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Everything You Need to Know About Buying, Storing and Cooking with Olive Oil

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Olive oil is a beloved kitchen staple, whether it’s used as a condiment, cooking oil, marinade or something else entirely.

But where did it come from? And how do you select the best bottle? Here’s everything you need to know about olive oil.

A Brief History of Olive Oil

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The International Olive Council (IOC) originated in Madrid in 1959 under the United Nations. It sets industry and sustainability standards for olive tree growth and olive oil production.

According to the IOC, “the origin of the olive tree is lost in time,” but it likely dates from the first Mediterranean societies. It’s believed that the trees gradually throughout the Greek isles, Italy, Spain and Portugal between the 16th century B.C.E. and 45 B.C.E.

Early colonists brought olive farming to the United States.

What are Olives, Exactly?

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An olive is a drupe, fleshy with a single, central seed. Its sugar content is less than other drupes like cherries and plums, and its oil content ranges from 12–30%, depending on when it’s harvested. Roughly 139 varieties of olives can be pressed for edible oil.

What Does Extra-Virgin, Fresh-Pressed, and First Cold Press Mean?

Ann Sievers, owner, olive grower and miller at IL Fiorello Olive Oil Company in Fairfield, California, says that an extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) certification label can be a sign of quality for consumers, as the oil meets specific standards and has no sensory defects.

“Extra-virgin olive oil [must] be nothing but olives,” says Sievers. “Therefore, by definition, infused olive oils cannot be labeled ‘extra-virgin.’” EVOO also has the lowest concentration of oleic acid, an omega fatty acid, of all the virgin categories.

The IOC, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other state entities have established sensory and chemical standards for EVOO certification.