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"Extra Virgin"—What's it Mean?"

Extra virgin olive oil—real extra virgin olive oil—is rare.  And it's a handmade delicacy.  If it wasn't, you wouldn't have so many imitations.  And imitations you certainly do have. 

Surveys have found that a least two-out-of-three bottles of olive oil labeled "extra virgin" really weren't.  Other estimates put that figure as high as nine-out-of-ten.

A key reason is no federal or state standards.  

Below are some of the questions we hear most about olive oil.  If you have another, please send us a message.  

What's the USDA Say About Olive Oil? 
Unfortunately, not much.  The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has mandatory quality standards for meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and other food products.  But when it comes to olive oil, its standard is voluntary. And no federal agency is following up to certify that those who say they're extra virgin really are.
As a result, recent surveys have found that at least two-out-of-three bottles on the grocery shelves labeled extra virgin really aren't extra virgin at all.  
Perhaps even more surprising, only five states even require that bottles labeled "olive oil" must be made exclusively from olives.

"Extra Virgin"  .   .   .  What's It Really Mean? 

Extra virgin as well as virgin refer to standards set by the International Olive Council in Madrid, Spain.  Both mean that the oil must have been obtained from olives without using heat or chemicals. The olives are pressed or crushed  by mechanical means at room temperature—the fabled "cold pressed" you so often hear or read about.  

Unlike extra virgin olive oil, however, virgin olive oil has some taste or odor defects according to an independent taste panel. 

Another quality control item, the amount of free oleic acid in the oil (which essentially measures how good (or bad) the olives were before being pressed) will be below a certain amount. 
In Europe, that amount is 0.8 grams of free oleic acid per 100 grams. In California, the limit is even lower, 0.5 grams per 100 grams.  Virgin olive oil will be below 2 grams per 100. 

How much olive oil in the world is really, truly extra virgin?  These requirements, the "cold" pressing, no taste or odor defects, low acidity, are strict.  As a result, it's estimated that worldwide, between 10 and 20 percent of all the olive oil produced each year qualifies as extra virgin.

All Things Olive sells only California olive oil because an independent third party—the California Olive Oil Council—performs the taste tasting and chemical analysis.  Those oils that exceed the Council's standards, earn its annual seal. These are the only olive oils we sell.

Keith with COOC Executive Director Patricia Darragh

What's the California Olive Oil Council?
Since All Things Olive opened in 2004, we've been members of the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).  In fact, All Things Olive was the first member from outside the state of California. 
The COOC represents over 90 percent of all olive oil production in California.  Today, the COOC has over 400 members including olive growers and oil producers, service providers, and retailers.   
Among its most important contributions to the U.S. olive oil industry is its certification program.  Created in 1998, the program annually awards the COOC seal to those olives oils produced within the state that meets the COOC's strict standards for extra virgin. To earn the COOC seal, olive oil producers must send in samples of their olive oils each year for testing.  The olive oils we sell all carry the COOC seal. 
For more information about the California Olive Oil Council, please click here

Keith (on the right) judging olive oils for the Good Food Awards in San Francisco