Instructions for use for a conscious choice (by LUIGI CENTAURI, CAPOL president)

Extra virgin olive oil. One preposition and four words to identify one of the product symbol of the Mediterranean diet. About oil and olive there’s not too much to explain, while it needs to scribble a couple of lines about the other two. Why the oil is virgin? Because it is obtained through mechanical process, the chemistry is banned during the extraction. Even today that the technology took a step forward, to obtain an olive oil is nothing more than make a fresh-squeezed olive juice. Why it’s important to say that? Because in the supermarkets it’s easy to bump into products which contains olive oil but not extra virgin. They look similar but, really, they have in common only the raw material. In fact, the olive oil is an oil that suffered a refining process with a little addition of virgin oil.

During this process, a lot of healthy substances get lost. Let’s move on the second question: why extra virgin? Because from an olive oil mill can come from three types of oil: a good (quality) oil, a medium (quality) oil and an oil that can’t be used for cooking, that’s an oil that has to be refined to be edible, known as lamp oil (good to light and not to feed). The medium (quality) oil, that can have not excellent chemical parameters  and/or soft organoleptic faults, is called virgin oil; the best oil is instead the extra virgin, an oil that is no defective to the nose and the mouth, by the way. By the law, this last one is the best we can find on the market but, really, things are different. Given that the oil is for 98-99% composed by triglycerides, so fat, it can be a big different between extra virgin and extra virgin. The substances responsible for the fragrance, the antioxidants, are in the remaining part, in that 1-2% called unsaponifiable fraction. The contents of polyphenols, the natural antioxidants about which we’ll discuss during the rest of the publication, can change for example from 60 to more than 600 mg/kg. It’s easy to realize that greater is the concentration of those substances, greater will be the benefit from the consumption. At this stage is essential other question: how distinguish a quality oil? Surely not reading the label, they are all equal. There needs to rely on the own senses, the smell and the taste. The sight has not an important role: the colour says nothing about the oil quality, yellow or green, it can be good or less good. In order to seize all the shades, to become expert tasters, there needs to training and practice but, even without schooling, with some notion is possible to be orientated into the world of the oil. First of all, a good oil has a good fragrance. It seems obvious but it’s not at all. Most people don’t know the fragrance of a good oil. They remember for example the smell of grandfather’s oil, that of the oil used for cooking when they were young, but it’s not obvious that was a quality oil. In fact, it’s important to stress that genuine is not synonym of oil quality. Not because an oil is handcrafted, made by a manufacturer that knows each one of his trees, that grind in the little olive oil mill of the country, that is surely extra virgin.

Even today most people make mistakes during the harvest, choose obsolete processing plants and they obtain oils that could be virgin or lamp. So the advice is, as a first approach, to ask for a professional help and choose an oil that has obtained good positions in competitions. The next step is compare it with an oil bought on sale at the supermarket. The differences will be evident. Then, it’s possible to taste the oil. It’s enough to put a little in the mouth and if the oil is a quality oil you will feel a bitter taste and a spicy in the throat that could be very pronounced. Right then, far from being perfect, these sensations show that in the oil there are antioxidants. By simplifying it’s possible to say that greatest are these smells, greatest is the contents of polyphenols. So, if an oil is bitter and spicy, is a quality oil, not an oil to bring back to the producer. It’s so easy, isn’t it? If after this experience the consumer will want to examine in depth, a whole other world will open up for him. There are hundreds of varieties and each one has specific characteristics. There are those that give tomatoes’ smells, others almond’s, others artichoke’s, aromatic herbs and much else. It’s necessary a guide to seize this  shade but there will be occasions to take a course.

Ended the general speech, let’s talk briefly about the province of Latina’s oil. In the area the predominant variety is the Itrana, that is almost in all the olive districts in the area. In the past it was known especially like oliva da mensa, the famous Gaeta’s olive is nothing more than an itrana olive completely ripe, so black, deprived of bitter taste, before only with water and then in brine. During the XV century it was already well-known beyond the borders. For almost a decade, the authorised personnel reflect also about the oil obtained from the itrana. Regularly, local producers step up on the podiums of the most important national competitions. When the olives are prematurely harvested, that is not completely mature, give an oil with high quality characteristics that can be appreciated both from experts and consumers. In the nose stand out a green tomato smell very accentuated, combined with an upper-middle level of fragrances in general. In the mouth the smell is still evident and it is combined with bitter and spicy’ s marks determined but never too accentuated. Sign that the concentration of polyphenols is important but doesn’t compromise the use for cooking. When evaluating an oil, when choosing an oil for cooking, is necessary to find a compromise between the health quality and those organoleptic. On the market it’s possible find oils with very high polyphenols’ concentration but to taste they show very bitter and spicy, making the use very difficult. In fact, the smell of the food show changed. As in all things, the best choice lies in between: for everyday use is good choose an oil mildly bitter and spicy able to guarantee the right amount of antioxidants without compromising the food taste. Itrana’s oil has this characteristics.