What Is Up?
Ultra Premium (UP) is a new category of olive oil that distinguishes the highest quality olive oil in the world. The UP standard was created in response to the growing need to separate high quality extra virgin olive oils from what dominates the so called “gourmet” and “premium” olive oil markets, as well as the broader category sold in mass markets the world over under thousands of brands and private labels. The absurdly low standards created and fostered by numerous trade associations and government agencies responsible for policing them has only contributed to the confusion and misinformation. EU producers are actually given a perverse incentive in the form of government subsidies to keep their oils in storage until market conditions improve. This practice clearly demonstrates the governmental complicity with retailers and bottlers to sacrifice quality for price. Lack of enforcement and testing by these trade associations and governmental agencies has led to a marketplace dominated by inferior oils and rife with adulteration. These practices by some of the world’s largest olive oil producers and bottlers have led to a steep decline in prices of extra virgin olive oil and are driving quality oil producers out of business.
The self-serving overemphasis on “Where” extra virgin olive oil is produced continues to dominate perceptions at the expense of the far more significant “When, What, and How” the oil is made. The UP standard has as its principal barometers Chemistry and Freshness. These two underappreciated variables can be objectively measured, quantified, and certified. Since the highest quality EVOO comes from high quality fruit coupled with high quality production processes, the UP standard encompasses strict requirements for both the end-product and the production process.
No matter how high the quality of fruit and production methods used, the best olive oils in the world are never as good as when they are fresh. There are no standards for shelf-life of EVOO, and the current IOC “best buy” date is intentionally misleading and utilized at the whim of the retailer and bottler. When a quality EVOO is fresh, there is significantly more positive sensory attributes detectable by the palate. As any EVOO ages, it naturally oxidizes losing positive sensory qualities as well as inheriting defects. Newly developed tests can objectively quantify the “Freshness” of an EVOO at various stages in its lifecycle and are referred to as the “Fresh Pack” tests encompassing both the Diacylglycerol Content (DAGS) and Pyropheophytins (PPP).
The UP standard is reserved for the finest extra virgin olive oils in the world, as such, the UP grade exceeds all existing European, Italian, Spanish, Greek, North American, Californian, or any other standard for the grade known as extra virgin olive oil. In order to qualify for the UP grade, the extra virgin olive oil must meet or exceed a comprehensive set of Production, Storage, Transportation, Testing, Chemistry, and Organoleptic requirements as set forth in the following document. Instead of placing an overemphasis on what is less important (Terroir) to the detriment of the most critical factors (Chemistry and Freshness), the UP program is intended to reward farmers for producing high quality oil. The UP program is intended to promote Fair Trade practices and help create a demand for a higher quality product thereby increasing the value.
The Smoke Point of Extra Virgin Olive: The Whole Story
February 2, 2010
Nothing will make me smoke between the ears more than hearing someone say ‘you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil as it smokes at too low a temperature’. This isn’t always true.
The smoke point of any edible oil depends a lot on the free fatty acidity (FFA or acidity) of the oil. The lower the acidity the higher the smoke point.
All refined oils such as canola, vegetable, sunflower, peanut, flaxseed, rice bran etc etc have pretty well close to zero acidity as the refining process removes all of the free fatty acids.‘Pure olive oil’, ‘Light olive oil’ and ‘Olive oil’ are also refined and as such they smoke at a respectable 230C.
On the other hand, Extra virgin olive oil is a natural product and as such its acidity varies greatly from brand to brand. Some carefully made artisan oils have acidities as low as 0.07%, but a good EVOO will typically come in around 0.2 to 0.25%. However, your typical inexpensive supermarket extra virgin olive oil from the EU will probably be around 0.5% acidity with some even nudging the comical International Olive Council limit of 0.8%. These seemingly small differences in acidities actually have a significant influence on the temperature at which the oil will begin to smoke.
The following diagram shows the influence of FFA on the smoke point of an extra virgin olive oil. The green band shows the smoke point range of good quality low acidity extra virgin olive oil. The reddish band shows the smoke point of lower quality high acidity oils. In culinary terms, these real differences are huge!
So pay more for a well made extra virgin olive oil with a lower acidity and it’ll reward you with significantly more degrees of heating potential. But also remember that each time you heat an oil its free fatty acidity will rise resulting in a reduction in its smoke point.
Lastly, breathing in the smoke from burnt oil (no matter what type) is a health hazard. The partial combustion of any fat (including barbeque flare ups by the way) produces particularly nasty substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and acrolein. The highest incidence of lung cancer amongst non-smokers anywhere in the world is those of Chinese women who are regularly exposed to oil smoke in poorly ventilated domestic kitchens. So watch that temperature and keep those exhaust fans on.