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Olive oil – Liquid Gold

The olive oil industry is seemingly not without its villains that blend various qualities of this fine product with less expensive and even health damaging vegetable oil for increased profit margins. The South African market, also not immune to cheap imports, is flooded with these products, luring consumers away from our high quality, but more expensive locally produced olive oils. There’s evidence of these imports on many supermarkets’ shelves, which is concerning, given the risk of no surety of the quality and purity of these oils. South Africa has established a voluntary association that aims to represent the interests of the local olive oil industry and protect the consumer against poor quality and fraudulent adulterated imports. They have introduced a Commitment to Compliance seal to ensure you know how to choose the best quality locally produced oils. The seal is indicative of a 100% South African product, produced in accordance with the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) and SA Olive Codes of Practice standards. The seal also means that the labelling’s transparent, indicating the true classification of the product (eg. extra virgin olive oil) and displaying the harvesting year.


Olive oils are classified in terms of their extraction methods, which determine their chemical and physical properties, but they are also rated in terms of their taste and fragrance or aroma and so grouped under intensely fruity, medium intensity or delicate. The cultivar, ripeness of the fruit, area of origin and the climate influence the colour, flavour, aroma and texture of the oil. It’s common practice for olive oil producers to blend different cultivars to ensure year on year consistency of their olive oil products. The SA Olive Industry Association says, ”The best by far is Cold Pressed Extra Virgin, with full retention of all the wonderful flavours and health promoting constituents.”

Terminology/Classification Properties
Extra virgin olive oil Completely natural and unrefined with a free fatty acid (oleic acid) content less than 0.8%
Virgin olive oil Completely natural and unrefined with a free fatty acid content (oleic acid) less than 2%
Cold pressed olive oil Milling temperature is kept below 27-30 ̊C which prevents the destruction of the temperature sensitive vitamins, antioxidants and flavour compounds
Pure olive oil
Olive oil
Light olive oil
Oil blends that are either refined or contain a proportion of refined olive oil. These may not contain more than 1% of free fatty acids (oleic acid) and are country specific
Refined olive oil Low quality defective olive oils are deodorised and bleached, rendering them tasteless and almost colourless. According to the IOOC they are classified to contain less than 0.3% free fatty acids (oleic acid) and are country specific in terms of their grading as fit for human consumption
Light olive oil Light is an indication of flavour and colour, not of reduced calories. All oils contain the same calories
Refined olive Pomace oil Olive oil residue (press cake) treated with a chemical solvent to extract any remaining oil and re-esterified to reduce the acidity. Graded to contain less than 0.3% free fatty acids (oleic acid). The refined olive Pomace oil may only be sold directly to the consumer if permitted in the country of retail sale
Olive Pomace oil A blend of refined Pomace oil and virgin olive oil to help restore some colour and flavour, but may not be classified as an olive oil. A free fatty acid (oleic acid) content of less than 1%. The country of retail may require a more specific designation before classifying it as fit for human consumption and allowing its sale


Olive oil also contains various amounts of the different vitamin E molecules (mostly alpha-tocopherol), which help protect the oil against turning rancid and naturally provide antioxidant properties. It’s also a rich source of vitamin K, like green leafy vegetables. An interesting finding shows that oleocanthol, the pungent component in olive oil with a peppery taste has similar anti-inflammatory properties to the pharmaceutical medicine, ibuprofen.


The unique flavour of extra virgin olive oil is said to be related to the many chemical compounds it contains. Olive oil is rich in polyphenols, known for their antioxidant action, and there appears to be a strong correlation between polyphenol content and smell and flavour. So picking a more flavourful olive oil could have positive spin-offs.


Unlike wine, olive oil does not mature with age. It should be consumed as fresh as possible. Therefore, buying SA produce, sporting the Commitment to Compliance seal, will ensure you’re buying the freshest oil possible. South African olive oil harvests take place between March and June or July, so by the end of August or September, fresh oils are available. The best storage conditions for olive oil are in air-tight glass containers stored in a cool dark place, but not in the fridge. If purchased in bulk, it’s advisable to decant in smaller containers to limit oxidation from frequent opening. In the past five years, South African olive oils have regularly received international quality awards. So, proudly support South Africa, as our olive oils are amongst the best in the world and keep in mind the highest quality olive oil is extra virgin that is cold pressed.

References include

1 SA Olive Oil Industry Association. Nov 2012
2 International Olive Council. Designations and definitions of olive oils. Nov 2012
3 Badr El-Din N, Omaye S. Concentration-dependent antioxidant activities of conjugated linoleic acid and α-tocopherol in corn oil. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Nov 2007;87(14):2715-20
4 Lehmann J, Martin H, et al. Vitamin E in foods from high and low linoleic acid diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1986;86(9):1208-16
5 USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Nov 2012
6 Beauchamp GK, Keast RSJ, et al. Phytochemistry: Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Nature. Sep 2005;437:45-6
7 Gutfinger T. Polyphenols in olive oils. Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society. Nov 1981;58(11):966-8
8 Andrewes P, Busch J, et all. Sensory Properties of Virgin Olive Oil Polyphenols: Identification of Deacetoxy-ligstroside Aglycon as a Key Contributor to Pungency. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2003;51(5):1415-20
9 Olive Oil Source. Flavour and Taste. Nov 2012
10 Olives SA. Nov 2012

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