A growing taste for pressed-infused olive oils
by Isabel Putinja
Few can resist a quality extra virgin olive oil enhanced with the flavours of fruits, herbs or even spices. A touch of olive oil embellished with natural flavours can elevate a dish, or add a delicious finishing touch to an appetiser. Some of the most popular flavouring ingredients for olive oil include chilli, orange, lemon, garlic, or basil.
Of course, there is a fine art to creating the perfectly extracted-infused olive oil, which is also one of high quality. If not dosed correctly, its flavour can be overpowering. Sometimes flavours or essences are deliberately used to mask defects in an olive oil. Also, instead of pure extracts, low quality chemical compounds are added instead – “truffle” oil is a good example.
Flavoured, infused or extracted? When it comes to appellations, the names used for these specialty olive oils can vary and are sometimes used interchangeably. Oils described as “flavoured” or “aromatic” are usually mixed with aromas or essences, while an “infused” oil is one to which an ingredient has been added to olive oil after it has already been extracted. “Extracted” oils are produced by extracting the olives along with the fruit or herb at the same time during the milling process. These are also sometimes called fused oils.
Pressed-infused olive oils: an increasing trend
“Best Extracted-Infused Olive Oil” is one of three prize categories for which awards will be granted at Olio Nuovo Days 2023, the other two being Best Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Health Claim. The inclusion of the “extracted-infused” prize category in the competition reflects the growing market for these specialty olive oil products.
“Five years ago there were very few competitions with awards for extracted-infused olive oils,” says Kostas Liris, olive oil expert and Olio Nuovo Days 2023 jury chairman. “Nowadays it’s very common. There are no academic rules in this competition except for the balance of flavour, because this product no longer falls under the category of extra virgin olive oil. It is a dressing of extra virgin olive oil plus the fruit which can be used in different ways, and made in different ways. There’s a huge market for it and it’s growing day after day.”
Extracted-infused olive oils are also often an entryway into the world of olive oil for consumers who are not familiar with the premium extra virgin variety. “Here in Spain, our flavoured oils are very popular,” confirm Marina and Carmen Segura of AOVE Peña Luna. “We first introduced our olive oils flavoured with lemon, mandarin orange, and basil, because we wanted to try something new, while the garlic one is our newest variety. We’re innovating and have ideas for new flavoured oils in the works.”
Producer Mounir Boussetta of Domaine de Segermès in Tunisia sees a steadily growing interest in extracted-infused olive oils. “I think there’s a gradual change that’s happening when it comes to these olive oils,” he says. “Those who love olive oil are curious to try them. This trend to make extracted-infused oils is growing but will really take off as we see more quality oils which don’t use chemical additives.”
Boussetta produces high-quality extracted-infused olive oils enhanced with the flavours of clementine, lemon, mint, and wild fennel, as well as another more uncommon ingredient: bergamot. “Our bergamot and clementine olive oils are among our biggest sellers,” he reveals. “Bergamote has a very particular taste and smell. I first tasted an oil with bergamot in a shop in France and I liked it. Once back in Tunisia, I sourced local organic bergamot fruits and experimented with three different doses and chose the one I liked best.”
Producing a high-quality EXTRACTED-infused olive oil
Unlike extra virgin olive oil, which needs to be made following an exact process to receive this appellation, the scope for extracted-infused olive oils is wide open. “There are different ways of making a good aromatic olive oil,” says Liris. “You can crush fresh fruits together with the olives. You can make an infusion of fresh fruits with olive oil. And you can use essential oils, but they have to be extracted from fruits and not made in a laboratory. There’s no regulation that says you have to use fresh fruits that are crushed, or how essential oils should be produced.”
As olive oil is its base, to have a high-quality pressed-infused product, this base should be an extra virgin olive oil. The flavouring ingredient should then itself be one of high quality, made with the freshest ingredients, or of entirely natural aromas or extractions. Then comes the production process itself.
Producers such as Peña Luna and Segermès insist on pressing the fruit or aromatic ingredient together with the olives in order to ensure the highest quality result. “The process is actually quite simple,” says Boussetta of Segermès. “We press the olives and at the same time add the fruit or herb, according to a defined dosage. The molecules of the olive oil and the molecules of the flavouring ingredient malaxate together. But another vital factor is the timing, which adds the secret magic touch. The result should be a balanced product, which means that neither ingredient should dominate.”
An award for Best Pressed (extracted) -Infused Olive Oil at Olio Nuovo Days 2023
With no hard and fast rules governing pressed-infused olive oil, how are these specialty products judged at international competitions? Liris sheds some light on the process: “We use a different tasting sheet for the category of pressed-infused olive oils. What’s most important is we must be able to distinguish the olive oil and the flavour because many times the flavour dominates the olive oil. And when we have a mix of various flavours sometimes it’s very hard to understand the difference between one and the other. But it’s similar to judging an olive oil, the olive oil that gets more points is an olive oil that has complexity and you can distinguish its aromas one by one.”
The entry deadline for the Olio Nuovo Days competition is February 10th, 2023. For more information contact email@example.com
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