What's the difference between extra virgin and regular olive oil? Is "light" olive oil better for you? Do we still need to be worried about the great olive oil scam? Even if you've studied our guide to understanding labels, the world of olive oil can be a bit murky. Fortunately, it's about to become clearer as the US adopts new standards this fall.
The USDA recently announced that, for the first time since the 1940s, it is revising standards for olive oil grown and imported in the US. Labels such as "virgin" and "extra virgin" must now be scientifically verifiable, and mostly meaningless terms like "light" will be done away with. The new regulations, scheduled to go into effect on October 25, 2010, are in line with quality standards already adopted by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) and International Olive Council (IOC). The new grades will include:
U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Virgin olive oil which has excellent flavor and odor (median of defects equal to zero and median of fruitiness greater than zero) and a free fatty acid content, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams.
U.S. Virgin Olive Oil: Virgin olive oil which has reasonably good flavor and odor (median of defects between zero and 2.5 and median of fruitiness greater than zero) and a free fatty acid content, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 2.0 grams per 100 grams.
U.S. Olive Oil: Oil consisting of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption without further processing. It has a free fatty acid content, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 1.0 gram per 100 grams, and has acceptable odor and flavor characteristic of "virgin olive oil."
U.S. Refined Olive Oil: Oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure (basic glycerin-fatty acid structure). It has a free fatty acid content, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams, and is flavorless and odorless.
For more information:
• Feds get picky over what makes oil 'extra virgin' (Associated Press)
• United States Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil (PDF)
Related: Understanding Olive Oil Labels
(Image: Gregory Han)