What's in Your Pantry?

Olive oils

Having just visited many of my friends' kitchens over the holidays, I was confronted by many questions on “just what is in my pantry?” Is my “EVOO” really an EVOO? And, is it good, bad, or even passable for cooking?

There is so much that goes into creating a good EVOO, which I won’t go into at the moment. And, there is quite a bit that goes into determining if it is an EVOO. The short story on it is here:

A combination of over 20 laboratory tests and a sensory tasting is used to determine if an olive oil has been adulterated with seed, pomace, or refined olive oil and to classify and grade olive oils according to IOC standards. The sensory test involves the use of a trained taste panel that is recognized by the IOC. Eight tasters must confirm to a statistical model for accuracy and validity and indicate that if a sample oil is defective or not and if it is, which defect is noted and the intensity of the defect in question. If the sample is not defective, its intensity of fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency is noted. This combination of ratings by the taste panel members will classify an oil as either extra virgin, virgin, or lampante.

What I was able to do with my friends, in a short period, was to taste their oils and some of our EVOOs, so they could compare and understand good vs. bad – a first step. These tastings were usually followed by – “Got it. I’ll just ask you next time I need more EVOO.”

Beyond a first try at tasting, I saw this reference material out of the University of California that I thought could give a good reference to better understanding just what could be in your pantry:

Extra Virgin oil: This is the good stuff, with flavor characteristics of fresh, crisp, clean, fruity olive oil. Just like anything else, the taster/consumer must become familiar with this flavor in order to recognize it. Extra virgin oils do not have any off flavors or any flavors of cooked or refined oil. They feel substantial in the mouth and are not greasy. They should have a nice fruity flavor and can have a pleasant bitterness, pungency, and astringency. Olive oils that are slightly defective in flavor that have not been refined or solvent extracted are not extra virgin, but might be graded as virgin olive oil.

Refined oil: Labeled as olive oil or pure olive oil or light olive oil. This is the mediocre stuff that is usually just bland. It is usually not awful unless it has gone rancid, but frequently is not very good either. The sterol content of refined oil is lower due to the neutralization and deodorizing processes. It also has some trans isomers due to the heating process. Refined olive oils are popular for frying, because of their higher smoke point and low cost.

Pomace oil: The not-very-good-at-all stuff, from solvent extraction of the fermented milling waste. It is usually quite bland in flavor. It goes through the same refining process as refined olive oil. It just had an even worse origin. It usually has a greasy feel in the mouth and possibly a slight cooked taste.

Seed oil: The cheaper alternative oil, can be from many different sources including: corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, rape-seed (canola), peanut, flax, hazelnut, walnut, almond, grape, palm, cottonseed, wheat bran, rice bran, coconut, or tea seed. The non-seed oil fats of butter, lard and avocado oil are, at least, natural. All the others have been solvent extracted or extensively refined. Even expeller pressed “natural” oils found in the health-food stores, have been refined. Some of these oils have a specific recognizable flavor, but most are bland. Margarine is liquid seed oil that has been hydrogenated (trans isomers) to make it solid.

Hoping this gives a good reference starting point for you to understand the different oils that you might have in your pantry. Additionally, be sure to use your oils when they are fresh. Don’t let your oils ferment or get rancid. And, if you want to get a nice oil to compare with what you have currently, pick up a robust Olivo Bianco from Tuscany, or a pefected blend such as the Bio Blend from Torre Bianca also from Tuscany, Italy! Bottom line, let us know if you need further help!

If you want to host a tasting, be sure to contact us today!

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