The olive tree is a tree that represents an ancient cultural icon and is a plant that characterizes the entire Mediterranean region, and produces approximately 98% of the total production of olives in the world. The olives (with an oil content of approximately 56%) are harvested just before they fully mature. There are three different methods of harvesting them: 1.) pick them up from the tree, 2.) pick them up when they have fallen to the ground 3.) shake the trees and pick them up from the ground. Currently, these processes are usually performed mechanically.
The main ingredient in this light-yellowish-green, greasy, non-drying oil is oleic acid. The oil becomes a soft dough when it is at a temperature between 0ºC and 10ºC and has a characteristic taste. There are three recognized degrees:
Extra virgin olive oil (cold-pressed oil with <1% free fatty acids and with at least 6.5 points in the tasting panel).
Virgin olive oil (cold-pressed oil with <2% free fatty acids and with at least 5.5 points in the tasting panel – once again, the EU makes a distinction between “fine virgin” and “virgin “).
Lampante virgin olive oil (cold-pressed oil with <3.5 points in the tasting panel, due to more obvious sensory defects and with 3.3% free fatty acids).
Pure olive oil (mixture composed of refined olive oil and extra virgin olive oil).
Refined olive oil (totally refined from lampante virgin olive oil).
The tasting panel is the official process introduced by the European Community to make an organoleptic evaluation of olive oil. With this procedure, the olfactory and gustatory characteristics of an oil are outlined, weighed and valued using a standardized form.
Olive oil is used as table oil (and is very precious for its physiological, sensory and nutritional aspects). It is also used in human medicine, as a cholagogue, by the cosmetic industry (sunscreens) and by the pharmaceutical sector, as well as by the textile industry, where it is a valuable raw material.