Olive oil has been around for almost so long as the olive, which is at the very least 6,000 years. It is mentioned numerous times in the Christian Bible, designated as holy by Mohammed the Prophet of Islam, and celebrated by the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Considered the best of all oils, it’s the traditional oil for anointing kings, bishops, and temples in western culture.

Olive oil is simple to digest and helps our anatomies assimilate minerals and vitamins. It aids the digestive tract by stimulating the gall bladder. Essential olive oil is cholesterol free and comprises of 70% monounsaturated essential fatty acids, which reduce bad cholesterol (LDL). It contains chlorophyll which aids the metabolism, stimulating cellular growth and speeding the healing up process. Also it contains no trans fats.

The olive tree flourishes in Mediterranean-type climates with hot, dry summers and cool winters. Spain, with over 300 million olive trees, may be the number one producer of essential olive oil with 44% of the planet market. Much of Spanish essential olive oil production is shipped to Italy, both for consumption also to be repackaged on the market abroad as Italian essential olive oil. The region of Andaluc�a makes up about 75% of Spanish essential olive oil production.

Selecting the right essential olive oil can be a intimidating task – the terminology used on labels is sometimes confusing and frequently misleading, and the differences between oils are often not made clear. Here is everything you need to know to choose the right olive oil for the table or kitchen:

Grades – Olive oils that come from countries that are members of the International ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL Council (of which Spain is, needless to say, one) adhere to strict regulations regarding labeling and packaging. The grades defined by the IOOC are the following:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, comes with an acidity of only 0.8%, and contains been judged to have superior taste. Extra virgin olive oil can contain no refined oil.
Virgin Olive Oil has an acidity of less than 2% and contains been judged to have good taste. Virgin essential olive oil can contain no refined oil.
Pure Olive Oil is a blend of virgin essential olive oil and refined olive oil, and has an acidity of no more than 1%.
Ordinary Olive Oil can be a mixture of virgin and refined olive oils, and has an acidity of no more than 3.3%.
Olive-Pomace Oil is very rarely found in markets, but is sometimes found in restaurant cooking. Created from the residue of the production of higher grade olive oils, olive-pomace oil is fit for consumption however, not very tasty.
It is important to note that these grade definitions apply only to olive oils manufactured in countries which are members of the IOOC, meaning that American olive oils may or might not meet these criteria. The USDA doesn’t recognize any of the above terms, instead using terms like “fancy” and “choice” because they have been since 1948, so you could put the words extra virgin olive oil on a tub of strawberry pudding and still be legal in the US provided that the ingredients list is correct.

Notice that taste is considered for classifying extra virgin and virgin essential olive oil. These are the only two grades you would want to use once the flavor of the oil is essential to the results of the dish.

Other things you might see on an essential olive oil label

100% Pure ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL – This is the bit misleading if you don’t know what it means. Pure olive oil is actually the lowest grade obtainable in retail stores, although word pure might lead some to trust it’s the highest. No question, pure olive oil is an excellent choice for a few uses, which we will get to shortly.
Made from refined oils – The word refined is often associated with increased purity, but in the case of essential olive oil this means that the taste and acidity were altered by artificial means. Refined oils invariably focus on lower quality olives, and have problems with a lack of the real taste of the olive. They undergo thermal and chemical treatments to reduce acidity, subjected to an exceptionally fine filtration process to eliminate any residual chemicals, and fortified with a small amount of virgin or extra virgin oil to provide them some flavor and color. The agricultural equivalent of creating a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Lite ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL – or Light ESSENTIAL OLIVE OIL. All olive oils have 120 calories per tablespoon, lite olive oils included. Lite olive oils are refined olive oils which have not been fortified with virgin or extra virgin oil, and for that reason lack any semblance of taste or color. This sort of oil can be used for baking or other forms of cooking where you don’t want the oil to flavor the meals at all. Just don’t expect it to help you lose weight.
From hand-picked olives – There is absolutely no evidence that manually picking olives produces better oil compared to the traditional tree-shaking method. The implication is that there are no olives picked off the ground (“windfall olives”) found in the making of the oil, that is a excellent thing since windfall olives raise the acidity of the oil and require more washing of the olives before pressing, and that the olives are hand selected after being inspected by the picker – also a very good thing.
First cold press – You will see this on many bottles of extra virgin essential olive oil, because EVOO comes from the initial cold press by definition. If you don’t see it, don’t worry about it as long as you trust the brand and believe them when they say the oil is extra virgin. First press means that this oil came from the first press of the olives – some companies work with a second press for lower grade oils. Cold means no additional heat is applied during pressing.
Estate Grown – All of the olives in the oil come from exactly the same grove. This typically means less time and energy to transport the olives to the mill, this means less time from picking to pressing, which results in superior oil.
Unfiltered – Most olive oils are filtered to eliminate sediments that occur naturally during pressing. Some, however, retain the sediment in the ultimate product. This is thought by many to strengthen and improve the flavor of the oil, and some connoisseurs seek out oils with sediment in the bottle. If nothing else, unfiltered oils undergo one less step in processing and so are therefore one step nearer to as an unadulterated product. The sediments can go rancid over time, so use unfiltered oils within 3 – six months of buying them and store them in a cool, dark place.
scholarly articles Blended Oil – The olives in a specific grove can transform in flavor from year to year. To experience a frequent flavor, manufacturers will blend oils from different types of olives. Sometimes olive oil will undoubtedly be blended with canola or vegetable oil to boost the flavor or for marketing purposes. These oils should be clearly labeled.
Flor de Aceite – Flower of the Oil in English. This is the process where in fact the olives are crushed but not pressed, and the oil is decanted through gravity alone. It requires twice as many olives per liter to create oil in this way, that is one reason this method is rarely used.
There is also the matter of the bottle itself. Some olive oils can be found in clear bottles, others in green bottles as well as cans. How come this? One reason a manufacturer may choose never to use clear glass is that there is some evidence that this may enhance shelf life – same reason some beers come in dark bottles. Unfortunately, this prevents you from seeing the oil before you buy it. Using green glass also provides appearance of deep green colored oil, which many see as a sign of higher quality.

Which brings us to color. Green oils are from olives picked early in the harvest and also have a peppery, fruity, ripe flavor in addition to higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols. Gold oils are from later in the harvest and are usually smooth and mellow. Green oils have a shorter shelf life than gold oils – figure around 8 to 9 months rather than 12. Color isn’t an indicator of the grade of the oil, though it does have a value all its own.

So, which olive oil if you undertake? Depends on what you will use it for.