How Olives Are Harvested
and Crushed to Make Oil
The timing of the olive harvest makes a huge difference in flavor and quality. As olives ripen during the summer months, they begin to mature and soften and turn from a deep green color to more of a greenish-straw color—this is the perfect time to harvest in order to produce premium quality oils that have the most flavor and polyphenol content. Oils produced from fruit harvested during this phase tend to have characteristic flavors of fig leaves, herbs, green almonds, green apple, green banana, fresh cut grass, artichoke, fresh mint, cinnamon, and black pepper.
Not all olive oils are created equal: As the olives continue to ripen, they start to turn a reddish-purple color, soften further, and eventually turn completely black. Olives harvested at this time tend to be more delicate, lower in polyphenols, less aromatic, and have flavor profiles that are more reminiscent of ripe apples, bananas and berries. Just as ripe or overripe table fruit spoils faster, most of the time these delicate olive oils often have a much shorter shelf life than their green harvest counterparts.
Typically, olives yield 17-20% oil when ripe and overripe, but the percentage can range from 10-30% depending on the variety and the ripeness of the fruit. That’s the difference with Seasons oils: We crush almost all of our olive fruit at a lower fruit maturity index, sacrificing oil yield in order to ensure the best possible product with extraordinary health benefits. (When it comes to crushing later in the harvest season, it’s easier to get higher yields, meaning the price is often lower, but quality is compromised.)
Each olive grove we work with, whether our own family’s or a farming partner, is closely monitored throughout the growing season for quality. We make sure the trees are fertilized and irrigated properly and that the fruit is not being damaged by insects or diseases. Olive farming is labor-intensive and requires a high level of expertise to ensure proper irrigation, insect control, pruning and grove cleanliness prior to milling fruit.
Once the fruit has reached optimal ripeness (for us, that means yellow-green and soft), it is quickly harvested, and immediately crushed under pristine milling conditions within hours of being picked. The olive paste that results from crushing fruit is then transferred to a machine called a malaxer — imagine a giant bread kneader — that helps release the oil from the water and solids, which make up the olive fruit. After malaxation, the olive paste is spun at high speeds in a horizontal centrifuge, called a decanter, which separates solids (pits and fruit pulp) and the fruit-water from the oil with precision and efficiency before pushing oil through to the next stage. Next, the oil is transferred to a vertical centrifuge and spun at even higher speeds to further remove any residual water, usually between 5% and 0.25% of the total mass. Finally the oil is filtered with very fine paper filters that remove any remaining micro particles of olive fruit that can cause an oil to break down faster and lose its positive flavor attributes over time. After this step, the fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is tested for quality at an olive oil laboratory and ready to be shipped and bottled for immediate consumption.
Our oils never make it into long term storage, because they are immediately exported to the United States where they are bottled under nitrogen and distributed out to our stores and customer’s homes as quickly as possible, so that you can enjoy these fresh expressions of fruit elixir in delicious dishes with your friends and family. The process of making delicious, fresh (EVOO) is similar to making fresh-pressed fruit juice. It’s an exacting, painstaking process every single step of the way, and always handled by passionate experts
Our Commitment to Quality
As a testament to how fresh our olive oils are, we put the harvest date on every bottle — which is also the date the fruit was crushed, because we always press within hours of picking. We also recognize that quality starts with the land and water conditions in which the olive trees grow, which is why we only partner with growers with proven safe, effective and sustainable farming practices in the regions of the world that have grown some of the finest quality olive varietals for generations. Olive farming is labor-intensive and requires a high level of expertise to ensure proper irrigation, insect control, pruning and grove cleanliness prior to milling fruit.
All of our oils are single origin, fully traceable, and extensively tested for taste, food safety and freshness before making it to our shelves. Our in-house expert and olive oil sommelier, Paul Vossen, professor emeritus and founder of the UC Davis Olive Center, has four decades of experience in the field planting olive groves and evaluating sensory characteristics of thousands of olive oils to understand the range of superior quality. Paul ensures that the product at Seasons is pesticide free, uniquely flavorful and highly aromatic, creating a sensorial experience for home chefs that shines through in every dish. During an average year, we travel around the world to mill and taste over 200 oils, out of which only about 15 meet our exacting organoleptic standards for your kitchen.
Our quality commitment is proven by the fact that a multitude of experts and olive oil panel judges around the world consistently rank our oils as gold medal winners in overall quality, and in some cases, best in class, at major olive oil competitions. Great olive oil is addictive in a good way—once you have your first taste of fresh, high quality EVOO, you won’t want to go back to any other. Like a bottle of heritage wine from an experienced vintner versus an inexpensive bulk wine, you can easily tell the difference.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
is... Fresh Fruit Juice!
It’s important to know when and how your olive oil was made, as the freshness of an oil significantly affects taste and health benefits. Olives are technically a stone fruit, like peaches and plums, and they’re the only type of stone fruit that produces an oil when crushed. Think of extra virgin olive oil as fresh fruit juice, because it is! And just like you can taste and see the difference between a carton of juice made from cooked concentrate and one that is fresh squeezed, you can easily notice the difference between older overripe oils from long term storage and our EVOOs.
Unlike seed oils, which require refining, EVOO is made without any heat, chemicals or additives, and you can really taste this difference: A fresh oil should taste fruity, bright, peppery and slightly bitter. You might even experience a little scratchiness at the back of your throat when you consume it—that’s a good thing and usually a sign of high levels of polyphenols, which are plant-based antioxidants with a multitude of health benefits.
Also, just as you wouldn’t consume fresh-squeezed orange juice left in your refrigerator for a few weeks, let alone months, you wouldn’t want to consume a bottle of olive oil that’s been aging, becoming stale, flat, greasy and rancid after sitting around for a long time. Seasons fresh EVOOs are bottled at lightning speeds and distributed directly from our bottling facility more quickly than your average supplier. We store each EVOO under nitrogen in small, pristine stainless steel tanks that protect the oil from deteriorating.
Once you’ve opened a bottle in your kitchen, protect it from heat (don’t keep it above or next to the stove) and sunlight (we use dark glass bottles for this reason) and try to use it as quickly as possible to take advantage of its freshness and incredible aromas. Because we make our oil from unripe, slightly green olives, they typically have a longer shelf life, you can store your bottles in a cool place and feel reassured that the oil will last in your kitchen for at least six months at peak aroma and flavor
What Makes an Oil “Extra Virgin”
Extra Virgin Olive Oil has to pass two types of tests before it can be classified as such: chemical analysis and sensory analysis.
Chemical analysis is conducted by third party labs that test the oil for purity and authenticity based on International Olive Council (IOC) standards. Using cutting-edge High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), technicians record levels of free fatty acids, oxidation and UV absorbance. A freshly made, pristine oil can be remarkably complex and contain spicy, herbal notes and aromas of fresh cut grass, green tea, apples or berries—just like a big bodied fine wine - as well as key indicators that determine the speed of oxidation (the cleanliness of the fruit and the mills on which the oil was made) and levels of polyphenols and oleic fatty acids to judge whether an oil meets the standards for EVOO.
Sensory analysis (also known as organoleptic assessment) is done by highly trained expert panelists who evaluate the taste and aroma of the oil on a more subjective basis. Our company is particularly focused on sensorial attributes of EVOO, similar to what you find in fine wines with exciting aromas. The flavor characteristics of olive oil are influenced by the olive variety, how the trees are grown, the ripeness of the fruit, fruit handling, processing methodologies, mill cleanliness, oil storage, filtration, and its harvest date.
In order to make the best oil and meet our stringent quality standards, our expert team of agronomists, master millers, and tasters in Italy, Spain, California, and Chile analyze fruitiness, pungency, and bitterness. A freshly made, pristine oil can be remarkably complex and contain spicy, herbal notes and aromas of fresh cut grass, green tea, apples or berries—just like a big bodied fine wine. If an oil tastes flat, dull, or has an unpleasant sweetness or greasiness, it can mean that it was poorly made, heated, or stored for long periods of time. At Seasons, Paul Vossen rates each organoleptic attribute on a proprietary ten-point scale, and the score is then summarized for a final tasting score assessment.
Other Grades of Olive Oil
At the supermarket, oils that are not labeled “Extra Virgin” might be labeled as “Pure,” “Olive Oil”, “Pomace,” “Refined, or “Light,” which means they do not meet the standards for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The oils with these words on their labels have been refined with chemical solvents such as lye, hexane, benzene and extreme heat, steam or other agents to remove defect (negative) flavors, which also remove many natural phenolics and all the positiver flavors, resulting in an inferior product with extremely low antioxidant levels, a cooked-greasy flavor, no aroma, and fewer health benefits. The term “Virgin” on the label (exclusively found in European retailers) refers to an oil with slight flavor defects. Extra Virgin, by definition, has no defects to be categorized as such and is never refined, only extracted using mechanical methods.
Oils labeled “pure” are often anything but—they’re usually a blend of refined oils (which are usually odorless, colorless and tasteless) with virgin oils. Pomace oil is made by adding solvents to the waste pulp left over from cold milling, dissolving a small amount of lower-quality oil from the byproduct, then refining it.
Virgin Oils only meet a free-fatty acid value of less than 2.0% (sometimes referred to as acidity), whereas extra virgin olive oil must be less than 0.8%. Unlike tasting a wine’s acidity, this value in extra virgin olive oil has nothing to do with sensory flavor or aroma, in fact it is most characteristic of describing the condition or health of the fruit at time of milling. Seasons EVOOs average a 0.1% to 0.25% acidity at crush, which is a confirmation of the highest quality olive fruit at time of milling
How to Taste Olive Oil at Home
If you’re curious about the oil in your kitchen cabinet, you can try some of the methods used by professional tasters at home. Like wine tasting, anyone can do it, but it helps to practice some techniques so that you know what you’re looking for. Pour some olive oil into a small glass and warm it up by cupping it in your hand and using your other hand as a lid.
Swirl it around to release the volatile aromas while the glass is covered, then remove your hand and inhale deeply with both nostrils and take notes of what aromas you pick up. Next, take a sip, close your teeth and pull back air frequently in one-second increments (Italian tasters call this slurping method “Strippagio”). Slurping helps spread the oil around your mouth and it also volatilises it, meaning it turns it from liquid to vapor so that you can really taste it, helping to release additional aromas and unlocking the singular fruitiness and positive attributes inherent in each oil. This process is similar to, say, looking for grapefruit or passion fruit aromas in a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc — you can’t miss them
The Holy Trinity
of EVOO Tasting
You’re looking for flowery, herbal aromas and a crisp, bitter, clean mouth feel. A fresh EVOO will release notes that can range from fresh cut grass and raw artichokes to cinnamon, green tea, mint, and black pepper. The level and complexity of each aroma is directly correlated to the variety of fruit, maturity of fruit, harvest time and processing methods. Seasons olive oils typically rate at > 7/10 on the fruitiness scale.
The dull sensation that you perceive on the back of the tongue is generally not expected, and often misconstrued as a negative attribute. In olive oil, this is a big positive! Just think of all the other bitter foods we have come to cherish: strong coffee, dark chocolate, kale, endive, radicchio, thai food, etc. Bitter is good as long as it is balanced and harmonious and does not totally overwhelm fruitiness or pungency! Like life itself, it’s all about balance.
The burning sensation in the back of the throat is known as Pungency. Pungency is also a key indicator of the level of polyphenols. In a good oil, this attribute is noted as a persistent, long finish—just like a fine wine when the wine goes down in layers and the beautiful attributes appear during tasting. In recent research, Oleocanthal, a unique bio-phenol to EVOO, has been shown to attack and kill cancer cells and act as a plant based natural anti-inflammatory. When you taste pungency, it is similar to a sensation of a hot chili pepper that may make you cough. Some of the best robust olive oils are high-pungency, “two-cough” olive oils, known for their potency and high intensity.
If you detect a watery feel in your mouth, a fruity aroma and feel a scratchiness or sting in the back of your throat, those are all good things! It means an oil is pungent, and likely high in polyphenols that help keep your body working at its peak and protecting you from ailments like arthritis, inflammation and more severe illnesses.
The Two Most Common
Defects in Olive Oil:
This is the most common defect, referred to as “fustiness” by tasters. If you’re picking up any sourness, mold, or notes of cheese, yeast, vinegar, or the taste of table olives, the oil was made from fruit that fermented at the mill. This flavor is often erroneously noted as the “nice” flavor of pickled olives. Table olives are fermented (pickled in salt brine to remove their bitterness). Similar fermentation flavors in oil can be from dirty equipment, over-ripe fruit, or perhaps in a smelly environment, or from heaps of olives that became wet and moldy prior to crushing. Olive oil is like a sponge, it picks up all ambient mill aromas from hot machines and smoky factories.
This is most often found in poorly made oils that have been exposed to oxygen (oxidized), and stored improperly for extended periods of time. Remember, any olive oil only gets worse with age! Rancidity tastes like crayon, bacon, wax, paint, or varnish. Rancid oils also have a very greasy mouthfeel, leaving a residual film in your mouth after you taste and swallow.
Fresh EVOO is Packed with Health Benefits
Olives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil are both central to the Mediterranean Diet, which is characterized by the high consumption of EVOO, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits and vegetables; moderate to high consumption of fish and dairy products; and low consumption of meat. EVOO is also a crucial component in a diet rich in vegetables, because it helps make a plant-focused diet enjoyable and sustainable. Using olive oil in all kinds of dishes—from salad dressings to baking—is an easy, delicious way to add essential nutrients to your diet. Just two tablespoons a day can do your body a world of good!
Healthy fat in high quality EVOO helps fuel and regulate your body, and can make you feel more satiated. According to a Harvard Medical School study, monounsaturated fats, like those found in EVOO, allow the body to absorb more nutrients and to slowly release them during digestion The higher the percentage of oleic fatty acids in an oil, the more efficiently your bloodstream is able to deliver nutrients to the rest of your body. Multiple peer-reviewed studies show that regular consumption of extra virgin olive oil is associated with myriad health benefits, especially for heart health. It may also help reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, mood disorders, fatty liver disease, and obesity (Source: Mayo Clinic).
EVOO contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in a good ratio, both of which are essential for brain health, and is rich in polyphenols, compounds that reduce oxidative stress and have powerful antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. One particularly powerful compound in EVOO called Oleocanthal is a natural anti-inflammatory that some studies, including a 2018 one published in the International Journal of Molecular Science, show can help protect the body against various diseases, including cancer.
Olive oil also contains Vitamin E, which helps your body protect itself against free radical damage, and Vitamin K, which plays an important role in bone health and is essential for proper wound healing. All other processed olive oil labels, such as Light, Extra Light, Refined, Olive Oil, Pomace Olive Oil in addition to all seed oils, have been stripped of these naturally created health benefits, but an EVOO in produced solely by mechanical crushing methods without the introduction of the refining process
Cooking with Olive Oil
One of the most persistent misconceptions about extra virgin olive oil is that it will start to burn and smoke at a very low temperature, meaning it’s not suitable for cooking. This is not true. Fresh, high quality EVOO actually has a higher smoke point than many other vegetable oils, meaning it’s safer and healthier to cook with. EVOO starts to smoke around 405ºF. For comparison, the smoke point for avocado oil is 385ºF, and canola oil is 375ºF (Source: Acta Scientific Nutritional Health). For generations, Spaniards, Greeks and Italians have been frying in EVOO as part of their healthy and incredibly flavorful Mediterranean diets. According to the Olive Wellness Institute, a 2017 study that tested heat stability of ten main supermarket oils showed that EVOO was the most stable oil to cook with, as it produced the least (8.74%) amount of polar compounds (by-products of degradation) when heated.
A 2018 study (published in the journal Acta Scientific Nutritional Health) showed that EVOO was a more stable cooking oil than many others including canola, coconut, avocado or sunflower oils, with the lowest production of trans fats during heating. EVOO is a highly heat stable oil when heated.
Another study showed that even when heated consistently for 36 hours, olive oil retained its nutritional benefits. You can safely and healthily sautée, fry and bake with EVOO, with delicious results.
Other Myths and Misconceptions about EVOO
Another myth about olive oil is that color is related to quality: That’s not entirely true, either. A high quality oil can be a dark, emerald green or a light, buttery yellow—the hue of the oil is not one of the criteria for grading EVOO. Speaking of color, if an oil is labeled “light,” that doesn’t mean it has fewer calories, just that it has a more neutral taste. And although EVOO shares many qualities with fine wine, it does not get better with age. If a bottle has been sitting anywhere in your kitchen for more than 9 months, it’s definitely time to replace it.