Do any of you know what makes the difference between an olive oil producer and an extra-virgin oil producer? Extra hard work. The process of producing “Extra” virgin olive oil includes delivering the fresh batch of olives to the mill every night. This is the only way that this fine oil of typical green colour, rich in taste and aroma and low in acidity can be produced.

As Mr. Dhimitër Panajoti, Olive Oil specialist of AAC Lushnja told AgroWeb, this year olives are at their best, due to the absence of olive diseases and the early harvest. “It’s better for the olive oil producers to complete the harvesting stage within the harvest season”, Mr Panajoti stated, advising the olive oil producers to select only the best of olives and to perform that “extra work”.

“Every additional day the olives spend ‘resting’ at the farms, the extract loses 10-20% of its quality, increases acidity, reduces the amount of qualitative components, like polyphenol and eventually reduces aroma”, Mr. Panajoti adds.

Refining process affects 60% of the oil’s quality. Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t improve with age; it can only stay fresh if as long as it is stored in the right conditions, states Mr. Panajoti. Olive oil’s ‘enemies’ are air, heat and light. Olive oil should be ideally stored in dark glass bottles, but when it comes to storing large quantities stainless steel containers are suitable.

Feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of choices of olive oil available at supermarket? Follow AgroWeb’s guidelines on how to choose the right olive oil and various interesting facts about it.

What are the differences among extra virgin olive oil, regular olive oil, and "light" olive oil?

Extra Virgin Olive Oil. "Extra" is the highest grade for olive oil--the best quality you can buy. The virgin oil produced by mechanical pressing may be called "extra", if it contains less than 1% of free oleic acid, and if it exhibits superior taste, colour and aroma. Thus, simply put - "extra" in extra virgin olive oil means "premium quality," or "the best."

Olive Oil. Regular "olive oil" is actually a blended oil product. Olive oil producers start with low quality virgin olive oil. For this oil to be fit for consumption, it must be refined using mechanical, thermal and/or chemical processes. The resulting "refined olive oil" is largely colourless and tasteless. Before the resulting product is sold as "olive oil," the producer blends into the refined olive oil, a certain percentage of good quality virgin olive oil to add colour and taste.

"Light" or "Mild" Olive Oil. Light olive oil is a variation of ordinary olive oil. Producers of this product use a highly refined olive oil, and add lower quality virgin oil than the one typically used to blend olive oil with. The only thing "light" about light olive oil is its taste and colour; it has the same caloric value and fat content as other oils.

Olive-Pomace Oil. Olive-pomace oil is the residue oil that is extracted by chemical solvents from previously pressed olive mash. This oil must be highly-refined to remove chemical impurities. Like ordinary olive oil, refined olive-pomace oil is then enriched with virgin olive oil.

Are all extra virgin olive oils the same?

No. Like wines, extra virgin olive oil can vary dramatically in taste, depending upon the type and the quality of the fruit that was pressed, the harvest time, the weather conditions and the region the olives come from. Olive oil connoisseurs generally use the following adjectives in appraising extra virgin olive oil: mild, semi-fruity and fruity, depending on the flavour of the olive that can be tasted. Some oils have a peppery finish that many appreciate.

What are the nutritional components?

A tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories, 14 grams of fat, and no cholesterol. Seventy seven per cent (77%) of the fat in olive oil is monounsaturated, nine per cent (9%) is polyunsaturated and fourteen per cent (14%) is vegetable-derived saturated fat. Virgin olive oils also contain the antioxidants beta-carotene and Vitamin E, as well as the phenolic compounds tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol.

What makes olive oil a superior product to other oils?

Three things make olive oil superior to vegetable oils: taste, nutrition and integrity. Taste is the most obvious difference between olive oil and the commercially popular vegetable oils such as corn, soybean and canola oils. These oils are tasteless fats. You would not want to eat a piece of bread dipped in vegetable oil; for the same basic reason, many chefs refrain from adding tasteless fat to the foods they prepare.

Olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, adds additional flavour and textural dimension lacking in other oils, making it a suitable substitute to butter and margarine in virtually any recipe. In fact, more and more restaurants are serving extra virgin olive oil, both plain and flavoured with salt and pepper, as an alternative to butter to couple with bread.

Vegetable oils are industrial, processed foods. Vegetable oils are generally extracted by means of petroleum-based chemical solvents, and then must be highly refined to remove impurities. Along with the impurities, refining removes taste, colour and nutrients.

How do you store olive oil?

Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, olive oil can stay fresh for at least two years. It is, however, at its best within a year of production, and is the most flavourful for the first two months. Olive oil should not be stored in the refrigerator. If chilled, olive oil will become cloudy and eventually solidify or crystallize. Should this happen, the oil is perfectly fine; just leave the oil at room temperature for some time for it to go back to its natural state. Olives are fruit, grown on the olive tree, olea europaea. Olive trees have been cultivated for thousands of years, and were already known since biblical times.