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Low acidity in EVO oil is synonymous with quality

Many times, hearing experts in the olive sector speak, the term acidity recurs, above or below certain levels, but what is it and how is the acidity level translated in an oil?

Often among consumers, it is mistakenly interpreted as a taste characteristic, but it is a chemical parameter that indicates the content of free fatty acids in a particular oil.

We start from the fact that fatty acids in oil are mostly present as triglycerides: three fatty acids (mainly oleic acid in olive oils) bound to a glycerol molecule. In the fruit and in the oil, just to understand, the breaking of that bond between the glycerol and one or more of the fatty acid chains leads to the release of the fatty acid. Therefore, free acidity, as it is called, is the parameter that determines the amount of free fatty acids present in a particular oil as a percentage.

Now, the acidity of the oil is a very important parameter for assessing its quality. It indicates the amount of free fatty acids present in a particular oil, which form when the triglycerides (the molecules that make up the oil) break down as mentioned above.

It follows that the lower the acidity percentage in the oil, the higher the quality of that oil, particularly thanks to high-quality raw materials, thus healthy and fresh olives, cold extraction methods and optimal storage conditions, in a cool and dark place, in order to achieve the lowest levels of acidity. These are the major factors that affect the acidity percentages in the oil and consequently also its quality. But what are these levels and how to evaluate a quality oil according to the parameters of free acidity?

To be defined as Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO), an oil must have an acidity lower than 0.8%, a limit imposed by European and international regulations.

Virgin olive oil (VO) has an acidity that ranges between 0.8% and 2%.

Refined olive oil has an acidity not exceeding 0.5%. Knowing the properties of refined olive oil, treated with soda solutions to reduce acidity, we can easily deduce that the acidity percentage in an oil cannot be the only parameter on which to base the choice of a quality oil. However, generally speaking, low acidity values suggest a high quality of a particular oil, but what are the unpleasant effects of consuming an oil with high acidity percentages?

One of the first effects is certainly the taste: high acidity can give the oil a pungent and unpleasant flavour.

Then think about health: moderate acidity is not harmful to health; indeed, some free fatty acids, such as oleic acid, are beneficial for the body.

There is also the smoke point: high acidity can lower the smoke point of the oil, making it more prone to burning during cooking.

On the sidelines of this brief focus on acidity in oil, if there are useful tips for the consumer that Romolo Gentili feels like giving, as a fifth-generation miller (Frantoio Gentili), he says – to be sure of buying a high-quality olive oil, always choose an extra virgin olive oil with an acidity lower than 0.5%.

Moreover, Romolo reminds us it is important to store the oil in a cool and dark place, away from sources of heat and light, use extra virgin olive oil raw to dress and flavour your dishes, and finally, for cooking, use an oil with a higher smoke point, such as sunflower seed oil or peanut oil.

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