Ogling the Olive Trees and Olive Oil in Texas

Get to know olives in Texas, olive oil and why it’s a Farmhouse staple for so much of our cooking.

(Adapted from Texas Olive Council) The Spanish brought the crop to North America, planting trees in Mexico and California where conditions most closely matched European olive terrains. From there, growers spread into other regions, including Texas. Olive trees have been growing in the Lone Star State since the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the late 20th century that Texans began to view olive oil as a commercially viable crop. The Texas Olive Oil Council was founded in 1994 to provide information and assistance to individuals interested in successfully cultivating olives in Texas. Today, olive oil is being produced in South, Central and East Texas, and experimentation continues into finding appropriate growing regions within the state.

A tree that celebrates both the past and the future of Texas is the olive. Along with the oak, the olive has appeared on the seal of Texas from the days of the Republic till now. The oak represents strength, while the olive represents peace and security.

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What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the purest form of olive oil on the market. It has been rated by the International Olive Council as having superior taste and a high oleic acid composition. To achieve the rating, the oil must have been extracted by mechanical means without the use of excessive heat, and without any form of solvents or additives.

Is all olive oil the same?
Definitely not. Low quality olive oils may be blended with other oils which can affect the taste and health benefits. Other elements that impact taste and composition include the selected varietals and the processing measures used to create the oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the purest classification of olive oil and is rated to have superior characteristics and taste. Other forms include “Light” olive oil and pomace olive oil.

What is pomace olive oil?
Pomace oil is the cheapest grade of olive. It is extracted from bits of mashed up skins, seeds and pulp left over from the production of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Heat and the solvent Hexane are often used in the extraction process, resulting in a lesser quality oil low in antioxidants.

Is there a difference in quality between mat pressing and centrifugal processing?
Centrifuge processing does not negatively impact the quality of olive oil. On the contrary, it is a more efficient means of processing, yielding fresh oil with a lower risk of contamination. Centrifuges also allow the oil to be exposed to less oxygen, preserving its natural antioxidents.

What is the benefit of monounsaturated fats?
Monounsaturated fats are considered a ”healthy“ fat largely because they are more resistant to oxidation. The source of monounsaturated fats in extra virgin olive oils is oleic acid, which occurs naturally in the oil.

What is the benefit of extracting oil soon after harvesting the olives?
Ideally, olives should be processed within 24 hours of harvesting. This protects the flavor and aroma. Olive oil can have a musty taste and aroma if processing is delayed.

Does the color of the bottle make a difference?
Yes. Light is harmful to olive oil (never keep olive oil on a windowsill) and a dark, opaque bottle helps protect the oil during storage.

Why is it important to know my olive oil retailer?
Dealing with a retailer who is informed about olive oil and knows their stock has its advantages. First, age matters in olive oil so you’ll want a retailer that you trust to stock the freshest supply available. Secondly, if you have questions about using the oil (What temperature should I fry with? What would work best in a salad dressing? When should I use a flavored oil?) a knowledgeable dealer may be more helpful than a non-specializing merchant.

How do I choose the right Extra Virgin Olive Oil from all the brands available?
Think of olive oil as a wine—much of the difference is a matter of personal taste. Since not olive oils vary widely it’s important to know what you like and how you’re likely to use it. Olive oils have different and distinctive flavors—early harvest oils can be very intense and pungent while late harvest oils tend to be milder and fruitier. Consider your needs and personal preferences and sample different oils when you have the opportunity. As with wine, it pairs well with foods grown in the same region.

What’s the difference between late harvest and early harvest oils?
Early harvest oils are picked earlier in the season and use greener olives. Late harvest oils are picked late season and have a riper flavor.

Why do so many European olive oils cost less than American oils?
The difference likely has to do with quality, processing measures and cost of production, but there are other factors. Remember, differences between olive oils exist even within the Extra Virgin classification. While price isn’t always the best indication of quality, it can tell you something about freshness and flavor. And while it’s not necessarily the case, fraudulent olive oils mixed with cheaper oils have found their way onto store shelves. So the EVOO label isn’t always a guarantee of top quality, and a low price isn’t always a bargain.

Europeans have been making olive oil for centuries. Does that experience mean I’ll get a better oil?
The most widely used techniques for producing EVOO began in the 1970s and advanced technologies weren’t invented until the 1990s. So while experience is a fine thing, modern olive oil producers today using quality fruit are working on a relatively equal footing.

Home Use 
Can I refrigerate Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Yes. Refrigeration can extend the shelf life of olive oil. In some cases, oil stored in a refrigerator may solidify but should return to its normal composition when brought back to room temperature.

What is the shelf life of olive oil?
It varies widely depending on the quality of the oil and the manner it is stored. A lower-quality oil has a shelf life of a few months while a high-grade Extra Virgin Olive Oil stored away from heat and sunlight should maintain its quality for at least a year.

What happens to olive oil when it passes its shelf life?
Old oil will take on a rancid flavor. Also, as it ages, olive oil loses a substantial amount of its beneficial health attributes.

How should I store olive oil?
Olive oil should be stored in a cool location (cellar temperature is ideal) away from sunlight. Keep your oil in an airtight container. Refrigeration is acceptable. Preferred storage materials for olive oil are glass, porcelain or stainless steel.

Can I use olive oil for frying?
Yes. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a fantastic choice for shallow frying, but it begins to smoke at a lower temperature than processed oils. For more oil-intensive forms of frying, consider using a ”light“ or other processed olive oil.

Does “Light” olive oil have fewer calories?
The term ”light“ has nothing to do with calories. It refers to color and taste. Light oil is refined to give it lighter color and a less intense taste. It is considered a processed oil and is less pure than extra virgin olive oil.

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