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Virgin vs Refined…and other facts on olive oil

You know olive oil contains the healthy kind of fat. You know it’s popular enough to fill a good lot of shelf space in the supermarkets. What you don’t really know is how to pick the best bottle when standing in front of those shelves.

Here’s a mini-masterclass by Willow Creek Olive Estate:

Extra Virgin and Virgin

Extra virgin is as close as you can get to the oil’s natural state. It is classified as “extra virgin” after passing an analysis and a taste test. The results should be a free acidity level of less than 0,8%, that there are no defects (such as mustiness or rancidity) and a fruity flavour. (Because an olive is actually a fruit; if the flavours are gone the oil is processed.)

Virgin olive oil’s classification is similar, but the free acidity level is below 2%, the defects below 35% and the fruity flavour still present.

What is refined olive oil?

Refined olive oil is what had to be “fixed” after it had failed the extra virgin or virgin olive oil test. The oil that failed is called lampante oil. It can only be consumed after it has undergone a refining process which includes deodorising and bleaching. The result is a tasteless, almost colourless product. Apart from the flavour, it has also lost nutritional value. Do terms like “pure” and “light” olive oil sound familiar? They were probably processed to be that way.

Am I picking up a good or a bad bottle?

First look for the words “extra virgin”. Then look out for the SA Olive Commitment to Compliance seal which indicates the harvest year of the olives, verifies that the oil is 100% South African, has undergone chemical analysis, and has been taste-tested by the SA Olive Tasting Panel to verify that it is Extra Virgin. This is essentially the only way to verify that, in South Africa, you’re getting the deal for which you’re paying.

But surely the imported ones are all good?

Not so. “Italy” might sound like a good word on a bottle, but does it say “extra virgin”? How can you be sure that what they claim is what you get? And it happens sometimes that overseas products are the lower quality products “dumped” on foreign soil.

Is cold pressed or extracted important?

The word “cold” indicates that the temperature has never gone beyond 30°C during the production process. Extracted (what Willow Creek does) the oil is obtained through a centrifuge while pressed olive oil is obtained through a traditional hydraulic press.

“Cold extracted” or “cold pressed” are not the key indicators on a good bottle of olive oil, but rather “extra virgin”.

If I want to buy local?

Local is lekker, and in Willow Creek’s case also truly world-class (they have won countless international awards!). Consumers can find their products in everything from the nearest farm stall to the supermarket around the corner. All Willow Creek’s products are extra virgin, so any choice is a good choice.

When buying other South African products, be sure to watch out for the SA Olive Commitment to Compliance seal.

Is your business an expert in its field? Enquire here about speaking to local consumers.

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