According to the International Olive Council (IOC) based in Madrid, Spain and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), extra virgin olive oil is the top grade of olive oil.
The IOC is the world’s intergovernmental organization in the olives and olive oil sector. The member nations of the IOC are mainly the nations around the Mediterranean region.
The USDA is a department in the United States that develops and executes policies on agriculture , farming and food. The USDA standards are the beginning for enforcing good quality standards in the USA. The USDA does not enforce regulations, it is not an enforcement agency, it is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who is the enforcer of such regulations. The “Truth in labeling” is an issue that the FDA controls.
The two organizations have established guides and management rules for the quality of the extra virgin olive oil. Although extra virgin olive oil should be free of defects, there have been reports that it has been adulterated with cheaper seed oils. When it has been adulterated with low grade refined olive oil, it is difficult to detect.
There are testing methods used by the IOC/USDA to analyze the quality and virginity of olive oil.
Fatty Acids. Analysis of fatty acids formed by hydrolysis of the triacylglycerols during the processing and storage. High level of free fatty acids is an indication of poor quality olive oil.
Fatty Acids Profile. Fatty acids are the most important component of fats and fatty acid profiles are the markers between olive oils. The fatty acid profiles are different, depending on the growing conditions and region. They determine the virginity of the extra virgin olive oil.
Peroxides. Peroxides are the main oxidation contents that form when olive oil is exposed to oxygen, developing bad odors and flavors.
Sterols Profile. Sterol analysis shows the purity of olive oil and indicates adulteration with other oils. Sometimes sterols exceed the expected IOC limits, due to variety and climate.
Sensory. Sensory indicates taste and feel. It helps with the identification of poor quality olive oil.
Poly-phenols. Poly-phenols are antioxidants that are important for the improvement of the shelf life. They decrease with prolonged storage and do not indicate authenticity.
Sometimes extra virgin olive oil does not meet the IOC/USDA standards because they are made from damaged and overripe olives.
The California Olive Oil Council (COOC) has a program that gives its members a seal for California produced olive oils that meet the standards of the COOC for chemical analysis and found free of defects.
The COOC standards for free fatty acids is 0.5%. The IOC standards is 0.8%. The USDA standards is 0.8%. The North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) standards is 0.8%. The Australian Olive Association (AOA) standards is 0.8%. The Olives New Zealand (ONZ) standards is 0.5% and the 3E group standards is 0.3%.
The 3E group is an international group that certifies Greek, Italian, Spanish and Californian olive oils with higher standards than extra virgin olive oil. This group requires the oil to be bottled in dark glass and if in clear glass, it should be boxed to block the light.