Is Color a Measure of Quality in Olive Oil?

Recently I visited an olive press which sells its products to the wide population.

What I found interesting is that many customers were fascinated by the colors of the olive oil. Upon asking the customers what they were looking for they replied that the greener the olive oil the better it is.

This was not the first time I heard this, but I doubt it has anything to do with the quality of the olive oil.

In fact the color of olive oil is never a measure of quality when determining extra virgin olive oil from say virgin Olive oil – and for good reasons!

To begin with olive oil is easily colored by the criminals of the industry – they sometimes do this for the above reasons. Furthermore, it is easy to color (at the cost of taste and quality) by leaving some leafs (contain a high amount of chlorophyll) through the filters.

So if the color is not used to determine quality what can it tell us?

The truth is that for me it is very confusing as there are so many factors that affect the color of olive oil. I am just not an expert to tell in – practice- whether this or that olive oil came from a two phase or a three phase machine, stone or a metal grinder... . Yet I can easily tell the more obvious tell signs whether the olives were ripe or not when pressed.

In order to tell what the color tells us, we need to know where it comes from.

In short the color of olive oil is the various pigments of the olive.

Perhaps the most important factor determining the color of the olive oil is the time of harvesting of the olives. This is due to the fact that green olives have higher chlorophyll content (the green color we seem to love so much). As the olive matures depending on it variety it turns something like this:

Mission Variety: Pale Green to Straw (early season), light pink to dark red, dark purplish, black, light pink to dark red, dark purplish(late season).

Sevillano Variety: Slight blush stem end, half or more dark red, straw, slight blush stem end.

As you can see (I wish I had pictures) there are no black olives and green olives, just olives that turn black after green and sometimes greenish again –depending on the variety. Yet another misconception some people have about “black olives” and “green olives” .

Chlorophyll (derived from ancient Greek: chloros = green and phyllon = leaf) is of course only one of the main pigments in olive oil. Another main pigment is Carotenoids which provides it with the yellow red color.

As the olive ripens, the combination of the different pigments such as Chlorophyll and Carotenoids as well as other pigments changes, from higher proportion of chlorophyll to a lesser one. As a result so does that olive oil’s color change. If pressed early in the season, the olive will be dark green. As the olive matures the color of its juice changes to a paler one.

There are many more reasons that affects the colors of the olive oil such as the weather, cultivar and pressing method etc. However, I believe the season (early/late) to be the most dominant factor in the color of the olive oil.

Some time ago I made a “give away”. I hate to spoil , but each one of the receivers will get one large bottle of olive oil and two samples (there are other surprises;).

It is important that the olives are tasted in the following order Yellow label , Red label and Green label.

The yellow and green labels are of the same cultivars – ablend of Barnea and Picholine - yet they look different.

(Yellow Label -Left , Green Label -right)

The reasons I included the "green label" and "yellow label" is to show how the same cultivars made by the exact same machine, stored at the same place, harvested from almost identical fields, look and taste so different.

How do you think they will taste?


Vladimir Lukiyanov said...

Very interesting!


Anonymous said...

it's completely overthrowing me what i knew about extra-virgin olive oil. a good direction to choose from it.

~ Phyll said...

When they are here (thank you!) what is the proper method for tasting them?

Do I put it in a small gongfu teacup and drink it like tea? Best temperature? With or without bread? Should I just dip my finger into the oil and lick it?

Am I crazy for asking these questions?

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