When it comes to choosing olive oil, the nuance can often get lost in the sheer amount of options. Knowing more about olive oil varieties will make it so much easier to get the best oil for any occasion. For example, did you know how many different things can influence the final taste of olive oil? Everything from the type of olives, to the harvesting and preparation, and even the packaging can play a role in the taste! Well, if you wanted to learn more about olive oil, you’ve come to the right place.
To begin with, let’s talk about everything that influences the final taste of the olive oil in your salad. For one, the place where the olives were grown is a huge component in the way the oil ends up tasting. Since olives are from the Mediterranean, most of the world’s supply comes from Spain, Italy, and Greece.
Naturally, all those countries have different soil and weather conditions. These are exactly the things that give the olives their distinct taste. Spain usually produces gold olives that have a bit of a nutty flavor. Yet, they can lean more toward the fruity, sweet taste. Or they can get more intense, spicy, and bitter, depending on the region of origin.
Conversely, Italian and Greek olives are darker green with a stronger grassy flavor. Finally, French olives tend to have the lightest taste and color of the bunch.
As you know, olives need certain environmental conditions to grow. That's why most of the American supply comes from California. Actually, if you compared Californian olives to one of the European varieties, you’d see that they share some features with Spanish ones. Because most Californian olives came from Spain, they tend to have a similar fruity taste.
Ultimately, the olives’ country of origin will tell you quite a bit about their oil. But you may find out even more if you look into the specific olive variety that went into it.
Most of the olive oil on the market actually contains olives of several varieties. But don’t worry, this is by no means a bad thing. Mixing them creates the perfect combination of tastes, as well as the distinct aroma you can taste in different olive oil brands. The precise mix of olives each brand uses is a trade secret, but we can tell you a bit more about the different olive varieties. Still, making oil from a single type of olive has its own advantages. So let’s talk about the distinctive features of the most famous Spanish olive varieties.
Alfafarenca olives come from the Alfafara, which is a small town on the East coast of Spain. Because they’re high in oleic acid and polyphenol, they’re very good for you. That’s also why they’re slightly bitter. Despite the slight bitter tinge, though, they actually ripen fairly quickly.
If you prefer a sweeter-tasting olive, you should consider buying Arbequina olive oil. These aromatic and oil-rich yellow olives are originally a Palestinian variety that came to Spain in the 17th century. Since then, they’ve continued to thrive in the northeast province of Catalonia despite their delicate nature. You see, Arbequina olives need to be picked just as they’re turning from green to yellow. Still, with the sweet undertones of the olives, they’ll work very well with many foods.
Blanqueta olives have particularly fruity and slightly spicy oil, so they’ll definitely add a certain kick to any meal. Typically, they start out white and slowly mature to a purplish color, which is where the name of the variety comes from.
Pure Blanqueta oil is a uniquely delicious blend. It has pleasant fruity notes that may taste of tomatoes, the slight nutty bitterness of almonds, and the spiciness of green herbs. Because there are so many different profiles in this oil, you’ll be able to use it for many different recipes.
Changlot Real olives also hail from the Eastern coast of Spain, more specifically the Valencian Community province. Like the other varieties from the region, they have an intensely fruity and spicy taste, with a hint of bitterness. Other than those various aromas, they also carry a nuttier, woodsy undertone.
Cornicabra olives are one of the most famous Spanish varieties. They can be found in the provinces of Ciudad Real, Madrid, Toledo, and even Caceres, and Badajoz. Once they’re processed and turned into oil, they’re very fruity and aromatic, with slight hints of apple. They’re actually considered one of the healthiest olive oil varieties in the world.
Empeltre olives are black, although they’re also very sweet, and even slightly spicy. You can find them in the Aragon region, though they also grow in the Balearic Islands, Navarre, and Tarragona regions. The typical fruity aroma is also present in a hint of apple, and you could even detect a nutty, almond-like taste as well.
The Genovesa olive is another Valencian variety famous for being very oil-rich. The olives are dark, fat, and oil-rich. Moreover, the trees they grow on are similarly sturdy with thick luscious leaves. This variety is one that should be harvested before the olives ripen.
Picual olives may be one of the healthiest Spanish varieties. Considering most olives are very healthy, that’s really saying something.
About a third of their 3–4 grams of weight is oil. Even the trees they grow on are similarly full, although they’re quite short, with pointy leaves to match the shape of the olives themselves. This variety is quite weather-resistant as well. It’s even able to withstand the harsh winters of Spain’s northern region.
Royal olives abound in the same region as the Picual variety. Despite what you might think, the two varieties actually taste different. Royal variety olive oil is sweet and fruity with strong hints of fig, while Picual oil tastes slightly spicy, bitter, and leafy.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, Spanish olives have also made their way across the ocean. The Mission olive variety was brought to the US in the late 18th century. These olives make excellent mild-tasting olive oil with a familiar fruity aroma. Like some of the other Spanish olives you’ve seen, Mission olives taste like fresh green apples, crisp and somewhat bitter.
Outside of Spanish olive varieties, there’s a whole world of olives that could work well with the ones we’ve mentioned. France has Picholine olive oil, which supposedly has a positive effect on our brains. But, if you wanted a more intense, bitter taste, you could go for an olive oil with Greek or Italian olives. In Italy, there are Castelvetrano and Ligurian olives, among others. And across the Aegean Sea, in Greece, you have Amfissa and Kalamata olives. Furthermore, if you wanted an even more exotic taste, Chile has Alfonso olives and Morocco has the Beldi variety.
The harvesting process has a lot to do with the final taste of your olive oil. As we’ve mentioned, some olives have very specific times when they must come off the tree. The best stage to pick the olives off the tree is when they’re still somewhat unripe. This is the “pre-envero” stage of maturity that allows the flavors to reach their full potential later on.
So, to ensure the optimal ripeness for each olive variety, farmers hand-pick them from the tree. This method has proven itself to be better than the random technique of shaking the branches. In fact, shaking the branches results in using overripe olives, which is not ideal.
The hand-picking harvesting method actually takes quite a bit of skill. After all, the person who’s doing the picking must be able to visually determine whether each olive is at the perfect stage of ripeness. Still, the results are very gratifying, since ripe olives have a mild, smooth texture people often compare to butter.
After we’ve harvested the olives, all we need to do is prepare them properly. You must take everything into consideration in order to end up with the perfect olive oil. So, from the time that should pass between the harvest and the pressing, to the various pressing methods, the whole process must be pristine.
Depending on how you extract the oil from the olives, the final product will get different grades. If no chemicals or high heat were used during the pressing, the oil may receive an extra-virgin or a virgin grade. Ultimately, the difference between the two is in the acidity of the products, with extra-virgin olive oil having the lower acidity.
In addition to not being able to use chemicals and heat on high-quality olive oil, virgin olive oil also can’t contain any refined oil. Essentially, if an olive oil is too acidic, it has to go through several additional refinement processes after pressing.
All of these things are the reasons why the process of preparing the olives for the pressing is so important. Everything from the soil, to the weather, to the olive variety, and harvesting process has lead to this moment. But, there’s one more factor that may affect the ultimate quality of your olive oil.
By the time your olive oil reaches your home, it’ll likely be in a glass bottle. If the manufacturer is careful, the oil will be in a high-quality polarized glass, to protect it from UV rays. Still, once it’s in your home, storing it will be up to you.
Olive oil can be in storage for much longer than other oils as long as you’re storing it properly. The best environment for your bottle of olive oil is somewhere cool and dark. If you’d like, you could even refrigerate it — just be ready for it to solidify. Better still, keep the oil in a cool pantry or wine cellar. As long as the room temperature is under 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 21 Celsius, the oil will be fine. Although, the best temperature for olive oil is closer to 57 Fahrenheit or 13 degrees Celsius.
Still, at some point, it will be time for a new bottle. If you notice an acidic taste in your oil, it’s best to order a new bottle immediately. Ultimately, olive oil will improve your health and taste great while it does it! Whether you’re worried about your heart and your brain or your joints, olive oil may be just the thing you need. So now, if you need another bottle, you’ll be able to know exactly what you’re looking for while you shop!