The purpose of our truth about olive oil and barrel aged balsamic vinegar section is to help you, the consumer, become knowledgeable when choosing an extra-virgin olive oil or barrel-aged balsamic vinegar. In this section we define concepts and clear up some common myths and misconceptions surrounding the world of extra-virgin olive oil and authentic barrel-aged Italian balsamic vinegars.
Truth About Olive Oil and Barrel Aged Balsamic Vinegars
WHAT IS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL?
The process of making true extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) begins with choosing and harvesting a healthy unripe crop and crushing the olives (fruit) in a malaxar within a few hours following harvest. Gentle heat is applied (60-85 degrees Fahrenheit) to produce the oil of the fruit (EVOO). Olive oils can be characterized based on their acidity. “Extra” virgin olive oil has less than 0.8% free fatty acids (FFA) as compared to “Virgin” olive oil which can contain as much as 2% FFA. Extra-virgin olive oil is also the most refined in flavor and contains the highest level of antioxidants/anti-inflammatories (Biophenols). Antioxidants have been shown to have enormous health benefits in addition to protecting the EVOO from quickly oxidizing resulting in rancidity. Our ultra-premium EVOOs are also rich in oleic acid and Diacylglycerol (DAGs) both of which are important for a healthy lifestyle.
WHAT IS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL LAB TESTING?
First and foremost you do not have to be an Organic chemist to understand an olive oil chemistry profile. At the most basic level, knowledge of a specific EVOO’s chemistry profile helps the consumer distinguish the World’s finest Extra-Virgin Olive Oils from a poorly made and/or adulterated olive oil. An Extra-Virgin Olive Oil chemistry profile is nothing more than data collected at the time of olive crush. This data is used to help level the playing-field when deciding upon which EVOO to purchase. Behind the scenes this invaluable data tells the consumer about freshness and purity (Crush Date, Peroxide, DAGs, PPP, Oleic Acid content). The data also highlights important health information such as antioxidant/anti-inflammatory content (Biophenols), and monounsaturated fat content (Oleic Acid). Determination of smoke points can also be derived (FFA & Biophenol content). Understanding an olive oil chemistry profile is such an important topic that we have dedicated an entire page to this subject.
WHAT IS AUTHENTIC BALSAMIC VINEGAR?
True aged traditional balsamic vinegar (aceto balsamico tradizionale) production involves the reductive fermentation process of converting caramelized grapes into a reduced state called “grape must” which is then aged into acetic acid (vinegar). Grapes used in this process are traditionally White Trebbiano or Red Lambrusco grapes. As the grape must commences aging a harmless bacterium is added (acetobacter) which pushes the solution down the acetic acid fermentation pathway. Italian law dictates that traditional aceto balsamico be aged for at least 12 years in “old” wood barrels made of various hardwoods. Typical woods used for the aging process include; oak, chestnut, mulberry, ash, juniper, acacia, and cherry. It is important to note that nothing is added to the caramelized grape must as it ages. As the grape must ages (12, 18, 25 years) the volume is reduced through evaporation resulting in a concentrated syrup-like end product (aceto balsamico). At the end of the aging process the aceto balsamico tradizionale is presented to two Italian consortiums in Modena or Reggio Emilia, Italy for inspection and certification. If the aceto balsamico passes inspection it is filled into 100ml bottles dictated by the Italian consortium, numbered and wax-sealed. Average cost for a 100ml bottle of aceto balsamico tradizionale can range between $200-$500/bottle depending on the age. Practical cooking applications using traditional balsamico are somewhat limited by it’s thickness and cost. EVOO Marketplace offers these precious traditional aceto balsamicos in addition to over 50 pure and organic flavored balsamic condimentos made in the traditional process.
The next best alternative……
EVOO Marketplace offers a full line of aged and flavor-infused balsamic condimentos at a fraction of the price ($18.95-$21.95/375ml). All of our balsamic condimentos are produced in Modena, Italy and follow the strict traditional method with three variations; 1. The master barrel is inoculated with a small amount of premium aged Red wine vinegar (instead of acetobacter). Red wine vinegar mimics the acetobacter step, thereby resulting in vinegar production. No other additions occur throughout the aging process. 2. As the grape must ages it is transferred into sequential barrels of smaller size but unlike the Traditional method it is topped off with a small amount of younger balsamic. Topping off with younger balsamic is referred to as the “Solera method” 3. Lastly, these production batches are not presented to the Italian consortium and therefore are a cheaper alternative for everyday applications.
It is important to note that similar to extra-virgin olive oil many of the store-bought “balsamic” vinegars are adulterated with distilled vinegar, thickening & sweetening agents (molasses, corn syrup, guar gum), artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, sulfites, and sodium. We welcome you to taste the difference at EVOO Marketplace!
BARREL AGE VS BALSAMIC AGE HOW DOES IT DIFFER?
The age of a balsamic vinegar should be exactly that; how long the cooked grape was aged in wood casks. Please do not confuse this with the slight of hand marketing terms referring to the age of the wood barrels. Yes the label may say “Barrel Aged” but the real question is how long? We have recently seen product descriptions stating a “balsamic vinegar” was aged in 25, 50, or 100 year-old wood barrels. This does NOT mean the balsamic is 25, 50, or 100 years old! All authentic barrel-aged Italian balsamic vinegars are aged in a battery of conditioned wood casks for at least 12 years. Viscosity of 12 year-aged balsamic should be similar to water. Viscosity of 18 year-aged balsamic should be similar to olive oil (lightly coat the sides of a cup), but not thick like honey or chocolate syrup.
WHAT IS "WHITE" BALSAMIC VINEGAR?
Same process as the Solera method above except two key changes. 1. The grape must is not caramelized and 2. The grape must is aged in “new wood” and not previously used (“old wood”) aceto balsamico barrels.
WHEN DOES THE FLAVOR INFUSION PROCESS BEGIN?
Flavor-infusion for our balsamic vinegars occurs after the aging process. EVOO Marketplace’s balsamic condimentos are flavor-infused with only all natural, organic ingredients. Our flavor infused olive oils are produced by adding organic ingredients into a mild to medium intensity lab tested ultra-premium EVOO.
ARE YOUR OLIVE OILS & BALSAMIC VINEGARS GLUTEN FREE?
Yes, all of our EVOOs and Balsamic Vinegars are Gluten free and produced in Gluten free facilities. Our products are also devoid of other allergens such as nuts, seeds, shellfish, etc.
WHAT GIVES-I CAN GET 10 GALLONS FROM GROCERY STORE FOR FRACTION OF THE PRICE
Bottom line is that if an “EVOO” does not contain a Harvest/Crush Date along with a full lab testing profile the consumer has NO idea of the purity, freshness, quality, or healthfulness of that specific “EVOO”. Check out this University of California-Davis study of highly marketed grocery store brands such as Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Pompeian, Rachael Ray, Costco (Kirkland), Whole Foods (365), Newman’s Own Organics, Colavita, Star and many others. How did they do, did they PASS??
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF FRESH & PURE EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL?
The health benefits of a daily diet including fresh, pure, high quality extra-virgin olive oil are wide-reaching and the basis for the Mediterranean Diet. High quality EVOO is rich in monounsaturated fat (a type of “good” fat ) and loaded with Biophenols which impart both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A significant amount of research has been conducted on the benefits of antioxidants in one’s daily diet and many studies have shown links to reducing the risk of Cancer, Cardiovascular disease, and other disease. An interesting side note-the Mediterranean region has one of the lowest cancer incidence rates in the World. They must be doing something right and guess what, they also cook (apply heat) to their extra-virgin olive oils.
HOW SHOULD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL & BARREL AGED BALSAMICS BE STORED?
Factors that influence how quickly an EVOO breaks down and becomes rancid include exposure to air, light, and heat. The best storage condition is in a dark bottle in a cool, dry place. All of our products are bottled and sold in light protected bottles. Storing EVOO in the refrigerator is NOT recommended as the oil will go back-and-forth through solidification phases resulting in the EVOO breaking down quicker.
WHAT IS THE SHELF-LIFE OF EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL & BARREL AGED BALSAMICS?
Our olive oils, if stored properly as described above, maintain freshness for up to 18 months. Our barrel-aged Italian balsamic vinegars, if store properly, are good for an indefinite amount of time as they are already aged at least 12 years.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FLAVOR "FUSED" & "INFUSED" OLIVE OILS & BARREL AGED BALSAMICS?
EVOO Marketplace offers the finest flavor fused (agrumato) and flavor infused Olive Oils and Balsamic vinegars. It is important to note that all of our flavor fused and infused olive oils start from an extra-virgin olive oil base. After the addition of an all natural ingredient one can no longer technically call that product an EVOO but rather should be referred to as an Olive Oil. Our flavor-fused Olive Oils; Blood Orange, Green Chili, Rosemary and Eureka Lemon olives are crushed together with the whole fruit, herb, or chili, hence fusing. Our flavor infused Olive Oils and Balsamics undergo a proprietary blending process after the Olive Oil or Balsamic is produced. Our products contain only all-natural, ORGANIC ingredients. Beware of flavor infused Olive Oils which show the presence of particulate matter (garlic, rosemary, etc) found in your typical grocery store. Once opened these products may quickly become rancid. We also discourage our customers from making their own “infusions” because of potential bacterial contamination and subsequent rancidity.
CAN I COOK WITH EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL?
In general, YES, but we recommend that you watch the oil as it heats to prevent smoking. Stove-top BTUs along with pot/pan quality are highly variable from kitchen to kitchen and therefore influence the burning potential. Our high quality olive oils have an approximate smoke points between 390-425F. Overall we recommend a more robust ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil high in protective Biophenols along with a low free-fatty acid content (0.1%-0.2%) for high heat applications.
HOW TO CONVERT FROM BUTTER TO EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
HOW ABOUT COCONUT OIL?
How about NOT! We will let you do the research but in our opinion the jury is still out on any health related benefits of coconut oil. As a biochemist for many years, published evidence in any high-impact, peer reviewed, scientific journal is still completely lacking. Yes, coconut oil may contain some healthy short-chain fatty acids but our body does not separate the good components from bad when ingesting. Fresh, pure, high quality extra virgin olive oils are loaded with monounsaturated fats (MUFA’s). MUFA’s are healthy fats required for cell health and integrity of cell membranes. Fresh, pure, high quality extra-virgin olive oil is also loaded with antioxidants and inflammatories which also help protect cells from damage. Compare this to coconut oil which is a saturated fat and solid at room temperature. A cardiologists nightmare come true.
IS EVOO MARKETPLACE ASSOCIATED WITH RACHAEL RAY?
Nope, although Rachael Ray may be very influential in the home cooking show scene, we at EVOO Marketplace have no affiliation with her or her business entity. The use of the “E.V.O.O.” acronym merely reflects exactly what we offer-Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.