Please Explain: Olive Oil

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lou DiPalo, third-generation expert olive oil importer and the co-owner of Di Palo Fine Foods in New York City, and Nancy Harmon Jenkins, a writer and food historian who’s the author of The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, tell us all about olive oil--from its history to to how it's made to its many varieties.



Lou DiPalo and Nancy Harmon

Comments [24]

Roy from Villa San Giovanni in Tuscia, Italy

I am a NYer but live in the north Lazio region of Italy. We have 48 olive trees. From the time we harvest till the time we "press" is about 4 hours. The faster the olives are processed the better the oil. As soon as an olive is picked it starts to degrade. So getting the olives to our community processing center asap is very important. Likewise, the oil that comes out of the machinery is unbelievable. From that moment on, the oil degrades. We immediately take the oil home (usually in 10-20 liter plastic containers and then pour into 50-100 liter stainless steel containers stored in the basement. Heat and light are the enemy. Of course, as everyone who grows olives, ours is the best one can have.

Jul. 01 2013 06:24 AM
CalAthena from Petaluma, CA


superf88, antonio et al - Containers matter. Light is bad for olive oil, so is air. Dark glass, bag in box or a can will keep out light. Plastic is not a very good barrier to oxygen, so glass is a better choice. Bag in box high-oxygen barrier bags can also be excellent. Never store oils in a large container with a large amount of air. And always keep things cool -- think wine cellar-ish, temperatures in the mid to low 60's. Keep your oil in the pantry not above the stove. And use it! Once open, use it within a month or two. (Otherwise you're simply not using enough olive oil! We go through about 1/2 to one liter a week.)

Lois - Don't put too much importance on the free acidity level of an olive oil. It is only one chemical measure of quality, and is not all that revealing as a measure on the grocery shelf. Most good quality evoo will fall below 0.3% at production, but NOT ALL LOW FREE ACIDITY OIL IS GOING TO BE GOOD TASTING. Depending on what sort of problem the oil has, the free acidity may or may not be elevated. The main cause of high free fatty acid levels is poor quality fruit -- fermentation before milling will raise the ffa levels. Look instead for some indication that you are buying a genuine ev olive oil bottled and branded by the people who made it. Industrial packers of olive oil are notorious for buying whatever is cheap on the bulk market, blending it to just pass the legal minimum standard, and flogging it off in a bottle that makes you think it's from Italy.

Thanks for doing this show, Leonard, and thanks for taking the time to chat with people Nancy and Lou -- inquiring minds definitely want to know more about olive oil!

May. 11 2013 12:55 PM
CalAthena from Petaluma, California

I didn't catch this broadcast until this morning on the internet, but here are a few answers to questions that were not able to be addressed in the program:

Jan - There is no such thing a pastuerization for olive oil. There is refining, though, which includes heating the oil to remove odors.

Elaine, David - Pepperiness is indeed caused by polyphenols. And it is illegal to add any other kind of oil to something labeled "olive oil." Unfortunately, "(pure) olive oil" is mostly REFINED olive oil, not extra virgin or even virgin. That labeling is legal under current law (although I don't think it should be!). And Elaine you are correct. "Cold pressed" usually indicates under about 85 degrees or so.

Daria - Not all fresh olive oils are peppery -- that is a function of the maturity and polyphenol content of the fruit at harvest. Ripe olives can give a mild, non-peppery oil. It will be lovely, but it will have a shorter shelf life (the things that make oil bitter and peppery are antioxidants and make it last longer).

dboy - You are oh so right. There is no "best" -- it depends on what you like and how you're using it. But quality can be measured -- excellent fresh olives, harvested correctly, promptly & skillfully milled, carefully stored, etc.

superf88 - Correct -- "first cold press" is really just marketing at this point. The centrifugal decanter has replaced the hydraulic press in most olive oil production. But in order to be called virgin or even extra virgin, there is no requirement of peppery or bitter flavors. The only req. is for some fruitiness. And for evoo, there can be no defects of flavor (some slight defects are acceptable for virgin grade). Also, be aware--"virgin" describes the production method (mechanically extracted as opposed to using solvents or other chemicals) as well as a grade of olive oil. So it's really "virgin - grade extra" or "virgin - grade ordinary."

Larry - If you are buying oil labeled estate production from Greece you are very likely getting the real deal. The big grey area is when you buy non-estate production. Then, as Lou mentioned, you can look for DOP, PDO and other guaranteed denominations of origin which are pretty strictly regulated in the EU.

May. 11 2013 12:53 PM

What benefits are there for a glass container as opposed to plastic?

May. 10 2013 01:39 PM
Amy from Manhattan

For scar prevention/reduction, is the olive oil applied before scar formation, to the scab, or after?

May. 10 2013 01:39 PM
Nancy Meher from Manhattan

I just bought an inexpensive Olive Oil, the description is 2-hour fresh and the acidity level is less than 0.2% I paid $9.99 it's name is EVOO.

May. 10 2013 01:36 PM
Lois Hansen from Wyoming

Please repeat the acidic level to look for on labels.

May. 10 2013 01:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I don't think I've seen any green olives that aren't marinated--only black olives (my favorite!). Why is this? What causes the black color?

May. 10 2013 01:29 PM

Also ask Mr. Walken about how long the oil lasts before it begins to change in flavor discernibly, how much the material, size and translucency of the container matters.

May. 10 2013 01:24 PM
yvesNY from NY

your guests don't seem to know much about the truth about olive oil...
too bad. Have them travel a little,

May. 10 2013 01:22 PM

"Packaged in Italy." Trader Joes and others prominently write this on the label and I assume it is from Spain, Turkey, and Middle Eastern Countries, which may have a lesser product. How relevant is the info where something is "packaged?" And what about grown in Italy, packaged in USA -- does that imply fresher, better oil?

May. 10 2013 01:21 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

How much of "Italian" olive oil actually comes from Spain, Greece & Portugal? There has been considerable scandal about mislabeling of Italian olive oil. I usually buy mine from Greece to help out the little guy.

May. 10 2013 01:19 PM
John from toronto

what about the fresh black olives I see on sale at Italian markets in the Fall? I'm told they are sweet not funky and can be frozen fresh, to be used thruout the year in cooking…
can these be used to make oil at home?

May. 10 2013 01:17 PM

I understand "Virgin" requires a bitter and peppery flavor to earn that label.

Assuming virgin oil is counterfeited by bad actors, do you know how those flavors are generally mimicked, and whether those additives are safe?

May. 10 2013 01:14 PM

I love olive oil. Are there any specific medicinal benefits from it?

What climate do you need for to grow them?

I know this is off topic a tad but is olive oil related in any way to crude oil? I ask because of the proliferation of vegetable oil in diesel engines...

May. 10 2013 01:13 PM

"First/Cold Press is just a marketing buzzword. No such thing anymore due to today's centrifuge technique of blending oil."

I read this recently -- is it TRUE??

May. 10 2013 01:12 PM

There is NO such thing as the "Best", olive oil or wine or anything else subjective!!!

It's based on personal taste!!

"Now "Quality", this may be able to better qualify...

May. 10 2013 01:12 PM

Go, Lou!!!

The best thing, this side of the Mediterranean!!!

May. 10 2013 01:08 PM
Daria from Texas

Other than the labeling -- like Production Date or Use By Date -- is there a definitive way to determine the fresheness of an oilve oil? I've been told that the burn in the throat indicates polyphenol concentration and hence, the oil's freshness. I had thought this "pepperiness" was a characteristic of the type of olive.

May. 10 2013 12:28 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

The olive press we visited heated their olive oil to 80 degrees. It was still considered a cold-pressed oil.

May. 10 2013 12:28 PM
David from Upper West Side

Is it legal to call vegetable oil that has been blended with extra vigin olive oil just "olive oil?"

May. 10 2013 12:18 PM
David from Upper West Side

Is it legal to call vegetable oil that has been blended with extra vigin olive oil just "olive oil?"

May. 10 2013 12:18 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

In a recent visit to Napa Valley, my husband & I went on some olive oil tastings. We were surprised at how different the olive oil tasted, it was nothing like the extra-virgin olive oil from our supermarkets! Even the "mild" versions had a bite to it and the robust varieties had a peppery sharpness that caused me to cough. We were told that the popular oils in stores are usually "watered-down" by other cheaper oils. Is this true? How can manufacturers got away with this if the label is clearly marked extra-virgin olive oil?
Is it true that the polyphenols cause this sharpness?

May. 10 2013 12:11 PM
Jan from Brooklyn

Is it true that Olive Oil made in America is pasturized?

May. 10 2013 12:05 PM

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