If you’ve ever stepped into the aisle in a grocery store that contains olive oil, you can be easily overwhelmed by the choices in types, colors, grades and flavors. The quality, aroma, flavor, and color of olive oil can vary widely due to the way that it was produced. Several factors work together to impact the taste of the oil, including:
- Variety of the olive
- How ripe the olive is at harvest
- Location and soil conditions
- Time of the harvest
- Method of harvest
- Time between harvest and pressing
- Method of pressing
- Packaging and storing techniques
Once you have determined the grade of olive oil that is best for your intended use, there are a few other considerations to help you make your choice.
Spain, Italy and Greece lead the world in olive oil production. The other top producers are France and the United States (mostly California). The oil from each country varies in its taste, aroma and color.
Spain is the largest producer, providing about 45% of the world’s olive oil supply. The oil is typically golden yellow and has a fruity, nutty flavor. Italian olive oil is usually a dark green with a grassy flavor and more herbal aroma. Greek olive oil has the strongest flavor and aroma and is typically a green color. French olive oil has a mild flavor and is pale in color. California olive oil is light in both color and flavor and has a fruity taste.
The color of the olive oil often gives clues as to its flavor. Typically, the darker or deeper the color, the stronger the flavor of the oil. Dark green or emerald colored oils have a strong, bold, fruity, grassy or peppery flavor that can dominate other food flavors. Green olive oil is made from unripe olives and has a bitter, pungent flavor. Olive oils that have a shiny, golden color are made from ripe olives. These oils are defined by their smooth, mild and subtle buttery taste.