Spain is great at wine it is also great at many other things but when it comes to olive oil it is by far the best in the world.
Spain is, in fact, the largest olive oil producer in the world, producing over 44% of the world’s olive oil. So, it is the Spanish harvest that sets the global pricing for olive oil and every September the world looks at Spain to see how the olives are developing just before the imminent harvest season. In fact, a large percentage of Italian Brands and Greek Brands actually fill their bottles with Spanish olive oil, as do the French with Spanish wine. So, the chances are you have all tried Spanish olive oil even though you thought it was Italian!
Olive oil is an integral part of Spanish cooking and has been since the Phoenicians and Greeks introduced the olive tree to the Iberian Peninsula in ancient times. The Romans continued to cultivate olives and improved oil production technologies. Olive oil from the Peninsula was considered of very high quality and was in demand in Rome, as well as other parts of the Empire. The Moors then improved further on the cultivation of olives and oil production. The Spanish word for oil is aceite which originates from the Arabic word al-zait, meaning “olive juice”.
There are different varieties of olives and olive oil, as well as different grades or quality of olive oil. The European Community, which Spain is a member of, now regulates the grading of olive oil, protecting the consumer from buying an inferior grade of oil for an inflated price! The acidity level of oil refers to the amount or percentage of oleic acid. How does the acidity come about? If the olives fall from the tree and burst open on the ground, it can occur through the process of oxidation. It can also take place if the olives are stored too long before pressing. The lower the percentage of acid, the better the oil and more fruity the taste.
There are nine different classes of olive oil.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Virgin Olive Oil
- Virgin Olive Oil “Corriente”
- Virgin Olive Oil “Lampante”
- Refined Olive Oil
- Olive Oil
- Crude Pomace Olive Oil
- Refined Pomace Olive Oil
- Pomace Olive Oil
Only number 1 and 2 are apt for direct human consumption but unfortunately, all can be found eventually at some point in the food chain, once refined, filtered and treated many are mixed with a percentage of Extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is the best choice to dress a salad or other cold dishes. It has a strong flavor as long as it isn’t compromised by heat. In Spain, this would most likely be the oil that you would find drizzled over a cold tapa or salad dish. It’s the best Spanish olive oil for preparing traditional Mediterranean dishes that are sauteed or pan-seared, too.