Because olive oil has not been a big part of the American diet and the United States lags very, very far behind the rest of the world in the production and consumption of this delicious food it wasn’t until last year that our 62 year old standards for olive oil got a face lift. The United States Department of Agriculture published its Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil, second issue, on April 28, 2010 and it became effective on October 24, 2010. While this may not seem like a big deal since governments are always issuing some standard or other, the first issue of this document was published on March 22, 1948, shortly after the end of WW II.
Before you curl up with this spine-tingling thriller let me warn you, you just may fall asleep before you reach the end. But not me, Olive Crazy is here to give you the highlights of this compelling read.
First of all these standards are voluntary and are for use by producers, suppliers, buyers, and consumers. As production and consumption increase in the United States these standards will become more important to producers who want to market their oil to the American public and as U.S. consumers demand more information. It’s a cycle. Production and consumption of foreign and domestic olive oils is on the rise in the U.S. and I think it is important to know, right now, just what the type of oil and grade means when you pick up that bottle of Extra Virgin, Virgin, or Olive Oil.
Types of olive oil for human consumption
- Virgin olive oils – the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea L.) solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, including 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.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Virgin olive oil
- Olive oil – the oil obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea L.), to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds.
- Refined olive oil – same description as olive oil (above).
Grades of olive oil for human consumption
- “U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil” is virgin olive oil which has excellent flavor and odor and meets all the requirements in Table 1 of the document (Table 1 is big so I won’t be including it here).
- “U.S. Virgin Olive Oil” is virgin olive oil which has reasonably good flavor and odor and meets all the requirements in Table 1 of the document.
- “U.S. Olive Oil” is the oil consisting of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption without further processing and meets all the requirements in Table 1 of the document.
- “U.S. Refined Olive Oil” is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure (basic glycerin-fatty acid structure) and meets all the requirements in Table 1 of the document.
This is a very basic overview and in comparison to the standards of the International Olive Oil Council n.k.a. International Olive Council are not very comprehensive. I hope for success as the olive industry grows throughout the United States and the world, and I believe high standards can only benefit both consumers and producers.
May the sun shine through your branches.