shelves. There’s vegetable oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, canola oil, coconut oil, etc. The most plentiful option tends to be olive oil, and within that category are a whole new set of varieties. You’ve undoubtedly seen four letters, unsure if it’s an acronym or a weird word you never learned. Here’s a brief introduction to the makeup, uses, and benefits of olive oil, specifically extra virgin.
What does EVOO stand for?
EVOO is an acronym for extra virgin olive oil. It is a classification within the olive oil industry that designates it as a certain type of oil that has adhered to a strict set of regulations for the product to be applied with the name.
To get technical, according to the International Olive Council, the definition of olive oils are, “the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions. Particularly, these are thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration.”
Within that definition of olive oils, the designation of extra virgin means that the free acidity of the product must be less than 0.8 grams per 100 grams. For anyone who is not a scientist, this means that is the most refined and pure olive oil that can be produced for consumption. The resulting product is smoother and lower in fat than other products, thus the “extra virgin” designation.
Where is it made?
Most olive oils are made along the Mediterranean Sea, where the combination of soil and climate are perfect for the hearty olive trees. Countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece are major exporters of olive oil products. California has been a large producer of olive oil more recently, but not at the volume of the European countries.
On top of the acidity requirement for olive oil to receive the “extra virgin” classification, there are additional requirements of the creation process that must be met.
- Only olives must be used. No other fruit can be present in the final product
- No additional solvents can be added to the oil-making process
- The temperature of the process cannot exceed 27°C
- The process is only washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration. There must be no additional steps.
No matter where it is made, as long as the required process and final testing are passed, then a product can be labeled as EVOO.
What are the health benefits?
Extra virgin olive oil is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is a healthy and better-tasting alternative to richer and fattier animal fats such as butter. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Studies have shown that a diet rich in olive oil, particularly in the higher-quality grade of “extra virgin”, can result in a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes. It can also reduce brain inflammation and amyloid-beta plaque formation, hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been shown to improve memory and combat the onset of dementia symptoms.
Also, it can contribute to weight loss, especially when substituted in place of processed foods and unhealthy fats. The purity of the oil through the strict creation process removes any chemical additives and harmful saturated fats that are found in other cooking alternatives.
What is EVOO best used for?
Olive oils are perfect for cooking, and the extra virgin variety is no exception. It undergoes no structural change when heated, compared to the quick breakdown of other vegetable oils. This preserves the nutritional value of the oil, passing it on onto your food.
Its high smoking point of 210°C makes it ideal for cooking food, which typically falls in the 130°C-180°C range. This prevents any burning or smoking that can make food taste bad. The high quality of EVOO means that it’s able to retain its structure through multiple reuses, making it perfect for repeat cooking. It also heats faster than other oils, which makes it especially handy for frying, creating a beautiful brown crust on fish and meat.
Some people even use it as a moisturizer, the rich quality of the light fat making skin smooth and supple. It’s obviously better suited for cooking, but a dry scalp or ashy knees can get soothing relief from a small amount of olive oil.
Where can I find it?
Like I did, you might think that because you’ve seen that combination of letters in your local supermarket, you’ve found olive oil that is “extra virgin.” Unfortunately, many of the brands that market olive oil as “extra virgin” do not meet the quality standards and process requirements established by the International Olive Council.
In fact, much of the olive oil labeled as “extra virgin” in stores is defective, fermented, or even rancid. A study conducted by researchers at UC Davis found that over 69% of imported olive oils did not meet the quality standards of that strict classification of “extra virgin.”
The best way to find an olive oil that is legitimately “extra virgin” is to find a local Italian or Greek market that gets oil imported directly from Italy or Greece. Specialty markets that cater to Mediterranean diets will have higher standards for “extra virgin” classification than mass-producers of groceries. The higher-quality product will command a higher price, but the experience of tasting the smoothness of extra virgin olive oil in its purest form is unforgettable.