Olive oil seems to be one of the main sources of dietary fat in the Mediterranean area. That’s why people who live there generally have a longer life expectancy. In addition, the chances of a heart disease, stroke, or high blood pressure happening are quite slim. However, it’s no secret that it contains dietary fat which has a lot of controversial health effects.
Nowadays, olive oil is present pretty much in every culinary branch and it’s widely used. Most people are aware that there are several types of olive oil and they can differentiate them easily. However, what most of them overlook is the fact that these oils have their own level of acidity. You might be wondering – what is acidity and why should it matter?
To aid you in understanding acidity, we’ll guide you through a couple of sections that’ll (hopefully) answer your every question.
Let’s start by saying that olive oil is produced naturally – inside the olive itself. The production of triglycerides is solely responsible for its composition. When a glycerol molecule is combined with three fatty acids, a triglyceride is made. Every vegetable oil has this compound and it’s quite common. When the union between the fatty acids and glycerol molecule breaks, it causes the release of these acids. That’s how you know when the oil starts to degrade. These released acids are what we call ‘acidity’ in an olive oil.
Therefore, acidity is basically a parameter that measures the amount of these free fatty oleic acids. People usually measure it by calculating its weight and subtracting it from the total amount of the olive oil. For some unknown reason, the labels on the bottles express the acidity value in degrees, which is a bit odd. Expressing it in percentage would be more suitable, but that’s just the way it is. Anyway, let’s move on.
Acidity is a very versatile substance, in a sense that its levels can increase or drop drastically. The main reason why it shifts like that is due to the exposure to various oxidants and environments. In order to describe the entire process, we’ll divide it into three relevant phases.
First of all, let’s take a look at what happens inside the olive itself. Triglycerides are under the protection of the fruit’s outer barrier (the skin) as long as it remains undamaged. As soon as the skin gets damaged and there’s a gap, oxygen starts pouring in. As a result, triglycerides start breaking down and the acidity level starts rising. There are several possible factors which can break the skin of an olive fruit. Those factors can be a simple pest bite, a fall to the ground, a hailstorm, damage during transport, and even a hailstorm. These things all have the equal potential to cause a chemical alteration and hurt the composition of the olive.
Second of all, the grinding and production process also brings the olives (now in the form of pulp) in contact with oxygen. As the oxidation and the temperature rise, so does the acidity level and vice versa.
Third of all, the oxidation process can continue even after the olive oil has been stored somewhere (i.e. the cellar). That usually depends on whether the manufacturers of the old decide to leave the oxygen in the can or not. If the oxygen is still in the can, the acidity can still rise. On the other hand, some factories take out the oxygen from the can by using special machines. These factories know the importance of removing it, which is why they have a completely separate manufacturing step for it.
There are many people who don’t really know the real meaning of olive oil acidity. Their assumption is that it has something to do with the taste of the oil. Namely, they think that acidity controls the flavor of the oil by making it sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. However, that’s definitely not the case.
Too much acidity in an oil is usually seen as an indicator of poor quality and manufacturers deem it unsuitable for sale. Why? Because acidic foods have a tendency to intensify the burning sensation when the esophagus comes in contact with the contents of the stomach. Therefore, the main reason why people should avoid it is that it’s extremely unhealthy.
However, there are several acceptable levels and values of acidity in the oil because it can’t be eliminated entirely. In addition, there are a couple of standards and requirements that manufacturers have to meet. Only then can their product appear on the market. More on that in the following section.
According to the US standards, each olive oil has to meet the minimum requirements regarding the acidity levels. Therefore, there are four categories which have been created to ensure that the customers know what they’re buying.
Extra virgin olive oil needs to be completely free of fatty acids and its acidity has to be no more than 0.8%. It belongs to the first category and it has the best flavor.
The second category features a regular virgin olive oil, that’s quite moderate in taste, and its acidity is below 2%.
A regular olive oil is the least pure of the three which is why it belongs to the third category. It’s a mixture of several refined oils and its acidity ranges from 2 to 3%.
The last category features olive oils that people should not consume. There’s a special label (read warning) on the bottle that classifies them as dangerous to one’s health.
As you can see from the info above, the maximum acidity level is 3% (or degrees). Anything that goes above that value is technically not safe. However, these standards might be different in other countries so there’s a chance that the maximum level is slightly higher.
You might have encountered this question numerous times – why is low acidity so important? We already mentioned fragments of the answer to this question. However, we have the need to address it directly in order to help you understand.
The quality of the oil goes up as the percentage of oleic acid drops. For example, extra virgin oil has fewer free fatty acids than virgin olive. Therefore, the quality of its composition (and even taste) is significantly higher.
If you’re looking for an olive oil that has the lowest level of acidity in it, then extra virgin olive oil is probably the way to go. Most manufacturers make sure that the level of acidity for it is less than 0,8%, which is shown in its quality as well.
To conclude, we’d like to remind you that the level of olive oil acidity doesn’t normally affect the taste. In fact, there’s no real way to tell the acidity of the taste itself by reading the acidity value on the label. However, it’s definitely a good thing to consider when purchasing an olive oil, because acidity might have controversial health effects.
Also, we’d like to say that the information from this article might be liable to change as time goes by (especially the acidity standards). Until that change happens, this info will be the most current one.
All in all, we hope that the information in this text was helpful and that you were able to find the answers that you were looking for.