If you’d like to have some lemonade, all it takes to get the juice out of lemons is a squeezer. In fact, if you had a citrus tree in your backyard, you’d be able to grab a fruit and turn it into juice at a moment’s notice. Yet, you couldn’t say the same of olives.
Extracting olive oil is a delicate process that requires a lot of expertise. After all, many things happen between the moment you see olives on a tree and the moment you drizzle olive oil over your tomato salad. So in the spirit of full disclosure, we’ve decided to explain everything there is to know about cold pressing olives. But first, let’s spend some time talking about the methods we used to extract oil when humans first began making it.
The basics of oil extraction haven’t changed in centuries. First, we’d harvest the fruit and thoroughly wash it. Then, we can press it to separate the fruity meat and pulp from the liquids. Finally, we can separate the water from the oil through decantation. That’s the gist of the whole process. Still, we have managed to pick up a couple of things during the 5 millennia since humans started pressing olives.
For one, we now understand the importance of washing the fruit before we do anything else. In Ancient Greece, the only danger that came of not washing the olives was that the resulting oil had a bit of an “earthy” taste. Nowadays we aren’t so lucky.
Many oil manufacturers also have to worry about the various agricultural chemicals that may pollute their trees. After all, one of the most important things about cold pressed extraction is making sure that the oil doesn’t end up with unnecessary chemicals in it. Washing the fruit and not using such contaminants at all is the best way to go about it.
As for the process of grinding the olives into a paste, people have always used mills or millstones. After they ground the olives, they needed to stay under the millstone for almost an hour, allowing the oil to seep away. This time is also when the enzymes inside of the olives release the pleasant smell and taste olive oil is so famous for. Once the hour passed, you’d take the olive paste out of the mill and place it on hemp or coconut fiber discs. Today, we might use synthetic fiber discs for convenience. Then, you’d add pressure to the top of the discs, releasing the liquids and keeping the solids on the fabric.
After the process, the fabric discs must be thoroughly cleaned as well so as to prevent the fermentation of the remaining parts of the olives. Fortunately, the paste is mostly dehydrated after draining. That makes it somewhat easier to clean the fabric, even when they were using natural fibers.
Rather than use fabric discs, we’re much more likely to use decantation or centrifugal forces help to separate the water from the oil. As you can see, the traditional method didn’t use any extra chemicals products or heat processing. So, you might even call it the precursor to the modern cold press extraction method.
Nowadays, olive oil extraction involves less pressing than you’d think. At least, the process requires less manual involvement. But even though the modern cold press method is more effective than traditional oil extraction, it’s much less productive than using industrial presses.
Industrial presses are definitely faster and better at squeezing every last drop out of olives. But is that really what we want? Well, although you’d get less oil per kilo of olives with the cold press method, it does produce better quality oil.
But most companies who use cold extractions don’t really press their olives. Instead, they use the system of continuous extraction to separate the solids from the liquids. So it would really be more appropriate to simply call the method simply “cold extraction”. But now that you’re aware that no pressing takes place, let’s consider the other part of the method.
Well, the paste containing the pulp, water, and oil, should be kept under 27 degrees Celsius or about 80 Fahrenheit. Keeping olive oil at this temperature both as it's processing and when storing it is crucial. This protects the taste and the aroma of the olive oil from the damaging effects of heat. In fact, most manufacturers use thermometers to keep track of the temperature. The companies that don’t keep track of the temperatures in their storage spaces and in the rooms where the extraction takes place inevitably end up with lower-quality olive oil.
Low-quality oil often needs to go through several blending processes to arrive at a product that humans could consume. These oils are what you may know as “refined” oils. Although the name itself sounds great, it only means that the manufacturer had to purify the oil before packaging it. In normal circumstances, if everything had gone well during production, oil would be ready to eat as soon as we separated it from the water olives also release.
Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is the direct opposite of such low-quality products. Following proper cultivation, harvesting, and processing procedures make the final results better all around. Specifically, we end up with olive oil that's healthier and tastier, because of its low acidity.
Despite what you might think, the words “cold-pressed” gets thrown around much too easily, especially outside of Europe. You see, back in 2002, the European Union passed laws that established the exact definition an oil that's labeled as such must satisfy.
There are no such laws outside of the EU, allowing oil manufacturers to use the label as they please. Because of that fact, there's a very real possibility that consumers who buy products originating from outside of the EU aren't getting what they're paying for. The higher temperatures come into play in the form of the heated water manufacturers add in order to speed up the process of extracting oil.
And yet, there are some genuine consequences of unknowingly buying low-quality oil. If heat factored into the creation of a product claiming to be cold-pressed, you're losing the benefits that would come from the genuine product. Heat speeds up the oil oxidation which makes the aromas dissipate along with the vitamins and antioxidants that naturally exist in olive oil.
Finally, let's see the exact requirements a product must meet for the EU to consider it a cold press olive oil.
In order for an olive oil to meet the EU guidelines, the oil bottlers must prove two things.
The first is that they must show that no chemicals ever touched the olives or the soil they grow from. As we have mentioned, that rules out insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides. Bottlers also have to show that they didn't use any during oil extraction, either.
They also need to prove that the oil didn’t go over 27 degrees Celsius during extraction. That ensures the quality of the oil properties, making it the best it could be. Keeping the oil cool would also preserve all those healthy vitamins we all love. The next step? Preparing a nutrient-rich salad!
So now you know exactly what cold press extraction is, according to EU laws. Don’t you feel better using olive oil that was processed using this method? We know we certainly feel healthier already, knowing that we’re making the good stuff.
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