Grades of olive oil are defined by various standards around the world. These different standards around the world show slight differences in terms of the parameters used to define each grade.1,2
There are various grades of olive oil, each having distinct differences in terms of production method, quality and suitability for consumption. It is important to understand the various grades of olive oil, particularly Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Olive Oil, as these pertain not only to the quality of the oil, but also to its taste and health attributes. Broadly the quality parameters used to define the different grades are based on chemical and sensory (organoleptic) testing.
The following grades and descriptions of olive oil are based on the Australian Standard for Olive oil and olive-pomace oil.2
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Natural Olive Oils
Natural olive oils are obtained solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, including thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone and treatment other than washing, crushing, malaxing, decantation, pressing, centrifugation, and filtration.2
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
EVOO is the highest grade of Olive Oil and the fresh juice of the olive. It is a natural olive oil that has a free acidity, expressed as free oleic acid, of no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams and no sensory defects.2 It must also display all other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard. As a result of its high quality and minimal processing, EVOO is high in natural antioxidants, vitamin E and phytosterols from the olive fruit.3,4
Virgin Olive Oil (VOO)
VOO is naturally obtained by the same process as EVOO. However, it is a lower quality oil, with a free acidity of no more than 2.0 g per 100 g and/or slight organoleptic defects.2 It must also display all other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard.
Lampante Olive Oil
Lampante olive oil is also a naturally obtained oil, however, it’s quality parameters render it unfit for human consumption without further processing. It has a free acidity level of more than 2.0 grams per 100 grams and/or a median of defects higher than 2.5.2 It must also display all other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard. It is only intended to be used for refining or technical use.
Refined Olive Oils
Refined olive oils are obtained from natural olive oils by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. Refining methods can include degumming, neutralization and bleaching.
Refined Olive Oil (ROO)
ROO is obtained from refining natural olive oils by methods including deodorization which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceride structure. It has a free acidity of no more than 0.3g per 100 grams.2 This low acidity content is due to the refining processes employed and not the quality of the oil. The refining process also strips the oil of most natural antioxidants found in unrefined oils and may produce trans fats.3-5 ROO must also display all other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard.
Olive Oil (OO)
OO is a blend of refined olive oil and natural olive oils that is fit for human consumption. It has a free acidity of not more than 1.0 grams per 100 g.2 As OO contains ROO, it is also low in natural antioxidants and may produce higher levels of trans fats.3-5 OO must also display all other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard.
Olive-pomace oils are obtained by treating olive pomace with solvents or other physical treatments, excluding oils obtained by re-esterification processes and any mixture with oils of other kinds with the exception of olive oils. Olive pomace is the remaining solid paste after pressing olives to produce natural olive oils.
Crude olive-pomace oil
This is the olive-pomace whose characteristics correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard.2 This olive-pomace oil is intended for refining in order for the oil to be suitable for human consumption or for technical use.
Refined Olive-Pomace Oil
This is the oil obtained from crude olive-pomace oil by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceride structure. It has a free acidity of no more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams, and its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard.2
Olive-Pomace Oil – Composed of Refined Olive-Pomace Oils and Virgin (or Extra Virgin) Olive Oils
This oil consists of a blend of refined olive-pomace oil and natural olive oils fit for human consumption. It has a free acidity of no more than 1.0 grams per 100 grams, a median of defects equal or less than 2.5, and its other characteristics correspond to those fixed for this grade in the standard.2
Confusing and misleading terminology which is not permitted in the Australian Standards
Historically, certification standards for grades of olive oil have mostly been technical in nature, and have not included labelling requirements that prevent confusing the consumer.
The Australian standards for olive oil and olive-pomace oil include guidelines on what can and cannot be included on the food label when describing the grade of olive oil to prevent misleading consumers.
“Extra Light” or “Pure” olive oil are not permitted in the Australian standards. Olive oils not taking part in the Australian standards that include these descriptions on the label are referring to refined olive oils, not naturally produced virgin olive oils. “Extra Light” olive oil is also not lower in calories.
- International Olive Oil Council. Designations and definitions of olive oil. Available at: http://www.internationaloliveoil.org/estaticos/view/83-designations-and-definitions-of-olive-oils
- Standards Australia. Australian Standard: Olive oils and olive pomace oils. As 5264-2011. Standards Australia Limited 2011.
- Boskou D. Olive Oil – Minor constituents and health. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2009
- Servili M, Esposto S, Fabiani R, et al. Phenolic compounds in olive oil: antioxidant, health and organoleptic activities according to their chemical structure. Inflammopharmacology 2009; 17: 76-84.
- Teresa SM, Shu‐Wen H and N. FE. Effect of natural antioxidants in virgin olive oil on oxidative stability of refined, bleached, and deodorized olive oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society 1995; 72: 1131-1137. DOI: doi:10.1007/BF02540978.