There are big differences
By Silke Ahrens
Updated on 31.01.2022 Lesedauer: 4 min.
Olive oil: A good variety comes from early harvested, almost green olives. (Source: InaTs/Getty-images-Bilder)
Olive oil is available in the supermarket for 3.99 euros per liter or in the specialist shop for 20 euros a half liter. We explain what makes good olive oil, how it tastes, and how it differs from discounter oil.
The most important things at a glance
Recognizing good olive oil by the smell
With good olive oil, you only have to sniff the bottle once, you already know whether the oil is good or not. There is an initially paradoxical sounding rule: If it smells of olive oil, it is no good.
A really good oil offers completely different aromas than the smell of broken olives. Less valuable oil has been produced from late-harvested olives. They were probably very mature, then the yield is significantly higher. In addition, if the harvest containers had to wait a few days before pressing at the mill, exactly these notes are created.
These flavors have good olive oil
A traditional, very good, and aromatic oil, on the other hand, is produced from not yet ripe, solid olives. They are brought from the tree directly to the mill and processed immediately. This produces much less quantity, but the exciting aroma of pepper, fruit, and heat made olive oil so famous in the first place.
Olives: They must not come into contact with the soil during harvesting. This creates unpleasant false aromas. (Source: Irenadragan/getty-images-bilder)
Good olive oil has many aromatic facets and contrasts. Sometimes it offers notes of grass or berries, sometimes of citrus or iodized iodizedsalt. If you marinate skinned peppers with very good oil, you do not need any more spices.
Good olive oil has its price
However, this quality can usually only be produced by small and medium-sized producers whose oils typically reflect a region and its olive varieties. A good oil from Tuscany, for example, tastes completely different from one from the south of France or Andalusia. There are almost 500 olive varieties in Europe that develop their very own aroma. But this characteristic taste cannot be given for 4.99 euros per liter.
An olive tree takes four to ten years to bear fruit for the first time. The harvest is only about 20 kilograms per tree. That makes just three or four liters of oil. The harvest needs many workers, everything has to go very fast. Because the shorter the time to press, the better the quality. In addition, the many trees have to be maintained and cut – with 10,000 trees you need a lot of staff. This effort is reflected in the price: Ten to 15 euros for half a liter of olive oil is the minimum so that it is still worthwhile for the traditional producers.
This imprint is crucial
But these olive oils are difficult to recognize. The most important of these is the labeling of origin protected by the EU. It stipulates that cultivation and production must take place in a defined region.
In Italy, the decisive abbreviation is "D.O.P." for "Denominazione d'Origine Protetta", where it has been granted for around 40 cultivation areas including the traditional varieties there.
In Spain, the largest production country in the world with about 1.3 million of the world's production volume of around three million tons per year, 30 protected origin markings are defined. They are called "D.O.C" (Denominacion de Origen Controlada).
However, the oils on the shelves of supermarkets and discounters have nothing to do with it. Their taste is usually simple and not very varied. Today, olive oil is produced in a two-class society by, original few traditional companies as well as globally active large producers, for whom not taste, but quantity, availability, and price are in the foreground.
Quality levels set by the EU
In the highest quality level set by the EU, "Extra Virgin Olive Oil", "Extra Virgin Olive Oil" or "Extra Virgen" – only for this level the original labels are also issued – it is defined that the oils may be pressed "cold", i.e. at a maximum temperature of 27 degrees, to obtain all health-promoting and aromatic substances. In addition, the content of free fatty acids must be less than 0.8 grams per liter. This level is only reached by oils that smell and taste perfect and have a minimum of fruitiness.
In the second category "Virgin Olive Oil", two grams of free fatty acids per liter are allowed. What is defined as "acidity" does not taste like the acidity in wine. It creates a dry chalk taste in the mouth. In addition, the third factor is the not very strict sensory tests of experts.
Stiftung Warentest for olive oil: pure snapshot
However, these levels are not a suitable criterion for consumers. This is because these olive oils, which are sold in huge quantities, are only tested by the EU auditors from a single batch. However, no one knows what will then be filled into the bottles from the huge tanks of the producers.
Therefore, evaluations by independent testers such as Stiftung Warentest are pure snapshots. If the inglabortafterwards a great test grade at the discounter, everyone buys it. But whether it actually still tastes as good as in the test or already comes from another batch is not comprehensible. Because the food chains have created their private labels for their olive oils, including always the same labels and bottles, for which they buy cheap on the spot market at daily prices. Where the oil comes from doesn't matter. Because the labels usually only say "From the growing areas of the European Union".
Even if only one country is mentioned as the origin, this is not a certainty: according to the EU definition, the country in which the olives are pressed in the country of origin. Morocco, for example, is now an important olive-growing country with very cheap labor, and the journey by ship across the Mediterranean to Spain is not far. Even expensive French olive oil, which is legally produced from Spanish olives, makes nice profits possible for some suppliers.
How to store olive oil correctly
Good olive oil is a very healthy vegetable juice with which you can produce and season wonderful foods. You should use a bottle for a maximum of three to four months after opening because the oil loses its aroma significantly afterward and can develop false tones.