The olive culture


When the olive harvest takes place, not all the fruit obtained is suitable for producing Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Virgin Olive Oil. There is a high percentage of olives that are of poor quality due to various factors: being bruised, fallen to the ground, damaged by pests or weather agents, overripe, etc. These low-quality olives undergo their own process at the mill, from which we obtain another type of oil: Lampante Olive Oil.

Approximately 50% of Olive Oil produced in olive mills is Lampante Olive Oil. It is a lower quality product and, furthermore, not suitable for consumption. This type of oil has high acidity and an unpleasant taste and odor that makes it unsuitable for direct consumption. In fact, the traditional name 'Lampante' comes from its use as fuel in oil lamps.

Due to its poor quality and inedibility, Lampante Olive Oil is sent to oil refineries to produce Refined Olive Oil. To correct the defects of Lampante Olive Oil, it undergoes a process called refining.

How does the refining process work?

It is essential to understand the refining process to know that Refined Olive Oil has nothing to do with Virgin Olive Oil. On the contrary, Refined Olive Oil is more similar to refined sunflower oil than Virgin Olive Oil.

Every type of oil, except for Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, must undergo a refining process to make it edible. This process is the same for all oils. It is important to know that the only oil in the world that can be consumed without undergoing a refining process is Virgin Olive Oil, as it can be consumed as juice. This fact is unknown to most Olive Oil consumers. Refining plants, which legally cannot be located in the same facility as an olive mill, process different types of oils such as Lampante Olive Oil, crude sunflower oil, crude soybean oil, etc.

Therefore, oil refining is a chemical-physical process that is very vigorous and drastic, consisting of seven distinct stages. Process aids such as phosphoric acid, caustic soda, activated earth, and/or activated carbon are used.

What are the stages of the oil refining process?

First: Degumming Stage

By adding water and phosphoric acid, some compounds such as phospholipids and gums that can cause the formation of mucilages and gummy substances in containers, which are unattractive to consumers, are removed. Unfortunately, this process also eliminates other desirable compounds, such as some proteins.

Second: Neutralization Stage

In this stage, the acidity of the oil is eliminated. This is achieved by adding caustic soda. Thus, a chemical reaction of neutralization takes place, where fatty acids combine with caustic soda to form soaps that are separated from the oil by centrifugation, leaving the acidity of the oil practically at zero (neutral). This process also involves the elimination of a large part of carotenes and polyphenols, which are precursors of Vitamin A and antioxidants normally present in Virgin Olive Oils.

Third: Washing Stage

Washing is carried out using hot water to remove any remaining soaps from the neutral oil.

Fourth: Drying Stage

In this stage, the neutral and wet oil is subjected to high-temperature drying under vacuum conditions.

Fifth: Bleaching Stage

This stage involves the removal of substances responsible for the color. These are mainly carotenes and chlorophyll. The oil is treated with activated clay with sulfuric acid at 100°C and/or activated carbon, depending on the intensity of the color.

Sixth: Deodorization Stage

It consists of a high-vacuum distillation with steam and high temperatures of 250°C. This drastic distillation process eliminates almost everything, except the oil molecule, which is a triglyceride with a boiling point higher than 300°C, allowing this drastic distillation known as deodorization. Thus, all compounds responsible for unpleasant odors and flavors, as well as the rest of fatty acids and most tocopherols, sterols, and polyphenols are removed by distillation. (Keep in mind that the maximum temperature of a fryer is 180°C, and in the deodorization process, it operates at 250°C and high vacuum (absence of air) to prevent the oil from catching fire during the process).

Seventh: Winterization Stage

The purpose of this process is to remove triglycerides with higher melting points and waxes, ensuring that the oil remains liquid at room temperatures. The oil is cooled, and triglycerides and waxes solidify and are removed by centrifugation or filtration. We can say that, of the original composition of Lampante Virgin Olive Oil, only triglycerides remain, as almost all of the unsaponifiable fraction has been eliminated. With it, all the unpleasant odors, flavors, and colors of Lampante oil have been removed, but also all the substances responsible for the beneficial properties of Virgin Olive Oils.

Through the refining process, Olive Oil loses its Virgin status. As a result, Refined Olive Oil is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless vegetable fat that is only distinguished from other vegetable oils (sunflower, soybean, rapeseed, etc.) by its content of oleic acid, which is the only nutritional advantage it retains after refining.


 Spanish Paradox

Olive Oil, which is a blend of refined olive oil with virgin or extra virgin olive oil in varying proportions, but where the percentage of refined olive oil is always greater than 80%, is commercially referred to as "olive oil" and is the most consumed oil in Spain. We are also the world's largest producer of this product, a fact unknown to many.

It is paradoxical that despite Spain being the largest producer of olive oil in the world, the healthy virgin olive oils are the least valued here, as evidenced by the per capita consumption of different types of olive oil. In Spain, the consumption of refined olive oil is double that of virgin and extra virgin olive oil. In Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy, where per capita olive oil consumption is higher than in Spain, refined olive oil is hardly consumed at all.

Now that we know this, we can no longer believe that all Olive Oils are equally beneficial to health. The health benefits are derived from vitamins, minerals, phytosterols, antioxidants, polyphenols, and essential fatty acids. All of these nutrients are very sensitive to heat and degrade if processed at temperatures higher than 28ºC (remember that the refining process involves temperatures of 250ºC).

The fate of Refined Olive Oil is to be mixed with some Virgin Olive Oil and sold under the commercial name of "Olive Oil," where refined oil constitutes 80%-90% of the blend. In these olive oils, the healthy part can only come from the Virgin Olive Oil with which it was mixed. The labels of these products usually state: "Contains exclusively Refined Olive Oils and Virgin Olive Oils," without specifying the percentage of the blend. The main requirement for the mixture is that the acidity must be less than or equal to 1º.

Olive Oils labeled as 'Intense' or 'Smooth' are Olive Oils with different proportions of Virgin Oils inside. The industry prefers these marketing terms rather than disclosing the actual mixture proportions. Intense Olive Oils have a stronger flavor because they contain a higher proportion of virgin oil, while Smooth ones have a lower proportion. Therefore, if you decide to consume the category "Olive Oil," we recommend choosing "Intense," as it will have a higher proportion of Virgin Olive Oils.

Finally, let us provide you with the legal definitions of Refined Olive Oil and Olive Oil:

Refined Olive Oil: Olive oil obtained by refining Virgin Olive Oils, with a free acidity expressed as oleic acid not exceeding 0.3ºC per 100g, and with other characteristics conforming to those established for this category.

Olive Oil: Contains exclusively a blend of Refined Olive Oils and Virgin Olive Oils, different from Lampante Oil, with a free acidity expressed as oleic acid not exceeding 1º per 100g, and with other characteristics conforming to those established for this category.

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