Olive Oil Origin & Production

Olive oil comes from the juice of the olive fruit. Olive trees were originally cultivated in the Mediterranean region thousands of years ago and today are grown around the world. About 95% of olive oil continues to be produced in the Mediterranean region, including Europe and North Africa.

Understanding the basics of olive oil production can help to clarify the distinctions of the grades. Virtually all olive oil produced today is graded according to the guidelines maintained by the IOC in its trade standard. This standard defines grades of olive oil through two primary measurements –

  1. Chemistry Analysis – to rate quality level and confirm purity
  2. Organoleptic Analysis – to rate positive and negative sensory attributes (aromas and tastes)

Our olive oil grade comparison chart gives a high-level description of the main chemistry and organoleptic differences between the grades commonly sold in North America.

One major difference in olive oil production compared to seed oils is that olive oil production can be completed from start to finish using only mechanical processes, without the aid of chemicals. In fact, the IOC definition for virgin olive oils specifically states no added heat or chemicals can be used in production.

Production Process Click on each section to learn more.

In the Mediterranean, the harvest usually happens from October through January, depending upon the region and olive varietal. Olives are harvested from the trees using one of several methods – picking by hand; shaking the tree with poles or a mechanical shaker and catching the fruit in nets; or with large farm equipment that drives over the trees to remove the fruit mechanically. Within hours of harvest, the olives are brought to a mill for processing. Olives are washed with water and separated from the stems and branches.
Today, this is typically done by machine (hence crushing instead of the traditional "press") and results in an olive paste. The term "Cold Press" or "First Cold Press" refers to two ideas – "Cold" refers to the fact that no heat is added during this stage of production, and "Press" refers to the traditional devices used for thousands of years to crush the olives.
The crushed olive paste moves on to the Decanting stage – where a decanter machine physically spins to separate the oil & water from the solid matter. Next, the oil & water are separated from each other in a centrifuge, another mechanical process.
The resulting oil goes through chemistry and sensory analysis as outlined by the IOC to determine the appropriate grade of the oil.
Oil that meets both chemical and sensory specifications for Extra Virgin or Virgin is now ready for sale, bottling or blending.

Oil with chemical or sensory defects is sent to be refined. The refining process may vary slightly by processor, but one commonly used method still relies on only physical processes - mainly vacuum separation and filtering – to remove color, odor and flavor. The result is refined olive oil.

Refined olive oil is then blended with virgin or extra virgin olive oil to create Olive Oil (also called Pure Olive Oil) or Light Tasting Olive Oil. The final blend is now ready for sale or bottling.