Spain and olive oil, more than 260 reasons for all the buzz
In Spain 262 varieties of olives are cultivated, although only 24 are used regularly in the production of oils. The 262 varieties are grouped into four categories: principal, secondary, dispersed and local. The names are associated normally with diverse characteristics, such as the name of the tree, the form of the leaf, area of production.
Andalucia, which accounts for 75% of the Spanish production, cultivates the most olives in the world. The province of Jaen alone produces more olive oil than all of Greece, although the surface area of this province is only about 10% that of Greece, which is itself the third largest producer in the world. It is estimated that in Andalucía there are 165 millon olive trees; of those 50% are in Jaén and 30% in Córdoba. The remaining 25% of Spanish production is distributed throughout different areas of the mediterranean basin, with climate and soil variations giving the oils particular characteristics. Of all the varieties produced, the most important and representative are Picual, Hojiblanca, Lechín, Picudo, Arbequina, Cornicabra, Verdial and Empeltre.
Originally from the town of Arbeca, in Lerida (Catalunya). This olive is cultivated over 45,000 hectares (almost 110,000 acres) in Lerida, Huesca, Tarragona, and Zaragoza.
The olive, with an oval shape, has a low flesh-to-stone ratio. Due to its small size – an average of 1.9 grams – it is difficult to harvest mechanically, but it is very highly regarded because the tree produces a large amount of fruit with a relatively high oil yield of 20.5%. The Denominations of Origin of this variety are Les Garrigues and Siurana.
The oils produced by this variety have a high content of linoleic acid and therefore a certain tendency to oxidation, so they should be stored in a cool, dark place and consumed early in the season. These oils are dense and fluid, tasting of orchard fruits. Although they are highly regarded oils, the production tends to suffer due to the variations in climate in the areas of cultivation, especially during periods of drought.
This oil is best used uncooked, since its aromatic substances are very volatile. It is a fresh oil that combines perfectly with vegetables, fresh or cooked, and grilled fish.
This variety occupies the second-largest growing area, although in level of production it ranks third, with approximately 12%. The production area is distributed throughout the provinces of Toledo and Ciudad Real.
Also called Cornezuelo, Corniche or Osnal: they all refer to the horn shape of the olive – long, slightly curved and asymmetrical.
It weighs on average about 3 grams, with a flesh-to-stone ratio of 5:1 and an oil yield of 19%.
The ripening period is late but long, from the end of October to the beginning of January. The oils produced with this variety have a low linoleic acid content, approximately 5%, and a high oleic acid content, about 77%, which make it ideal for the diet. It has a golden color with greenish tones and a fruity flavor. When obtained from mature fruit picked toward the end of the harvesting period, its flavor and texture are more similar to tropical fruits.
The oils of this variety are perfect for warm salads, stewed vegetables, and for making sauces such as mayonnaise.
This variety originated in the Zaragozan city of Pedrola, athough today it is cultivated througout the valley of the Ebro river, from Logroño to Tarragona, and even in the Balearic Islands. It is also known as Aragonesa, Injerto, or Mallorquina.
The fruit is long, asymmetrical and slightly bulging on the back. It weighs an average of 2.7 grams and has a flesh-to-stone ratio of 5:3. It has a relatively low but acceptable oil content of 18.3%. The ripening period is from the first week of November to the first week of December.
The low antioxidant content of the oils produced by this variety make them unstable; they should thus be consumed soon after extraction. They are smooth oils, of a pale yellow color, sweet and aromatic, with no bitter taste, which makes them ideal for mixing with stronger oils.
In general, virgin olive oils are not recommended for making mayonnaise because the flavor is too strong; however, the oils of this variety make a delicious mayonnaise. They are also ideal oils in sauces, marinades, vinaigrettes, or to add a special touch to boiled or steamed dishes.
Also known as Casta de Cabra or Lucentino, this olive is produced in the eastern part of Seville, the south of Córdoba, and the north of Málaga. It accounts for 16% of the Andalucian production, over an area of 217,000 hectares (540,000 acres).
The name comes from the white coloring on the underside of the leaves.
The olive is large, up to 4.8 grams, and is spherical in shape. The ratio of flesh to stone is 8:1. Maturation takes place from the end of November to the end of December. The oil yield is relatively low, about 17-19%. The Denomination of Origin for this variety is Priego de Córdoba.
The oil has a high levels of fatty acid (75%) and linoleic acid (7%). The amount of saturated fatty acids is lower than in most other oils. These characteristics make oils produced from the Hojiblanca olive ideal for the diet.
From the organoleptic point of view, it has a large variety of flavors, with the most common attributes being a slight sweet taste in the beginning, a slight bitter taste of unripe fruits, and an almond aftertaste.
Recommended for frying, this oil is also ideal for making bread, pasta and pastries, due to the perfect consistency it gives to dough. These olives are also widely used and appreciated as black table olives, thanks to the firmness their flesh.
This variety occupies approximately 185,000 hectares (157,135 acres) in the province of Granada and a small part of the province of Seville.
The name refers to the milky white color of the flesh of the olive.
The olives weigh an average of 3 grams, and have an asymmetrical ellipsoidal shape. The oil content, approximately 18%, corresponds to a flesh-to-stone ratio of between 7:2 and 8:5. The fruit ripens early.
The high content of palmitic acid (12-13%) is made up for by the reduced content of stearic acid and by the low totals of saturated acid produced by these olives. Nevertheless this combination produces unstable organoleptic characteristics, with a tendency to oxidation. The flavor is slightly bitter, leaving an aftertaste of green almonds.
This oil is ideal for tapas and sweets.
This is the most important variety. It accounts for 50% of the production in Spain, and therefore about 20% of world production.
Nevertheless, it is not very widespread, with its production concentrated in Jaén and neighboring provinces, over an area of about 645,000 hectares (1.6 million acres).
Its name derives from its pointed tip (pico).
The olive is medium to large in size, weighing between 2.1 and 3.7 grams, with an average of 3.2 grams. The ratio between flesh and stone is 5:6. Maturation takes place between the beginning of November and mid-December. The oil yield is high, reaching about 27%, although the average is about 22%. The Denominations of Origin for this variety are Priego de Córdoba, Sierra de Segura and Sierra Mágina.
The excellence of the oil it produces is due to the fatty acid content and the antioxidants. It usually contains 80% monounsaturated oleic acid, an important factor in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and only 4% linoleic acid, which is detrimental in excess.
The oils of low-lying lands tend to have more body, with a slightly bitter taste and a hint of wood, while the olives cultivated in the mountain regions tend to be sweeter, with a fresh flavor.
This oil is best used in frying, although it is equally good for salads and gazpachos.
Also called Basta, Carrasqueño, Paseto or Pajarero. It is cultivated over 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) mainly in Baena, in the south of Córdoba and to a lesser degree in the neighboring provinces of Jaén, Málaga, and Granada.
The name comes from its shape, a curved pointed tip with a marked nipple. The name of Pajarero (for birds) is used in the town of Luque (Córdoba), supposedly because the sweet flavor of the ripe fruit attracts birds, who peck at it.
The Picudo is the second-largest olive used in oil extraction, weighing an average of 4.8 grams. The flesh-to-stone ratio is 6:3. Maturation takes place from the end of November to the end of December. The average oil yield is about 20%. The Denominations of Origin of this variety are Baena and Priego de Córdoba.
The composition of fatty acids is similar to the Lechín variety. With 15% linoleic acid and up to 65% monounsaturated oleic acid, these oils are considered very delicate with a tendency to oxidation. The flavor of the oils is soft, with an exotic fruit aftertaste.
These olives are excellent as table olives, green and black. The oils they produce are ideal in warm salads, gazpachos, and pastries.
The name Verdial is given to a number of local varieties with similar characteristics that are produced in areas of Andalucía (the provinces of Málaga, Granada, Córdoba, Seville or Huelva) and the south of Extremadura (province of Badajoz). In fact, the place name is usually added to the variety, the most typical varieties being the Verdial de Velez-Málaga (in the region of Axarquia, in the south of Málaga), and Verdial de Badajoz (in areas in the south of Badajoz and including areas bordering Portugal).
A common characteristic of all the local varieties is the thickness of the skin of the fruit, which raises the triterpenic alcohols in the oils, especially in the virgin olive oils. The fruit is large, with an average weight of about 5.7 grams and a fat content that varies from a high of 22% in the Badajoz variety to a lower level in the Velez-Málaga variety. In general, the flesh-to-stone ratio is also high, which makes it an ideal variety, not only in the production oil, but also as table olives. The Denomination of Origin of this variety is Les Garrigues.
The ripening period lasts from the end of November to the end of the year. The oils also have a high content of linoleic acid, which makes them somewhat unstable; they therefore must be protected from heat, light, and air. Nevertheless, in some areas this variety is mixed with the Hojiblanca variety, resulting in oils with perfect organoleptic qualities.
The oils of the Verdial variety are sweet, very fruity, with no bitter flavor.
They are early oils, ideal for salads or gazpachos.
Source: Olive Oil from Spain