Olive Oil

Designations - Definitions of Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is obtained by pressing freshly picked olives. It is an entirely natural product with no added ingredients, just the oil from the fruit of the olive tree, and nothing else. It is amongst the purest foods you can eat.Today olive oil is treated like wine. There are experts who taste the olive oil to determine its qualities and how to use it for cooking.Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and the base of the Greek cuisine. It is considered to be the healthiest product that nature can offer.

Quality Categories of Olive Oil

Olive oil is classified into 3 main quality categories, according to the European Union legislation: virgin olive oils, which include extra virgin and virgin olive oil, olive oil consisting of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils, as well as olive-pomace oil. The classification is determined based on certain international standards such as the mode of production (physical, mechanical methods or chemical methods, such as for olive-pomace oil), acidity, and certain organoleptic properties (such as taste and aroma).


The olive oils characterized as virgin are those that come from pressing the olives by mechanical or by other natural means under conditions that do not lead to the alteration of the oil, and from olives that have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration. Virgin olive oils are classified into the following categories based on their degree of acidity:
a. Extra virgin olive oil
Fine quality virgin olive oil with acidity not exceeding 0.8°.
b. Virgin olive oil
The acidity of virgin olive oil may not exceed 2°.


This category of olive oil is obtained by blending refined olive oils and virgin olive oils. The acidity may not exceed 1°.


Oil obtained by blending refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oils. Its acidity may not exceed 1°.

Olive Farming

Olive trees are farmed in a number of countries in the region surrounding the Mediterranean sea, both in Europe, Asia (e.g. Turkey) and North Africa. However, 93% of olive production comes from Greece, Spain and Italy and is a highly important crop for these countries. For example 60% of the Greek land is used for olive tree cultivation. The latin term of the olive tree is Olea Europaea and there is a large number of olive tree cultivars, producing oils whose flavors differ, but only slightly.

Cultivation of the Olive Tree

Careful cultivation by olive producers enables the olive tree to yield the greatest and best possible amounts of olives and olive oil. The tree flowers in the spring, and in autumn the fruit ripens and the harvest begins. The olives are harvested with care, to avoid them being "injured" and the quality of their oil diminished, and they are taken straight to the press. In Greece and most other olive-producing countries, harvesting methods have remained unchanged throughout the centuries: beating the branches or harvesting the fruit by hand.

The Olive Harvest

In European Mediterranean countries the olive oil harvest begins in November and can last until December but sometimes may go on to January or even February. At the beginning of the season the olives are green and at their most ‘peppery’ flavor. They get darker in color as they ripen further and their flavor mellows. For most connoisseurs green olives make the best, most pungent oil with strong grassy, vegetable flavors but good oils made with black olives can be found too. To make the best extra virgin olive oil, the olives are harvested by hand. Large nets are spread under the tree, and then the farmers use sticks to shake the ripe olives from the trees. Sometimes you will see the workers up in the tree itself, removing every last one. The least damage to the olive during harvest, the better the oil. Bruising or heat will raise the acidity in the olive fruit, and spoil the flavor of the oil.

Collection and Transportation

The olives are collected in sacks. Hessian is used so the crop can ‘breathe’ and stay cool as it is transported to the olive press (the plant where the oil is made). Ideally, the press will be close to the olive grove because the best extra virgin olive oil is made within just a few hours of picking. The olives are finally taken to the mill where they may be stored for a while to allow them to heat up a little and helping release the oil from the crushed fruit. However, the storing should be no longer than a day or so. The olives are then washed to remove leaves, twigs or earth, and crushed to produce a homogenous mixture from which the liquid can be extracted. The paste obtained by crushing the olives is kneaded mechanically to help the amalgamation of the minute droplets of oil found in the pulp. This resulting mixture is a combination of liquid (oil and water) and solids (pulp and stones). Then the oil is extracted either by the traditional method (mechanical pressure) or by the continuous method where extraction is entirely by centrifuge. Here the paste is spun at high speed to separate the flesh from the oil. Both methods are equally good. When the oil has been separated from the water, the first cold pressed virgin olive oil is left, which is a totally pure product because it is untreated. Cold pressed means that the temperature during the oil extraction process has been controlled not to exceed 27o C. No other vegetable oil is edible just by being pressed. All other oils have to be treated first because they contain toxins or are not suitable for human consumption in their natural state. The phase of collection and trasportation is a very busy time for the producing countries. You will see the streets leading to a press lined with waiting sacks from neighbouring farms. Trucks pass busily back and forth to the groves. It is a time for ‘all hands to the pump;’ everyone is involved – men, women, school age children. Festivals follow the harvest to celebrate the safe gathering of this valuable asset.

Oil extraction

The ripe olives are taken immediately to the press, where the fruit is turned into pulp by traditional methods or by using modern technology. Using only mechanical means, the natural juice of the olive is extracted from the pulp; the olive oil is then filtered and stored in suitable stainless steel tanks.

Packing process - Packaging

The olive oil is transferred from the olive press to packing plants, where olive oil destined for supermarket shelves and the end consumer is packaged under strict hygiene and safety procedures, as prescribed by European Union legislation. The Greek olive oil packing industry uses modern facilities and guarantees the quality and safety of the product through rigorous application of the specifications of European legislation and of the principles of HACCP. With continuous quality checks on the raw material as well as on the finished product, it supplies the market with a high-quality fresh product on a daily basis, thanks to small packing u΄7/nits, proper storage and rapid consumption. The majority of Greek packing plants have modern quality control laboratories at their disposal, with the additional capacity to analyse the 28 mandatory physicochemical parameters relating to the quality and authenticity of the raw material. At the same time, a growing number of companies are being certified according to ISO for their production processes, but also for other parameters (e.g. environmental protection, etc.).

Types of Olive Oil

Differences in olive tree varieties, cultivation methods and organoleptic properties result in the classification of Greek olive oils into various types, among which are the following: Organic olive oil. Produced by methods in which all problems of cultivation are addressed without the use of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers. Cold-pressed or unheated olive oil. Pressed from olives using low temperature malaxation (up to 27° C). Early harvest olive oil (agoureleo).
Cold-pressed from unripe green olives, which are gathered at the beginning of the harvest season.Olive oil of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Bears the name of the region whose olive oils have special organoleptic properties distinct from those of other olive oil producing regions and are due mainly or exclusively to a particular geographical environment.
Olive oil of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Bears the name of the region to which it owes its reputation, with production and processing carried out exclusively in this region.

Gastronomy and Olive Oil

Olive oil is the only edible oil that offers a variety of natural flavours. You can choose the taste that you like between mild, semi-fruity, fruity, bitter, pungent and sweet olive oils. Olive oil is the main fat in the Mediterranean diet. It can be used in cooking or pastries. Consumers can use it raw for salads and marinades. Use it for sautéing and baking, for baking in the oven or in the casserole. It gives the dishes an extra rich taste and it can also be used for frying. Olive oil has a high smoke point of 210 degrees Celsius and doesn\'t degrade as quickly as many other oils do with repeated high heating. More and more top quality restaurants, all over the world, embrace the basic elements of the Mediterranean Diet and serve bread with olive oil and olive paste instead of butter, a practice often followed in the past.

Olive oil in cooking and in the Mediterranean Diet

Olive oil is a culinary treasure, not only for Mediterranean, but also for international cuisine. It contains valuable nutrients such as monounsaturated fat, vitamins A, D, E and K, and antioxidants such as polyphenols, which are essential to the preservation of health. Olives are rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, squalene, phosphorus, potassium and selenium. The biological and nutritional value of olive oil surpasses that of all other vegetable oils, whereas its caloric value is the same.

The uses of olive oil in cooking are bounded only by the limits of our imagination. Used fresh, it shows off its beneficial properties in salads, raw or boiled, on bread, fish, feta cheese, in sauces and pastries. In cooking it may be used in any recipe, with all kinds of ingredients, and can play a leading role in all international cuisines. It has been shown to be the best choice for frying, as it stands up to high temperatures more than other fats and oils and does not oxidise.

Olive oil has starred in Greek cuisine since ancient times, as seen from references in the writings of Archestratus, a poet and philosopher of the 4th century BC who is considered to be the father of gastronomy and the first to approach cooking as an art. The large number of finds from excavations, including olive pits and amphoras for oil storage, confirm the writings.

During the Classical period the use of olive oil became widespread. Original recipes were invented, using olive oil and the basic raw foodstuffs of the era, such as fish, vegetables, and cheese. Olive oil was also consumed fresh on toasted bread or vegetables. Apart from cooking, olive oil was also used in many ancient traditional sweets, as described by the ancient biologist, gourmet, and rhetorician Athenaeus. Among these was the Cretan sweet ‘glycine’, which was prepared "from sweet wine and oil" and "egkrides" – a kind of pancake with honey.

Olive Oil and Health

Olive oil is a pure fruit juice, high in healthy monounsaturated fats, which are called the “good” fats. It has a large proportion of vitamins A, D, and K, as well as vitamin E, which is a key source of protein needed in the fight against free radicals. The Olive Oil as an ally of our health contributes to:
lower blood pressure
intake of antioxidants
compared with other added lipids, olive oil improves the balance of \"good\" (HDL) to \"bad\" (LDL) cholesterol in the blood
reduced risk of cardiovascular disease