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Cheap Tricks - Olive Oil

Photo courtesy of Bill Hails(CC No Derivatives)

     This week, representing The Olive Tap Charlotte, we’ll take a look into some of the different terms that you may come across when researching or conversating about olive oil. With the rise of discussion of health and holistic fitness, it is likely you’ll stumble upon a word or term that makes you raise a brow, such as ‘olio nuovo‘ or ‘cultivar’. In order to meet the demand of present knowledge, we begin a series covering these terms in small digestible bites so before you know it, you’ll be an olive oil expert!

**Some of the listings may have more common social associations but each definition will be specific into how it relates to olive oil culture and health

25 Need To Know Terms About Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Olive Oil:  A highly desirable and increasingly popular food product made from olives, olive oil has been linked to a myriad of health benefits, often named alongside the ‘Mediterranean diet’. One of the oldest oils produced, its uses has extended to ceremonial and cosmetic as well. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: is the highest quality form of olive oil and must meet standards by different consuls to properly acquire the title. Deceptive marketing has made it impossible to be 100% sure without some education on the behalf of the consumer

Balsamic Vinegar: An acidic product made from aged grape must, like olive oil, comes in different stages of quality differentiation. Widely attributed in origin to Modena, Italy where they continue to set the world standard of taste and quality and have the most preferred product on the global market. The flavor is often sweet and tart alluding to both the natural sugars from grape and the acid created in the aging process. 

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar: The most distinct balsamic vinegar, often has a minimum aging requirement of 12 years and upwards to 25 and beyond. The longevity in the production process makes it one of the most expensive food products in the world though tricky marketing tactics in the U.S has allowed distributors to trick consumers into buying poorly produced products for much less. Must be made with pure grape must and no wine vinegar or any other additive. 

Antioxidants: Compounds that counteract the oxidation process within the body and has been linked to longevity and good health. A very ‘hot’ term in the modern food and health world as people swing towards more holistic health practices. 

Spain: The world’s largest producer of olive oil; It was the Spanish missionaries that introduced the product to the Americas and in California. 

Greece: Amongst the oldest in the traditions of olive oil as a culture, in Ancient Greece it was a capital crime to fell an olive tree and today, the Olympic games still wave the branch of an olive tree in commemoration of its historical linkage. 

Italy: Arguably the trend-setting olive oil culture, much of the global knowledge of olive oil started in Italy as it is the principle country in the Mediterranean region where the climate is optimum for the growth of olive trees. The world’s largest distributor of olive oil, as many countries send their product to Italy for distribution. 

Polyphenols: Increasingly popular health term referring to plant-based compounds in food with antioxidant properties. 

Varietal: Distinctly, ‘varietal’ alludes to its natural species and is the likelihood of carrying characteristics from its parent plant. 

Cultivar: Very similar to ‘varietal’ as both terms refer to the origin of a plant but ‘cultivar’, as it sort of sounds, implies the involvement of manmade selection of properties and will have certain attributes exemplified by the desired hand. Different cultivars may come from the same varietal. There are more than 10,000 varietals of olives and each one will produce a distinct oil 

Oleic acid/Acidity: Referring the recurring free fatty acids in olive oil, it is by this the quality of olive oil is measured. The lower the acidity, the higher quality the oil. If the acidity is below .08%, it is globally recognized as extra virgin olive oil and anything below .05% is recognized as extra virgin olive oil from the state of California. The higher quality the olive oil, the healthier it is and the longer shelf life it will have. One may produce a cough from a very good olive oil…or three!

Agrumato: Traditional named and style of infusing flavor into olive oil. Literally means ‘fusion crushed’ and refers to the crushing of the desired herbal flavor in its raw form, with the olives, in order to extract both oils at once and instantly combining them into what is often described as the most desirable infused flavor available

Olio Nuovo: As olives are harvested only once a year, this term refers to the very first pressing and harvest oil that is so extracted and bottled as to keep the ‘pulp’, per se, of the olive oil. The flavor is extremely potent and fresh, often likened into biting into the olive fruit, but as the settlement was never extracted, it has a shorter shelf life than that without. The name means ‘new olive’ in Italian. 

Harvest: The harvesting season depends on the hemisphere on where the grove is located as seasons are inverted. Northern hemisphere producers harvest their product in the months of October/November and the Southern hemisphere groves will produce oil in March/April. This negates the concept that good olive oil must come from any particular region of the world has quality growers.


Photo courtesy of Attribution)

Pomace: The solid remains after the pressing of the olives, about 5-8%  of the oil will remain in the pomace. This is the lowest quality version of olive oil and has traditionally been used for the oil based lamps and torches in older times. The nutritional value is negligible and modern production practices has made some even harmful to human health. Also referred to as ‘sansa‘.  

Fruitiness: One of the three principle characteristics in classifying the taste of an olive oil, this will often carry connotations of other fruits and vegetation terms. Is the flavor almondy?? like that of an apple?? the olive, which is a fruit, does it resemble that aspect at all//

Pungency: One of three principle characteristics of tasting olive oil, this term hints to the acidity of the olive oil and the more pungent it is, the higher chance it is the quality is of a fine origin.

Bitterness: One of three principle characteristics of tasting olive oil. Olives being bitter, how much does the oil remind you of that of an olive. 

Olive Plate, Lunch @ The Groves, Chester, England

Photo courtesy of nikoretro(CC ShareALike)

Infusion (flavor): The adding of a non-native flavor into either olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Modern trends have extended the options to include everything from smoky bacon flavored olive oil to orange white balsamic 

Fraudulent: The term often used in the discussion of the mass production and distribution of vaguely labeled olive oil and balsamic vinegar product. The practice dates back to ancient times and continues to today, though now with globalization and networking the awareness is much more prevalent and harsher methods are being adopted by both United States and European organizations to address and halt the problem

Pairing: The tradition of combining olive oil and balsamic vinegar for culinary purposes. Historically used to make house-made dressings, and later popularized with Italian dishes and bread. Today, pairings may be endless due to the options of flavors on both ends of the equation. Examples: dark chocolate balsamic vinegar, coconut balsamic vinegar, rosemary infused olive oil, white truffle infused olive oil, etc. 

Trebbiano: One of the only two varieties of grapes that’s allowed to be used in the production of balsamic vinegar, regulations established by Italian consuls and backed by history. 

Lambrusco: The other of two grape varieties that may be used in the production of balsamic vinegar, as established and regulated by both official consuls in the country of Italy and supported by historical traditions

Fusti: Plural version of the word ‘fusto‘; stainless steel tanks that resemble milk jugs that is often used to house natural products from heat and sunlight. Most often used with olive oil, wine, and balsamic vinegar. Found in virtually all olive oil specialty stores

     Thanks for reading, feel free to refer back to this list when you need. Located in the heart of Ballantyne in Charlotte, NC, The Olive Tap is dedicated to providing its customers with the best product available while pushing to provide an educative platform and we look forward to seeing you! Check us out on WCNC’s Charlotte Today Show where we demonstrate recipes and go into more visual detail of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

25 Need to Know Terms About Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

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