Olive oil is often referred to as "liquid gold".
In order for it to live up to its name, it has to offer a lot. Read what makes a high-quality olive oil, how to make it palatable to customers and how it is used in the kitchen.
Olive oil is now recognized and valued as a key component of healthy Mediterranean cuisine. Modern medicine has also been able to prove that olive oil is a highly effective drug, especially for overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, it is a recognized home remedy for many skin irritations and is recommended as a natural cosmetic.
Growing and harvesting olives
Olives are mainly grown in the Mediterranean countries of the EU (Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal), North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco) and Western Asia (Syria, Turkey). Long, warm and dry summers as well as mild and rainy winters with annual mean temperatures of 15 to 20 degrees C and annual precipitation of 500 to 700 milliliters are ideal for the fruit.
Even if the olive tree is very robust and thrives even in barren mountain locations, the soil conditions and care play an important role in the growth of the trees. Sweet clover, for example, which grows naturally under the trees, has proven itself as a natural fertilizer. It supplies the soil with nitrogen and at the same time loosens it up with its roots. Since olive groves are often located in remote steep or terraced locations, irrigation is usually time-consuming and expensive. In addition, like vines, olive trees have to be pruned regularly because the tree needs a lot of air, light and warmth. Practical side effect: Smaller trees are easier to harvest.
Depending on the growing area, the olive harvest takes place between the end of September and March. In Greece, for example, it starts from November/December. Harvesting is traditionally done by hand or hand rake, with the help of combs or sticks or mechanically with vibrating machines. Olives harvested by hand or by hand rake remain unharmed - an important prerequisite for good oil quality. When harvested, the olives fall onto nets that have previously been laid out under the trees. They are then transported in airy crates to the oil mill for immediate further processing.
produce olive oil
A distinction is made between cold and hot pressing in the production of olive oil. During cold pressing, small branches and leaves are first sorted out and the olives are washed. After that, the whole fruit is ground with stone. The intermediate product is a pulp that is pressed out at a maximum temperature of 27 degrees Celsius. After that, the amniotic fluid and oil must be separated from each other with the help of a centrifuge. The oil obtained from this still tastes very hot and bitter at this point. That changes when the oil is given time to rest in temperature-controlled steel tanks. Now the sediments in the oil can settle independently and after two to three weeks a harmonious flavor will unfold. The olive oil is then filtered and bottled.
Unlike the hot press. Here the fruits are pressed at high temperatures (over 80 degrees C) and with high pressure. The oil obtained must then be further treated or refined in order to remove unwanted accompanying substances and impurities. Then centrifuges separate oil and water from each other. A filtration cleans the olive oil from turbidity. The refined olive oil is stored in special containers and bottled.
In addition to location, soil conditions, climate, degree of ripeness, the olive varieties and whether one or more varieties are pressed together ensure the variety of flavors of the olive oil varieties. Some Sicilian varieties are known for a particularly intense and fresh-fruity oil. Olive oils from Greece have a fruitiness that is not too strong. Depending on the growing region, they taste medium-fruity and sometimes more or less like bitter almonds.
How do I recognize a good olive oil?
A traditional, very good and aromatic oil is produced from unripe, firm olives. They are taken straight from the tree to the mill and processed immediately. This produces a much smaller amount, but the exciting aroma of pepper, fruit and spiciness that made olive oil so famous. Good olive oil has many aromatic facets and contrasts. Sometimes it offers notes of grass or berries, sometimes of citrus or iodized salt. If you marinate skinned peppers with very good oil, you don't need any other spices.
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 southern France or Andalusia. There are almost 500 types of olives in Europe that develop their very own aroma. But this characteristic taste cannot be had for 4.99 euros per liter.
It takes four to ten years for an olive tree to bear fruit for the first time. The harvest quantity is only about 20 kilograms per tree. That's just three or four liters of oil. The harvest needs many workers, everything has to be done very quickly. Because the shorter the time until pressing, the better the quality. In addition, the many trees have to be cared for 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 that makes it worthwhile for traditional producers.
This imprint is crucial:
But these olive oils are difficult to recognize. The most important thing is the EU-protected labeling of origin. It stipulates that cultivation and production must take place in a specified region.
- In Italy, the decisive abbreviation "DOP" is for "Denominazione d'Origine Protetta", it has been granted there for around 40 growing areas, including the traditional varieties there.
- In Spain, with around 1.3 million of the world's around three million tons of production volume per year, the largest production country in the world, 30 protected designations of origin have been defined. They are called "DOC" (Denominacion de Origen Controlada).
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-tier society made up of a few traditional companies and large global producers who do not focus on taste, but on quantity, availability and price.