Cold pressed olive oil is considered the most valuable. It has all of the benefits of olive oil and none of the potentially harmful free radicals. The cold pressing process is superior, even though it yields less oil. But even the most health-conscious consumers rarely know why. What makes cold pressed olive oil the single best oil to eat? How to recognize the true product? Why do you need to do it? It was high time that we did an article on this!
Meet Your Creator
Olive oil comes from olives. No surprise here. The olive tree is one of the most resistant species. Depending on the particular sort, it can survive freezing temperatures! What it cannot do, however, is protect itself from most diseases on plants. Olive trees typically take a few years, up to a decade, before they can produce olives. They live a very long time, though. There are olive trees that have survived for centuries. This, once again, is because they're quite resistant to most diseases. There are many ways to grow olives. If you want all the goodness and none of the harm, you do it the organic way. Organic plants can't be treated with artificial pesticides. They can't receive most fertilizers either (except the ones that come from a biologic source). There are tons of additional requirements for an olive oil to be called organic. The olive growing stage is essential for both health benefits and taste. If the olives are not protected from harm and harvested carefully, the damage ruins the final taste. This is why respectable olive producers take the time and effort to protect their olives. When a disease appears, it can ruin the entire harvest. Keep an eye on the news or do a quick google search on the olive harvest. If it says that particular year it was bad in Greece, well, don't buy Greek olive oil from this year's harvest!
An Olive Ambulance
Olives are harvested either by hand or with a machine. A machine can often harvest the same amount of olives in an hour that a worker would need a day to pick. Both machines and hand picking use the same basic tool. Some sticks are naturally caught up in the process. They can easily be removed later. What matters here is that the olives receive as few bruises as possible. This is why shaking the tree and picking up the fruit underneath produces a poor quality oil. Olives are so rich in fats that they can oxidise easily if damaged. Not only does this lead to lower quality in terms of flavour profile, but it is also detrimental to health benefits. If the oil oxidises before it can even make it to your bottle of olive oil, all the antioxidants you would otherwise get are lost! This is the main reason why, once harvested, olives go straight to the factory. Traditional olive oil making methods produce a lower quality because there is a bigger gap between picking the olive and pressing it into the oil. This is one case where new technologies and more machines actually make for a better final product. The trucks make it to the factory as fast as they can. In some large-scale olive oil production plants, the "waiting time" for the olives can be as low as 2-3 hours. Compare that to the 2-3 days (if not over a week) that traditional harvesting requires for the fruit to make it to the pressing place. The bottom line here is simple: traditional methods are not always better. I see producers sometimes advertise their product as 'made the authentic way'. In this case, however, it is much better to trust the inventions of the new age. The ancient Greeks were not eating better cold pressed olive oil than you are! Take-home lesson 2: Choose small producers over large corporations. The less overall amount of olives they process, the more likely it is that their fruit makes it to the factory in the freshest state possible.
Time For Washing Up
The very first thing that happens to olives is they are washed thoroughly. Any sticks and leaves that found their way in are removed. It is very important that no dirt, leaves, twigs, insects or anything that is not an olive gets removed. This ensures that the final product will have the best and freshest taste possible.
The Temperature Matters
After the washing, it's time for the olives to be pressed. Unsurprisingly, this is where the olive oil can gain a cold pressed label. Back in Ancient Greece (and up until very recently), granite wheels were used to crush the olives. These wheels were usually powered by water. Most olive oil producers have years of history and this is why you will still find their plants by a river or at least a small pond. Nowadays, stone and granite are no longer all the rage. Instead, stainless steel rollers are used. The olives and their pits quickly turn into a paste. The temperature of this process is closely monitored. An olive oil brand can lose their right to the extra virgin cold pressed label if they don't keep an eye on the temperature Heating up the olive paste, as well as exposing it to air, produces free radicals. These very highly reactive chemicals poorly affect the taste. More shockingly, however, they have been linked to cell ageing and even cancer. This is why cold pressed olive oil will always be healthier.
Malaxation: What Does That Even Mean?
After the olive paste is homogenous, it's time for malaxation. This is a fancy word for a very simple process: Water is slowly introduced into the paste. Why would you want to add water? Well, water repels oil. When the droplets are added in slowly, they push the oil molecules together. This way the tiny drops of oil begin clumping together. Later, they are much easier to extract. Malaxation requires constant stirring and monitoring the temperature. Different producers have a different opinion on how long it should take. The stirring time is anywhere between 20 to 40 minutes. There is a sweet spot and it depends on the sort of olive, as well as other variables. If the olive paste is malaxated for longer, this increases the oil production. It also improves the flavour. The longer the oil spends with the olives, the more flavour it can pick up. But too long is not that great. When the olive paste is stirred around, it inevitably comes into contact with the air. This increases oxidation and free radical levels. Modern pressing systems are built to not allow air inside. The closed mixing chambers do not contain oxygen - instead, a non-oxidizing gas mixture is added.
Centrifuge To Extract The Oil
Traditionally, the olive paste would be pressed into a sort of olive pancakes and put one over the other. Then, the oil would be squeezed out. Nowadays, a much more gentle and effective method is used. The centrifuge is a container, rotated on an axis. When the olive paste spins in it, water and oil are separated. This happens at a relatively low heat. It also yields more product and is more cost-effective. The solid material left after extraction is called pomace. It still contains some oil. This oil can be extracted using higher heat or chemical solvents. However, this comes with its' own set of disadvantages. Solvents can leave trace amounts, which are potentially harmful to your health. The high heat will increase oxidation, reduce the antioxidant properties of the oil, and produce dangerous free radicals. Pomace oil is not olive oil and it should not be marketed as such. Unfortunately, quite a few companies are suspect of diluting their extra virgin olive oil with lower grades. To avoid these fake olive oils, opt for small but well-certified producers. Always double check the label, too. If something doesn't taste right, switch to another brand.
Cold Pressed Olive Oil: Is It Also Extra Virgin?
Cold pressed means that the temperature of pressing was below 81 degrees Fahrenheit. It is one of the requirements for extra virgin olive oil to be called that. But if the oil you're buying is not labelled as extra virgin olive oil it may be cold pressed, but still refined. The process of refining can reduce acidity and improve the taste. This happens through various techniques but most of them do require chemicals. Extra virgin olive oil naturally comes out at a low acidity. Bleaching and deodorizing can also be involved in the refining process. Bleaching simply removes the natural pigments. These can include chlorophyll and carotenoids, which have a bunch of benefits of their own. It can possibly remove some of the pesticides, too. However, it also reduces the nutrients found in the oil and that's why you should opt for unbleached and unrefined as often as possible.
Cold Pressed Olive Oil: Why It's The Best
Ultimately, cold pressed olive oil is the best kind you can buy. However, it is also important that you buy extra virgin and organic to ensure you are getting all of the benefits and none of the potentially harmful chemicals.
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