The Secrets of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Real Academia de Gastronomía

As both a food and a seasoning, the nutritional qualities of virgin olive oil, and its exceptional flavor, have positioned it at the heart of Spanish cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. Let's take a look at the manufacturing processes for this so-called "liquid gold."

Olive oil and olivesReal Academia de Gastronomía

Olive oil is the juice of the olive, a fat obtained directly by mechanical means, without the need for any solvents or heating.

Its exceptional quality is best appreciated raw, but it also adds a unique flavor when used to braise or fry foods.

Olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Each variety of olive oil has its own distinctive characteristics, which can be fully appreciated in the extra virgin grades.

These differences between the varieties of olive, from which the oil is extracted, are generated by the type of soil, the climate, the collection system, and the extraction methods, among other things.

Olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Total Dominance

Spain is currently the number one producer and exporter of olive oil in the world, and 70% of the total it produces is consumed within the European Union.

Olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Olive Oils

In addition to extra virgin olive oil, other, lower-quality olive oils are available.

Olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is the highest quality classification. It has a fruity flavor, with no defects, and with a maximum acidity no higher than 0.8%. It can be from a single variety of olive, or multiple varieties blended together; in both cases it can be granted Protected Designation of Origin.

According to labeling regulations established by the European Union, the bottle must include the phrase: "superior-grade olive oil obtained directly from olives and only by mechanical means."

Sometimes "extra virgin olive oil" is abbreviated using the acronym EVOO.

Olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Virgin Olive Oil

It has an acidity level equal to or less than 2%. Its minor defects are barely noticeable to the consumer. It can be single varietal or blended.

The labeling should state: "olive oil obtained directly from olives and only by mechanical means."

Olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Olive Oil

This grade contains refined olive oils and virgin olive oils. Its labeling should declare: "oil that exclusively contains olive oils that have undergone refining treatment and oils obtained directly from olives."

Olive branch and olivesReal Academia de Gastronomía

Olive Varieties Used in the Production of Olive Oil

There are more than 200 varieties of olives grown in Spain. The most common are Picual, Arbequina, Hojiblanca, and Cornicabra. Generally, the variety of oil gets its name from the variety of olive it contains.

Picual oliveReal Academia de Gastronomía

Picual: This variety produces oils with big personality, full bodied, and with the fruitiness of green olives. The flavor of the olive leaf, with its slight bitterness and pungency, is easily recognizable.

It is the predominant variety in the Designations of Origin known as Sierra de Segura, Sierra Mágina, Priego de Córdoba, and Sierra de Cazorla, all from Andalusia.

Hojiblanca oliveReal Academia de Gastronomía

Hojiblanca: The oils made from this olive variety are characterized by the flavors and aromas of freshly cut grass, artichoke, and aromatic plants. The fore palate is sweet, with a slight bitterness, and a lingering pungency in the mouth.

This variety is also very popular as a table olive. Its Spanish name comes from the white color of the underside of the leaf.

Cornicabra oliveReal Academia de Gastronomía

Cornicabra: Its extra virgin olive oils are highly aromatic, with fruity olive flavors, and also hints of other fruits including apple. There are herbaceous notes of olive leaf on the palate, with a slight bitter taste.

The variety has deep roots in Castilla-La Mancha. Its elongated shape resembles a budding goat's horn.

Aberquina oliveReal Academia de Gastronomía

Arbequina: It produces a high-quality, very fruity oil, with a gentle green-apple flavor, slightly bitter and somewhat sweet.

It comes from the region of La Arbeca, in Lleida. It may be the variety that best lends itself to intensive cultivation; there are extensive Arbequina plantations in California.

Empeltre oliveReal Academia de Gastronomía

Empeltre: The oil from this variety has a highly fruity flavor, with hints of sweet green apple and almonds, and a good balance of bitterness and pungency. It is the predominant variety in Aragon and the Balearic Islands.

Olive harvestReal Academia de Gastronomía

Production of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The methods that the Arabs introduced to the Iberian Peninsula have evolved over time. These days, the process is mechanized and based on cold extraction.

Olive branch and olivesReal Academia de Gastronomía

In order to obtain a high-quality extra virgin olive oil, it is important that the olives are harvested at the right time for the required results: at the beginning of the season for a green oil, or at the end for a milder, golden-colored oil.

Olive harvestReal Academia de Gastronomía

The Harvest

Traditional picking methods, consisting of shaking the branches with a stick to dislodge the fruits, are mostly redundant these days. Instead, mechanical methods are used, such as clamp vibrators, umbrella vibrators, combs, and even harvesting machines.

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages; the important thing is that the fruit is not damaged, so it arrives at the oil mill in perfect condition.

Olive harvestReal Academia de Gastronomía

Once picked, the olives are taken straight to the oil mill, where the oil is made, to be treated and to avoid any fermentation that might affect the oil quality.

Outside the mill, the fruits to be used in the production of the different quality oils (extra virgin, virgin, etc.) are selected.

Olives in an oil millReal Academia de Gastronomía


The olives are placed into the cleaning machines, where any impurities are removed from the surface (e.g. sticks and leaves) and from inside (e.g. stones and mud). They are then transferred to the washing machines, where the cleaning process is finalized.

Olive pasteReal Academia de Gastronomía

Blending and Spinning

The ground pulp is sent to the blenders, where it is beaten at a controlled temperature to enable the solids to be separated from the liquid.

Olive OilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Tips for Home Storage

As a perishable product, extra virgin olive oil has no expiration date, but rather a best-before date, after which its sensory qualities, such as smell or taste, can be altered; the oil develops over time, loses some of its nutritional value, and oxidizes.

In order to keep it in optimum condition it is essential that it is stored in opaque and hermetically sealed containers such as cans or dark glass bottles.

The most important thing is to keep it at room temperature, and always away from fire.

Credits: Story

Text: María García, in collaboration with Ismael Diaz Yubero, Spain’s representative at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Advisor for the Spanish Embassy in Rome. Member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Image: Foods & Wines from Spain / Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade / PDO ""Priego de Córdoba"" / PDO ""Les Garrigues"" / Agricultural Cooperative of Juncosa, SCCL / PDO Estepa.

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps