Olive Oil: The Definitive Guide

Olive Oil: The Definitive Guide

by Guillermo Pabon Garcia on May 11, 2024

You've probably heard a lot about the benefits of olive oil, but what exactly is olive oil? How does it differ from other oils? What types of olive oil exist? Find this information and much more in the following article!


What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is the oil derived from olives, the fruit of the olive tree. With its greenish color, it's a fundamental component of Mediterranean cuisine and has been used for centuries in gastronomy, medicine, and cosmetics.

Production Process

Extra virgin olive oil is made from the first cold pressing of olives, without the use of heat or chemicals. This gentle extraction process helps preserve the natural flavors, nutrients, and antioxidants present in the olives. The olives are carefully harvested and crushed into a paste, then pressed to extract the oil, which is filtered to remove impurities, resulting in a clear, golden-green liquid with a distinct aroma and flavor.

Why is Olive Oil So Valued?

Olive oil is prized for its distinctive flavor and numerous health benefits. It's a significant source of monounsaturated fats, beneficial for heart health by reducing LDL ("bad cholesterol") and increasing HDL ("good cholesterol"). Additionally, it's rich in antioxidants like vitamin E and polyphenols, which combat damage from free radicals in the body.

Uses of Olive Oil

In cooking, olive oil is used in a variety of dishes, from salad dressings to sautéing and frying. Its unique flavor and versatility make it an essential ingredient in many cuisines worldwide.

Differences Between Olive Oil and Other Oils

Olive oil is not a seed oil; it is considered a vegetable oil, and it stands out for several benefits compared to other vegetable oils:

Healthy Fat Profile

Olive oil is mainly a source of monounsaturated fats, especially oleic acid, associated with cardiovascular health benefits. These fats help reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart diseases.

Rich in Antioxidants

Extra virgin olive oil, in particular, is rich in natural antioxidants like vitamin E and polyphenols, combating oxidative stress and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

Lower Oxidation Susceptibility

Olive oil's unique chemical composition makes it more stable and less prone to oxidation compared to other vegetable oils, retaining its nutritional properties and flavor when stored and used in cooking.

Culinary Versatility

Olive oil is extremely versatile in the kitchen, used in a wide range of dishes from salads to baking and frying, enhancing the flavor of foods.

Skin and Hair Benefits

Olive oil is also used in cosmetics for its moisturizing and emollient properties, softening the skin, hydrating hair, and strengthening nails.

In summary, olive oil offers unique health and culinary benefits that distinguish it from other vegetable oils. Its nutritional profile, oxidative stability, culinary versatility, and skincare benefits make it a popular and versatile choice in the kitchen and beyond.


Olive Oil vs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Depending on the quality of olive oil, there are several types according to European legislation:

Olive Oil

Olive oil is the result of a blend of lampante oil and extra virgin olive oil, subjected to a refining process that produces a liquid without odor or flavor. Depending on the proportions of this blend, it can be more intense (with a higher amount of extra virgin) or milder (with less extra virgin). It is a healthy oil with a high proportion of antioxidants. It is used in marinades, sautés, and for cooking various dishes.

Virgin Olive Oil

This type of oil is also natural, although it may present some defects and its acidity is between 0.8º and 2º. Like extra virgin olive oils, they are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and suitable for a healthy diet. It is used in frying, stews, confits, roasts, and for preparing emulsions such as mayonnaises and sauces.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Extra virgin olive oil is considered the best oil in the world due to its superior quality, flavor, and health benefits. It has an acidity of less than 0.8º and is a completely natural olive juice. Its flavor can vary from fruity and herbaceous to spicy and bitter, depending on factors such as the variety of olives used, the production region, and the time of harvest. It is rich in monounsaturated fats, antioxidants such as polyphenols and vitamin E, and has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: the best Olive oil

Extraction Methods

Once harvested, olives must be processed quickly to avoid oxidation and ensure freshness. The extraction methods play a pivotal role in determining the quality of the final product.

First Cold Pressed Technique

In the traditional first cold pressed technique, olives are ground into a paste using millstones or modern grinders. The paste is then spread on mats and pressed at room temperature to extract the oil. This method, known as cold pressing, ensures that the oil retains its nutritional properties and rich flavor.

The term 'first pressed' indicates that the oil is collected during the initial pressing of the olive paste. No heat or chemicals are used in this method, preserving the oil's integrity and health benefits.

Modern Mechanical Presses

Modern mechanical presses use advanced technology to extract olive oil more efficiently. Olives are crushed and mixed into a paste, which is then subjected to centrifugal force in a centrifuge. This process separates the oil from the water and solids.

Although these presses can handle larger quantities of olives, the cold extraction method remains crucial to maintaining the oil's high quality. The temperature is carefully controlled to ensure it does not exceed a specific threshold, usually around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, to prevent degradation of the oil's beneficial compounds.

Quality Control and Certifications

Stringent quality control measures are essential in producing extra virgin olive oil. These measures include both chemical and sensory evaluations to certify the oil's purity and quality.

Several organizations, such as the International Olive Council (IOC), the USDA, and various European entities, establish standards and certifications. These certifications require compliance with rigorous criteria, including low acidity, absence of defects, and a pleasing aroma and taste profile determined by certified tasting panels.

Producers often undergo regular audits and testing to maintain their certifications, ensuring consumers receive a product that meets the highest standards. Additionally, proper storage and handling practices are critical to preserving the oil's quality from production to consumption.

Culinary Uses of EVOO

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) offers a diverse range of culinary applications due to its rich flavor profiles and health benefits.

Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For Salads and Dressings

EVOO is a staple in salad preparations and dressings. Its robust flavor complements a variety of salad ingredients, enhancing taste without overpowering. Combine EVOO with balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, or herbs to create simple, yet delightful dressings. It pairs exceptionally well with leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese.

Preparing a homemade dressing with EVOO ensures you avoid artificial additives often found in store-bought versions. It brings out the natural flavors of fresh produce, making every salad a gourmet experience.

Sautéing and Grilling

Due to its relatively high smoke point and stable nature, EVOO is ideal for sautéing and grilling. It can be used to cook vegetables, meats, and seafood, providing a subtle, fruity note. It excels when cooking at medium to high temperatures without losing its nutritional value.

EVOO can be used to coat vegetables before grilling to prevent sticking and enhance their natural sweetness. For sautéing, it offers a refined taste that carries through to the final dish, making it indispensable in many Mediterranean-style recipes. Chicken, shrimp, and a variety of vegetables shine when cooked with EVOO.

Baking Uses

Surprisingly, EVOO is an excellent choice for baking. It can replace butter or other less healthy oils in various baked goods, providing a moist texture and unique flavor. It is perfect for cakes, muffins, and even bread.

Baking with EVOO not only contributes to a richer taste but also makes the final product healthier. It blends seamlessly in recipes, particularly those calling for citrus or herb notes. Try it in a classic olive oil cake or as a substitute in cookie dough for a delightful twist.

Enhancing Flavor Profiles

Beyond basic cooking applications, EVOO serves to elevate the flavor profiles of diverse dishes. It can be drizzled over finished dishes like pasta, soups, and roasted vegetables to impart a fresh, aromatic quality. Its ability to enhance flavors is why it's often used as a finishing oil.

In addition to drizzling, EVOO can be infused with herbs, spices, or citrus to create custom flavors. This versatility allows it to be tailored to specific culinary requirements, perfect for dipping breads, seasoning meats, or adding a final touch to a gourmet meal.

Varieties of Olive Oil According to the Olive

There are a multitude of olive varieties from which olive oil is produced. Each one contributes nuances to the flavor in terms of bitterness, spiciness, and other factors, and also imparts slight variations in color. Here is a summary of some of the most important varieties:

Traditional varieties


Picual olives are primarily obtained in the province of Jaén and neighboring areas such as Granada and Almería. They are usually harvested between the months of October and February depending on the production of each season. One of the main characteristics of this variety is its bitterness and spiciness. Regarding aroma, in the case of Early Harvest Oils, where the olive is still green, the main notes would be the scent of green grass, tomato, and banana, among others. When the olive is more mature, it tends to resemble the fig tree. This variety has the advantage of having the most polyphenols, extending the life of its oils.


Found in provinces such as Seville, Córdoba, and Málaga. Climatic conditions, terrain, and production quantity among other factors affect the harvesting period of these olives. They produce oils with a sweet touch, light bitterness, and a presence of spiciness in the throat. As for aroma, it usually has notes of fresh grass, nuts, aromatic plants, and artichoke.


Located in the central peninsula such as Madrid, Ciudad Real, Toledo, etc. It is a variety with considerable resistance, which requires more effort when harvesting, a factor that can delay its collection. It is the variety that most resembles Picual in terms of bitterness and spiciness but with less intensity. We can find a touch of sweetness when the olive is harvested later than usual. Regarding aroma, it has a fruity scent of apple, almond, nuts, or tomato. Its name comes from the horn shape of this olive.


Made with Arbequina olives, found mainly in Aragon and Catalonia. These olives are usually harvested in the first half of November. The ideal harvesting method is milking, by hand or with rakes. Its main characteristic is its touch of sweetness, meaning it does not have the typical bitterness and spiciness of other varieties. It is the mildest of the four, making it ideal for those not accustomed to the intensity of the Picual variety, for example.

With early ripening and great productivity, it tends to be a very aromatic oil with a fruity flavor of banana and apple. The main disadvantage is that it has fewer polyphenols, making them less stable than other varieties, with a shorter rancidity process, approximately 1 year.


The Manzanilla olive variety is primarily cultivated in the provinces of Seville and Huelva (where it is called "Sevillian Manzanilla olive") and in Extremadura. It is an oil with a pronounced green color and a shiny appearance, with a balance between spiciness, bitterness, and sweetness, very aromatic with a high green fruity aroma, in which recognizable notes of apple, mixed fruit, tomato plant, and ripe banana can be appreciated.

It has a medium content of oleic acid and high levels of palmitic and linoleic acids, high quality, and stability, and its level of polyphenols is high.

New varieties of EVOO

Siquitita: A Hybrid Olive Variety

Siquitita is the name given to a variety obtained through the crossbreeding of Picual and Arbequina olives, as a result of genetic improvement research on olive trees conducted by the University of Córdoba and the Andalusian Institute of Agricultural Research and Training. The extra virgin olive oil produced from this hybrid blend exhibits a fruity and sweet flavor profile with balanced hints of bitterness.


Koroneiki oil is a type of olive oil produced from the Koroneiki olive variety. Known for its high quality, Koroneiki olive oil is characterized by its rich flavor, vibrant green color, and high levels of antioxidants. It typically has a robust, fruity taste with hints of herbs and a slightly peppery finish, making it a popular choice for both cooking and finishing dishes. The Koroneiki olives are small but yield oil that is highly regarded for its health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and heart health support.


Monovarietal vs. Coupage Olive Oil


It is obtained from a single olive variety, defining its organoleptic properties primarily through smell, taste, and appearance. This type of oil is pure and an excellent expression of the territory. If you're interested in trying an extra virgin olive oil representative of a region, monovarietal oil is ideal.


It is derived from two or more olive varieties, aiming to enhance the characteristic properties and flavors of the chosen olives. The selection of olives for the oil-making process can be natural, where olives are collected from an area with all the chosen varieties, or manual, with meticulous selection of olive varieties and proportions. This requires expert knowledge to achieve the desired blend during the extraction process, resulting in a unique product.


Choosing the Right Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Selecting the right extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) involves understanding key factors like quality indicators, certifications, and taste preferences. Making an informed choice ensures you get the most out of this healthy, flavorful oil.

Identifying High-Quality Olive Oil

High-quality EVOO boasts specific attributes that set it apart from other oils. These attributes can be identified through careful observation of its color, aroma, flavor, and packaging.

Firstly, a good EVOO should have a vibrant, greenish-gold hue, indicating fresh olives and proper processing. Upon smelling it, you should notice a pleasant, fruity aroma. This scent can include hints of apple, freshly cut grass, or other fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tasting the oil is another crucial step. A high-quality EVOO will have a balance of fruitiness, bitterness, and pepperiness. These flavors suggest the presence of antioxidants and healthy polyphenols that signify fresh oil. Importantly, the oil should not taste musty, rancid, or metallic.

Finally, check the packaging. High-quality oils are typically stored in dark glass bottles or tin cans to protect them from light, which can degrade the oil quickly. Transparent bottles are a red flag as exposure to light can deteriorate the oil.

Understanding Labels and Certifications

Labels and certifications on EVOO can provide valuable information about the quality and authenticity of the product. Understanding these labels ensures that you choose an oil that meets high standards of production and purity.

  • USDA Organic Certification

The USDA Organic label signifies that the olive oil has been produced following strict organic farming standards. This certification indicates that no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used, making the oil healthier and environmentally friendly.

  • PDO and PGI Labels

Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) labels are commonly found on European olive oils. These labels guarantee that the oil comes from a specific region known for its high-quality olive production. The labels also ensure that the entire production process, from harvesting to bottling, took place in that region.

  • Other Certifications

Look for additional certifying bodies such as the International Olive Council (IOC), which sets rigorous standards for EVOO. Oils certified by the IOC have passed both chemical and sensory analysis, confirming their high quality.

Storage and Shelf Life

Proper storage is crucial to maintaining the quality and benefits of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Below are essential considerations for ensuring your EVOO stays fresh and effective for as long as possible.

Proper Storage Practices

Extra virgin olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place to preserve its freshness and nutritional properties. Exposure to light, heat, and air can cause the oil to degrade more quickly. Ideal storage temperatures are between 57-70°F (14-21°C).

Using dark glass bottles or stainless steel containers helps protect the oil from light. Ensure that the cap or lid is tightly sealed after each use to minimize air exposure.

Avoid storing EVOO near stovetops or other sources of heat. Cabinets away from appliances and windows are the best spots. For bulk purchases, transfer the oil to smaller bottles while keeping the larger container sealed and stored properly.

Signs of Oil Degradation

Extra virgin olive oil can lose its quality over time, which can be identified through several signs:

  • Rancid Smell: Fresh EVOO should have a fruity, pleasant aroma. A rancid smell indicates oxidation and spoilage.
  • Off Taste: Fresh EVOO has a distinct, robust flavor. If it tastes musty, metallic, or stale, it’s past its prime.
  • Color Change: While color alone isn't a definitive indicator, EVOO that becomes unusually dark or cloudy might be degraded. Always trust your senses of smell and taste first.

Regularly checking your stored EVOO for these signs will help ensure you’re using high-quality oil.

Extending Shelf Life

Taking a few proactive steps can help extend the shelf life of your extra virgin olive oil:

  • Buy Fresh: Purchase EVOO from reputable suppliers that indicate the harvest date on the packaging.
  • Proper Containers: Use dark glass or stainless steel containers, avoiding plastic or clear glass that allows light penetration.
  • Temperature Control: Keep the oil at cool and consistent temperatures, ideally between 57-70°F.
  • Minimize Air Exposure: Seal containers tightly after each use to reduce oxidation. Consider transferring larger quantities to smaller bottles as needed.
  • Small Quantities: Buy in quantities you can use within a few months to ensure you’re always using fresh oil.

Following these practices not only prolongs the shelf life of your EVOO but also ensures you get the most out of its health and culinary benefits.

Now that you know all about one of the treasures of the Mediterranean diet, are you ready to enjoy the experience of tasting one of the most delicious and healthy foods in Spanish gastronomy? At Ibérico Taste, we offer a wide variety of olive oils, all of them extra virgin olive oils of the highest quality.

Click here and take a look at our curated selection of 100% Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oils. Become an olive oil lover now!


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