Olive oil comes in many shades, with some being very gold while others are greener. What is the importance of the colour you might wonder, does the colour indicate or affect the quality of an olive oil?
Seen around the world, in every type of olive oil competitions and contests are the blue tinted tasting glasses. The reason behind using those particular tasting glasses is so that the judges or testers should not be influenced by the colour or clarity of the olive oil. The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) ruled that no jury member should be influenced by the colour or the clarity of the olive oil, being of no consequence to its quality.
Olive oil can vary in colour from dark green to golden yellow and even brown, and there are two important factors that will greatly determine the colour and taste of fresh olive oil.
These two factors are:
1. The variety of olive
Some Spanish varieties such as Verdell, Picual, Picudo, Argudell and Cornicabra, as well as the Italian Frantoia, are by nature greener than Empeltre, Arbequina or Hojiblanca. But the moment of harvesting can strongly reinforce that.
2. The time of harvest
The younger the olive the greener it will be. This is due to a high content of a natural green pigment called chlorophyll as well as a massive quantity of natural chemical anti-oxidants called poly-phenols. After about 90 days, the chlorophyll lessens and the polyphenols are gone.
The intensity of an olive oil, while once strongly believed relied upon its colour as an indicator, is also unaffected by the colour, once again that factor can be attributed to the variety.
Traditionally the oils obtained from Northern Italy are made with olive varieties (eg. The Taggiasca) which give a yellowish color and a lighter flavor. Conversely, those coming from the south (e.g. from Apulia) are made with olives (e.g. The Coratina) which give a greenish color and a more intense flavor.
Thus, the idea that green is synonymous of “strong”, “intense” oil, and yellow of a lighter and delicate one.
While not entirely wrong, this belief cannot be taken as a rule. Many olive oil made from olives picked when still green will have a greenish color and a much more robust flavor than usual.
Due to such beliefs, it’s not so unusual for producers to “color” oil to give it the so-called “dark green” typical of Tuscan oils for example. To do so, they just leave a little more leaves (which contain chlorophyll) at the time of pressing, or add their own chlorophyll to the oil obtained.
When it comes to the clarity of olive oil, all fresh olive oil is cloudy. That is because minuscule particles of fruit escape with the oil during the pressing. Most producers will quickly remove those using artificial filters, but with the disadvantage that some of the original scent and flavour will disappear along with the bits of pulp.
Many connoisseurs actually prefer cloudy olive oil. If the oil is allowed to rest at room temperature for a longer period (2 to 3 months), the particles will gradually sink to the bottom and the oil will become clear.
While professional tasters and judges are well aware that the colour and clarity do not play a role in the level of quality, many consumers are still persuaded by colour, a myth that needs to be debunked in order to focus on the factors that really determine quality.