Olive Oil-A delicious and healthy alternative to Butter

Saying I don’t like olive oil is like saying I don’t like wine! Why? Olive oil has an array of flavors and characteristics similar to wine. Olive oil can range from mild and buttery tasting to strong, grassy and/or peppery. You must taste them to find one you love before claiming there is no olive oil you like.

I was not aware of this until I went to an olive oil tasting at Jones and Bones in Capitola, California with over 30 extra virgin olive oils from all over the world. Tasting more than 2 or 3 extra virgin olive oils next to each other was quite educational and my palate was exhilarated and fatigued by all the various flavors. I’d never experienced anything like this before and my eyes and taste buds were opened for further exploration along with a new found passion and love! Being a former Pastry Chef who had to give up butter, I was thrilled to find this delicious and much healthier alternative!

Here’s an idea, have all of your friends bring a bottle of olive oil over and cover them with a piece of paper and number them so everyone can participate in a blind tasting. Have everyone take notes about the flavors. Use small tasting spoons. The palate does get fatigued, so drink water in between or eat a cracker or wheat free bread.

A few facts and history about olive oil:


The olive came to California in the late 18th century, when Spanish missionaries planted olive trees at each of the 21 missions they established between San Diego and Sonoma. By the mid 19th century, there was a thriving olive oil industry in California.

Major Olive Oil producers today include: Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, and California. Small quantities are made in Provence, Syria, Israel, Australia, S. Africa, Chile, and several other countries.

Hand picking is the preferred method of harvesting. Hand picking is labor intensive, and is just one of the reasons for the high cost of extra virgin, liquid gold, olive oil.

Freshly harvested olives are rushed from the field to the mill, where they are rinsed in fresh water, and separated from the leaves and stems. Next, the olives are ground into paste with a very large stone, approximately 4,000 pounds, and the paste is mixed to encourage the oil to separate from the surrounding vegetable matter and water. This is called cold pressing because there is no heat used in the process. Cold pressed oil retains the highest amount of nutrients and is the healthiest form. There are several levels/grades of olive oil and they are not equal. You may be buying olive oil that is actually not fit for human consumption! Please read below to educate yourself so you can make the best purchasing decision.

Another popular process is to press citrus (Blood Orange, Persian Lime, Meyer Lemon etc…) with the olive oil press/stone and combine it with the olive oil for flavor. Some of the California producers are Round Pond, Stella Cadente, and O Olive Oil. Some companies also add spices and flavors such as rosemary and or garlic to their olive oil which adds a lot of flavor to meat, poultry and vegetables. In my cookbook, No Wheat No Dairy No Problem I use these flavorful oils to enhance flavor in recipes and as a healthy alternative to dairy/butter.

Health Benefits:

Recent research has underscored the heart benefits from so-called Mediterranean diets high in unsaturated fats from vegetable oil, nuts and such fish as salmon and tuna. Mortality rates dropped by more than 50 percent among elderly Europeans who stuck to such diets and led healthy lifestyles, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (news – web sites) in September.

The North American Olive Oil Association included 88 publications to back its claim for the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil. The group wanted to make the claim for monounsaturated fats contained in just one tablespoon of olive oil per day.

The Nature Publishing Group claims that there is an Ibuprofen-like activity in extra virgin olive oil.

Storage/Shelf Life:

According to the late Betty Pustarfi, former owner of Strictly Olive Oil/Educator, “Always store extra virgin olive oil in a cool, dark place, away from heat and light. Where it will have a shelf life of 12 to 18 months from harvest. Extra Virgin Olive Oil does not age like wine — they will mellow, not become rancid, but simply lose some of their characteristics.” That said, this is only for extra virgin olive oil, other forms of olive oil can go rancid over time and if not stored properly. You will know if it is rancid, it will smell terrible and taste bad.

Resources for Olive Oils:





Paul Vossen

The International Olive Council (IOC) has a United Nations charter to develop quality and purity criteria for olive oil. Their main focus is regulating the legal aspects of the olive oil industry and preventing unfair competition. The standards they have developed are recognized by the vast majority of the world’s olive oil producers and marketers. The International Standards under resolution COI/T.15/NC no 3-25 (revised June 2003) lists nine grades of olive oil in two primary categories – (1) Olive Oil and (2) Olive Pomace Oil. These are the official definitions of each of the nine grades:


Oil obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europa L.) to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds (seed or nut oils).

2.1.1 Virgin Olive Oils – obtained solely by mechanical or physical means under thermal conditions that do not lead to alterations in the oil; using only treatments such as washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration. Those fit for human consumption are as follows:

i. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – this oil, as evaluated numerically by the mean of a certified taste panel, contains zero (0) defects and greater than zero positive attributes. In other words, more than half of the tasters indicated that it is not defective and has some fruitiness. Extra-virgin oil also must have a free acidity percentage of less than 0.8 and conform to all the standards listed in its category. This is the highest quality rating for an olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil should have clear flavor characteristics that reflect the fruit from which it was made. In relation to the complex matrix of variety, fruit maturity, growing region, and extraction technique, extra virgin olive oils can be very different from one another.

ii. Virgin Olive Oil – this is oil with a sensory analysis rating of the mean of tasters, having defects from 0 to less than 2.5, a free acidity of less than 2%, and conforms to all the other standards in its category. These are oils with analytical and sensory indices that reflect slightly lower quality than extra virgin olive oil.

iii. Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil – oil with a lower organoleptic rating (defects from the mean of tasters 2.5 to less than 6.0), a free acidity of less than 3.3%, and conformity within its category for all other standards. This is inferior oil with notable defects that is not permitted to be bottled under European Union (EU) laws, so it is sent for refining. The EU has eliminated this category and other regulating agencies are likely to follow. It will simply be absorbed into the lampante category.

Paul Vossen – University of California, Cooperative Extension – pmvossen@ucdavis.edu – 2007 1 Virgin Olive Oil – Not Fit for Human Consumption (Lampante) – Oil with severe defects (greater than 6.0) or free acidity of greater than 3.3%, and which conforms to the other standards within its category. It is not fit for human consumption and must be refined. These oils come from bad fruit or from improper handling and processing. This grade is designated as not fit for human consumption.

2.1.2 Refined Olive Oil – Not Fit for Human Consumption – Oil obtained from virgin oils by refining methods that do not alter the initial glyceride structure. It has a free acidity of less than 0.3 and must conform to the other standards within its category. Refined olive oil must not come from the solvent extraction of pomace. The refining process usually consists of treating virgin oil/lampante with sodium hydroxide to neutralize the free acidity, washing, drying, odor removal, color removal, and filtration. In the process, the oil can be heated to as high as 430oF (220oC) under a vacuum to remove all of the volatile components. Refined olive oil is usually odorless, tasteless, and colorless. It is designated as not fit for human consumption.

2.1.3 Olive Oil Oils that are a blend of refined and unrefined virgin oils. It must have a free acidity of not more than 1% and conform to the other standards within its category. This grade of oil actually represents the bulk of the oil sold to the consumer on the world market. Blends are made in proportions to create specific styles and prices. Oils in the US labeled as “Extra Light” would most likely be a blend dominated by refined olive oil. Other blends with more color and flavor would contain more virgin or extra virgin olive oil.


Oil obtained by treating olive pomace with solvents. It does not include oils obtained in the re-esterification processes or any mixture with oils of other kinds (seed or nut oils).

2.2.1 Crude Olive-Pomace Oil – Not Fit for Human Consumption – This is the solvent extracted crude oil product as it comes out of the pomace extractor after distillation to separate and recover most of the solvent. EU law also defines any oil containing 300-350 mg/kg of waxes and aliphatic alcohols above 350 mg/kg to be crude pomace oil. It is designated as not fit for human consumption, but is intended for refining.

2.2.2 Refined Olive-Pomace Oil – Not Fit for Human Consumption – Oil obtained from crude pomace oil by refining methods that do not alter the initial glyceride structure. It has a free acidity of not more than 0.3% and its other characteristics must conform to the standard in its category. Refining includes the same methods used for “refined olive oil” except that the source of the raw product comes from pomace by means of solvent extraction. It is designated as not fit for human consumption.

2.2.3 Olive-Pomace Oil – A blend of refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oil that is fit for human consumption. It has a free acidity of not more than 1% and must conform to the other standards within its category. In no case shall this blend be called “olive oil.”

Paul Vossen – University of California, Cooperative Extension – pmvossen@ucdavis.edu – 2007 2

Telling Virgin from Refined from Pomace from Seed Oil – What is What?

A combination of over 20 laboratory tests and a sensory tasting is used to determine if an olive oil has been adulterated with seed, pomace, or refined olive oil and to classify and grade olive oils according to IOC standards. The sensory test involves the use of a trained taste panel that is recognized by the IOC. Eight tasters must confirm to a statistical model for accuracy and validity and indicate that if a sample oil is defective or not and if it is, which defect is noted and the intensity of the defect in question. If the sample is not defective, its intensity of fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency is noted. This combination of ratings by the taste panel members will classify an oil as either extra virgin, virgin, or lampante.

Extra Virgin oil: This is the good stuff, with flavor characteristics of fresh, crisp, clean, fruity olive oil. Just like anything else, the taster/consumer must become familiar with this flavor in order to recognize it. Extra virgin oils do not have any off flavors or any flavors of cooked or refined oil. They feel substantial in the mouth and are not greasy. They should have a nice fruity flavor and can have a pleasant bitterness, pungency, and astringency. Olive oils that are slightly defective in flavor that have not been refined or solvent extracted are not extra virgin, but might be graded as virgin olive oil.

Refined oil: Labeled as olive oil or pure olive oil or light olive oil. This is the mediocre stuff that is usually just bland. It is usually not awful unless it has gone rancid, but frequently is not very good either. The sterol content of refined oil is lower due to the neutralization and deodorizing processes. It also has some trans isomers due to the heating process. Refined olive oils are popular for frying, because of their high smoke point and low cost.

Pomace oil: The not-very-good-at-all stuff, from solvent extraction of the fermented milling waste. It is usually quite bland in flavor. It goes through the same refining process as refined olive oil. It just had an even worse origin. It usually has a greasy feel in the mouth and possibly a slight cooked taste.

Seed oil: The cheaper alternative oil, can be from many different sources including: corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, rape-seed (canola), peanut, flax, hazelnut, walnut, almond, grape, palm, cottonseed, wheat bran, rice bran, coconut, or tea seed. The non-seed oil fats of butter, lard and avocado oil are, at least, natural. All the others have been solvent extracted or extensively refined. Even expeller pressed “natural” oils found in the health-food stores, have been refined. Some of these oils have a specific recognizable flavor, but most are bland. Margarine is liquid seed oil that has been hydrogenated (trans isomers) to make it solid.

IOC Authenticity and Quality Standards

The IOOC standard oils must meet certain purity criteria for inclusion into specific categories. The olive oils must not be adulterated with any other type of oil, must pass a sensory analysis by a certified panel of tasters, and meet the analytical criteria. The standard indicates all the tests used to determine genuineness and purity plus the legal requirements for the label. Olive oil is defined as oil obtained solely from fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea sativa). Virgin oils further are obtained solely by mechanical means that do not lead to alterations in the oil.

How to determine what is in this bottle?

Paul Vossen – University of California, Cooperative Extension – pmvossen@ucdavis.edu – 2007

One thought on “Olive Oil-A delicious and healthy alternative to Butter

  1. If it’s easier, here are the oils/fats that you want to avoid b/c they are not healthful: canola, cottonseed, corn, soybean, peanut, sunflower and safflower. This will eliminate most packaged foods! Stick to olive, coconut, avocado and grapeseed. Nut and seed oils are great too, but very fragile, so keep for 6 months in the refrigerator. Do not heat oils over the smoke point or they will become a free radical that increases cancer and health risks.

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