Lampante, virgin or extra virgin? Types and uses of olive oil

- Categories : Olive Oil

Bottles of olive oil and a basket with different types of olives. In the background an olive tree
Photos: although they appear to be the same, there are many differences between olive oils

Olive oil is an essential component of the Mediterranean diet, characterized by a high intake of vegetables, legumes (beans), fruit, nuts, whole grains and fish. The Mediterranean diet has historically been associated with longevity in populations living along the Mediterranean Sea. However, it would be a mistake to think that there is only one type of olive oil. This is not the case! For example, there are big differences between virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. This article deals with the different types of olive oil and their characteristics.

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Olive oil is undoubtedly an essential food that many of us consume on a daily basis.

It is commonly used in cooking both as a condiment and as an ingredient of many recipes. The health benefits of olive oil are well known: it contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Before reviewing the various types of oil, let's see how Italian olive oil is extracted.

As you probably already know, there are different types of olive oil. Each type of olive oil has specific characteristics.

There are three main types of olive oils: Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO), Pure Olive Oil) and Refined Olive Oil (ROO).

Before talking about the different types of olive oil, their characteristics and their extraction methods, let's focus for a moment on the single ingredient of olive oil: olives.

In Italy it is estimated there are more than 538 types of olive trees (cultivars), capable of producing as many varieties of olive oil: Leccino, casaliva, pisciottana, coratina, moraiolo biancolilla, frantoio, taggiasca, Itrana, moresca, carolea. Just to name the most famous.

The varieties of Italian olives have characteristics unique organoleptic, but not only: they also have a unique flavor , which characterizes every type of oil.

If Italian olive oil is the best in the world, we owe it to them: Italian olive oil.

The extraction of olive oil

Oil extraction is the process by which oil is obtained from the fruit of the olive tree. There are three main methods of oil extraction:

  1. Mechanical method with cold pressing (or cold extraction)
  2. mechanical method with uncontrolled temperature
  3. chemical extraction with solvents

Mechanical method with cold pressing (or cold extraction)

Machines for cold pressing of olives
Photo: machine for cold pressing of olives.

This technique consists in the mechanical extraction of the oil without the use of solvents .

It is performed at room temperature , usually under pressure. This extraction process generally takes 24 hours. The cold extraction method can be used for all types of oils (vegetable or animal), not just olive oil. The only condition to be able to use it is that the oil has a high viscosity, so that it does not leak during the process.

This method of extracting and producing oil is also called "cold pressing". As we will see later, it is the one used for the production of the best extra virgin olive oils.

Advantages of cold extraction:

  • It allows to produce a higher quality oil than those produced with other techniques
  • It is a production method that does not harm nature

Disadvantages of cold extraction

  • The extraction process is longer than chemical solvent extraction.
☝ ? The extra virgin olive oil you buy in the Olive Oils Italy shop is of high quality and is only cold pressed.

Mechanical method with squeezing at uncontrolled temperature

This type of mechanical hot pressing guarantees a greater oil yield. The olive oil extracted with this method has an degree of acidity lower than 0.8%  and therefore can be classified as olive oil. extra virgin olive.

However, this is not a good quality extra virgin olive oil as it has a lower percentage of antioxidants and polyphenols which are eliminated by the high processing temperature.

The oil extraction temperature

The temperature at which the olive oil is extracted is very important: if it is higher than 27 degrees  it causes the rupture and separation of the cell wall and the membranes that make up the olive. This leads to a decrease in the organoleptic properties of olive oil.

For this reason, according to the regulations, cold extraction must be performed using cold mechanical systems that do not exceed 27 degrees.

Chemical extraction with solvents

Industrial olive oil extraction plant
Photo: Industrial olive oil extraction plant

This method uses organic solvents such as hexane, ethanol, acetone, methylethylketone, benzene , toluene, petroleum ethertogether with water. These solvents extract the oil from virgin pomace, the residual matter from the pressing. The olive oil thus extracted (it is a pomace oil) is then separated from the solvent.

The advantage of this method is that it allows to obtain a higher oil yield than mechanical pressing . However, it requires special equipment and qualified personnel who know the process well to avoid residues in the finished product. The quality of olive oil is much lower than that obtained with cold pressing.

Advantages of extraction with chemical solvents:

  • Greater oil yield compared to mechanical extraction
  • Less expensive than mechanical extraction

Disadvantages of chemical extraction:

  • Requires special equipment and qualified personnel
  • May damage the environment due to the use of toxic solvents
  • It can cause health problems for those working in the extraction plant
  • It has lower organoleptic characteristics than high quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils

The acidity of the oil is a quality criterion

Before going into the details of the types of oil, let's briefly explain what oleic acid is.

Oleic acid is a naturally occurring unsaturated fatty acid found in vegetable fats. It is the most abundant fatty acid in olive oil.

The oleic acidity is a fact that is found exclusively through laboratory tests. It is not a value that can be perceived when tasted in the mouth during a tasting.

To simplify, we can say that the higher the oleic acidity, the lower the quality of the oil.

☝ ? The extra virgin olive oils you buy in the OliveOilsItaly shop are of excellent quality and in fact always have an acidity lower than 0.4%. You can check the acidity of the oil in the “product details”.

How many types of olive oil are there?

Different types of olive oil can be obtained from the pressing of the olives. Let's see how many and what they are and the substantial differences between them.

Extra virgin olive oil

Tasting of extra virgin olive oil with a slice of bread
Photo: Tasting of extra virgin olive oil with a slice of bread

Extra virgin olive oil is extracted directly from the different types of olives for oil exclusively with mechanical procedure. The pressing, as we have seen, can take place cold, therefore below 27 ℃, but also at an uncontrolled temperature.

In both cases, for its production no solvents or other chemical manipulations are used to extract the oil from the olives. Furthermore, no mixtures are made with other types of oil.

The degree of oleic acidity of EVO oil must be less than 0.8% (the test is carried out in the laboratory).

When tasting a good extra virgin olive oil must be absolutely free from defects and have a pleasant and fresh scent, characterized by aromatic notes.

Extra virgin olive oil is also characterized by a low level of polyphenols and aldehydes. Extra virgin olive oil must be stored in dark glass or stainless steel bottles. Not only is extra virgin olive oil the best Italian olive oil, but it is also excellent for cooking and can even be used for frying.

☝ ? For proper storage, the extra virgin olive oil purchased in can, after its opening, it should always be decanted into bottles.

Extra virgin olive oil is extracted from the first pressing of the olives.

When we talk about types of extra virgin olive oilwe usually refer to the taste , bitter and fruity, which can be:

  1. light fruity
  2. medium fruity
  3. intense fruity
☝ ? The extra virgin olive oils you buy at the supermarket aren't always of the best quality. Unfortunately they often have no aromas (they are odorless) and the bitter and spicy note typical of a good extra virgin olive oil is not perceived. Find out how to recognize a good extra virgin olive oil with a simple tasting at home.

Virgin olive oil

Virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil. its quality is inferior to that of extra virgin olive oil.
Photo: Virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil. However, its quality is lower than that of extra virgin olive oil.

The virgin olive oils are extracted directly from the different types of olives from oilexclusively with mechanical process (pressing). The degree of oleic acidity varies from 0.9% up to 3% (laboratory data).

During the tasting some defects of virgin olive oil can be found. These defects can also be not very evident, however they do not allow to classify virgin olive oil as an extra quality oil, as the oleic acidity exceeds 0.8%.

Lampante olive oil

A historic lamp that in the past was lit with lampante olive oil
Photo: A historic lamp that in the past was lit with lampante olive oil.

Also this type of olive oil extracted with a mechanical process of pressing the olives.

Lampante oil, however, has a degree of oleic acidity higher than 3% (laboratory data). In addition, there are serious defects when tasted. This is why lampante oil is not edible .

This does not mean, however, that it is not useful: for example in Puglia, in Salento, lampante olive oil is used for the production of electricity.

Lampante oil can be made edible through a rectification process. It is a chemical process by which lampante oil becomes edible. Rectified lampante oil is classified as "olive oil". It is therefore a refined oil.

A rectification plant for olive oil
Photo: A grinding plant for olive oil

Olive oil

Olive oil is a refined oil. This means that it is an industrial product obtained by refining lampante oil with chemical processes . For the extraction of olive oil, chemical solvents are used to eliminate defects:

  • of the smell
  • of flavor
  • of color

A small amount (about 3%) of virgin oil is then added to the olive oil.

☝ ? On the labels of these oils the wording "refined olive oil" is reported by law.

Olive pomace oil

Processing of olive pomace
Photo: Processing of pomace of olive

The residue from the processing of the mills is called pomace . The pomace is brought to the pomace factories, where an oil is produced with chemical extractors to which, as in the case of refined olive oil, a quantity of virgin oil equal to 3% is then added.

☝ ? Olive pomace oil is the cheapest type of olive oil, but also of the lowest quality.

Pomace oil is mainly used in the kitchens of cheap restaurants and canteens.

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