The International Olive Council defines EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil as that having no more than 0.8% acidity (Free Fatty Acid). So does it mean that the lower the acidity, the better the quality?
WHAT IS QUALITY?
Our partner, Fermín Rodríguez of the Aceites Vizcantar, who is the Spanish National Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting Champion in 2016 and a member of the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) of Priego de Cordoba Tasting Panel since 1996, has this experience to share.
There are EXTRA VIRGIN olive oils with very low acidity but unpleasant aroma and taste. On the other hand, there are olive oils that are classified as EXTRA VIRGIN from the organoleptic perpsective, but have more than 0.8% acidity.
LOW ACIDITY BUT DEFECTIVE AROMA AND TASTE
This can happen when the extra virgin olive oil is exposed to olive sediments that remain after oil extraction that settle down to the bottom of the storage tank. Though these sediments may result in only a small break down of the fat resulting in a small increase in acidity, the flavour quality of the oil will be degraded inevitably over time.
GOOD SENSORY ANALYSIS BUT BAD ACIDITY
Citing a case that he personally had encountered, Fermín shared that this happened because prior to harvesting, there was a thick fog clouded the olive trees resulting in excess humidity that encouraged fungus to develop on the olives. But because green olives were used in oil extraction, the sensory analysis classified the oil as “extra virgin” but its acidity is bad.
ACIDITY in the extra virgin olive oil does not have volatile compounds that will contribute to the aroma and taste of the extra virgin olive oil. To put it simply, ACIDITY is ODOURLESS and TASTELESS.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Refined olive oil has a lower acidity (0.3%) than the limits for extra virgin olive oil (0.8%). Does it imply that the quality of the refined olive oil is higher than unrefined extra virgin olive oil?
Just imagine what if the REFINED olive oil with extremely low acidity is blended with “low quality” extra virgin olive oil, could the acidity of this “extra virgin” olive oil be much less than 0.8%? Do we still say that this blended “extra virgin” olive oil has high quality?
CHEMICAL QUALITY ANALYSIS comes with a set of other important parameters, such us peroxide value, wax content and the UV absorption parameters that must all be within the limits in order to classify the olive oil is indeed EXTRA VIRGIN from the chemical quality analysis point of view.
CAN WE SAY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL WITH 0.1% ACIDITY IS BETTER THAN THOSE WITH 0.8%?
Well, it’s sort of right.
ACIDITY is a general measurement of olive oil quality. What we can safely say is the higher the acidity > 0.5%, the higher the probability of having taste defects. But the reverse cannot be said in certainty.
For EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil, the quality assessment must also come with the sensory test to ascertain that the EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil is FRESH, has FRUITY, BITTER and PUNGENT flavours.
EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil ultimately is a food product.