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Olive oil guide



Informative guide.

This guide was written to inform the consumer about of how choose a good olive oil and how olive oil may protect cardiovascular function, in an attempt to improve our customer quality of life.

We will talk about:


  1. Olive oil quality grades,

  2. How the use of olive oil instead of margarines or animal derived fat decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction.

1) In the European Community (EC), classification of olive oils is unique and distinguishes the different typology on the basis of various chemicals features and by means of sensorial analysis (Panel Test) as reported by the EC Reg. n.2568/91 modified by EC Reg 796/2002, EC Reg 1513/2001, EC Reg. 1019/2002 

A first classification, divides virgin olive oil (obtained solely by olive mechanical press) from olive oil (obtained through chemical extraction). Among virgin olive oil, certainly extra virgin olive oil (or virgin extra) set the excellence and among the others it must fit within the following parameters:


A)   it shall contain a high percentage of unsaturated fatty acids (e.g., oleic acid between 55 and 83% of all fatty acids),

B)   the free acidity value must be less than 0.8% and C) peroxydes concentration less than 20 meqO2 /kg of oil,

C)   Polyphenols concentrartion (largely responsible for oil taste) is regulated by DOP Origin Protected Denomination (DOP) rules, which divides Umbria Region in five zones. This amount may change from zone to zone and differentiates mild olive oils (polyphenols content <200 mg/kg of oil) from oils progressively more pungent (polyphenols content >200 and <500mg/kg of oil).


Recently, has been introduced the DOP olive oil, based on European Regulamentations 2081/91 and 2082/92, which improves quality (e.g., Panel Test value higher than 7, free acidity and peroxydes content must be maximum 0.6% and 12 meqO2 /kg respectively).

Then, there are olive oils produced by organic farming according EC Reg. 2092-91. This oils are pesticides and chemical fertilizer FREE, therefore without potencial poison substancies derived from chemical agricolture. In the fiel of organic oil, we clearly suggest you to purchase the extra virgin type.

At the end, it has to be pointed out that an olive oil with 0.6% of free acidity, 12 meqO2 /kg of peroxides and  150mg/Kg of  polyphenols (when the other criteria ad regulamentations are fulfilled) may be:


-extra virgin

-or extra virgin DOP

-or extra virgin organic


as an oil with 0.2% of free acidity, 4 meqO2 /kg of peroxides and polyphenols between 200 and 300 mg/Kg. The second oil shows an high quality with respect to the first one and at these levels the difference is made up and depend upon manufacturers.

In conclusion it is important for the consumer read the chemical analysis values prior to purchase an oil.


Making an extra virgin olive oil with higher concentration of both unsaturated fatty acids (principally oleic acid) and polyphenols requires:


1.     olive harvest must be done early in the season (before 15-20th of November)

2.     harvested olives, must be stored in small aerated containers and pressed no later than 48 hours from the day of harvest)

3.     cold-pressed techninique (temperature below 38°C), must be preferred over the others.


Respecting these rules we will obtain an extra virgin olive oil having the following features:


                - a higher content of polyphenols and oleic acid,

                - a very low peroxydes concentration,

                   - a very low free acidity,


these characteristics also limitate autoxidation a phenomenon that occurs during oil life and leads to:

-an increment of saturated fatty acids while unsaturated fatty acids decrease,

-a decreament of polyphenols content.


As we said, olive oil must be conformed to EC. Reg. (European Community Regulamentation) nevertheless, an extra virgin olive oil with:

          - 0.2% of free acidity, 6 meqO2 /kg of peroxydes and 200-300mg/Kg of polyphenols

shows an  high quality and will preserve as much as possible during its shelf-life an unaltered concentration of oleic acid and polyphenols with respect to an oil which contain 0.6% of free acidity, 12 meqO2 /kg of peroxydes and 150mg/Kg of  polyphenols.


Our extra virgin olive oil chemical features (click here)


In addition, it is important to elucidate two main points:

1. The polyphenols, are molecular heterogeneous class of compounds of which they make depart different substances. In the olive oil there are at least nine different types of it; two of these compounds tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol in an high quality oil, product with standard good and not older than one year should not overcome the 4-5% of the total content of polyphenols. You pay attention because no norm not even the Reg. CEE 2568/ 91 imposes of analyze the various classes of polyphenols and only the normative DOP requires the total polyphenols content measurements. We have measured the different classes of polyphenols and the results are display in section regarding our oil features.

2. Attention to the oils with low acidity. Today the technologies are able to transform when healthy old oils with acidity of 2-3%, in oils with low acidity (0.2-0.3%). It is easily understood as that goes to loss of the quality with high economic reloads. Generally this tipology of oils is without specific olive oil taste, flat and smooth. Sometimes low quality old olive oil may be mixed with small quantity of high quality extra virgin olive oil, so as to to hide the swindle to the consumer
and to the NAS (Nucleus Anti Sophistication, Weapon of the Police). 

Unfortunately the Reg. CEE 20568-91 doesn't foresee analytical fit techniques to underline this fraud but there is unofficial elaborate analysis to defend the quality and the consumer. 
With the term "unofficial" we meant that these analysis has got their scientific validity but has not contemplated from the official law. 

The analyses are based on the determination of the total dyglicerids (DAG) and on the relationship between 1/2-DAG and 1/3-DAG. 

An high quality extra virgin olive oil during the first year of life show a content in DAG that goes between 1 and 2,5%, and the relationship between 1/ 2-DAG and 1/ 3-DAG should be not inferior to 80%. This means that in these oils prevail the 1/ 2-DAG respect to 1/ 3-DAG. 

With the aging and the oxidation in the oil increases the DAG until 3% and prevail on the contrary the 1/3-DAG on the 1/2-DAG. 

We do an example of old oil: 

Acidity: 1.5% 
Total DAG: >2.5% 
Relationship between 1/2 and 1/3 DAG: 40-50% 

Wanting to subject this oil to chemical treatment to make it extra virgin the acidity will change from 1.5% to 0.3% but what remain stable it is the total quantity of the DAG and the relationship between 1/2 and 1/3 DAG. 

Therefore an extra virgin olive with acidity about 0.3% but with a content and a relationship of DAG similar to that of the example is strongly suspect. 

II) Several epidemiological scientific studies published on international medicine journals (see references     below), such as:  

  • the Seven Country Study (1) (duration time= 10 years; number of patients assigned to study in seven States= 12,733),

  • the Framingham Study (2) (duration time= 10 years; number of patients assigned to study= 5,209),

  • the Veterans Administration Study (3) (duration time= 8.5 years number of patients assigned to study= 846),

  • the studies: MRFIT, LCR CPPT and MFABP (4, 5, 6),


have evaluated the effect of unsaturated fatty acids rich diet (with olive oil as prevalent diet fat). These studies demonstrate that in patients subjected to olive oil diet as prevalent fat:


        -blood circulating LDL cholesterol levels drop down,

        -the incidence of myocardial infarction and sudden death decrease by 31% and 30% respectively

        -arterial blood pressure reached lower values,


in comparison to patients subjected to american’s diet, which on the contrary it is rich in saturated fatty acid as derived from the prevalent use of margarine and animal fats.

In addition from these studies it becomes evident that polyphenols and vitamin E, contained in olive oil are powerful antioxidants which may be effective in reduces: a) in part the risk of developing atherosclerosis and b) oxygen free radicals production, which is implicated in myocardial infarction and cellular aging.

The recommendations of these studies were: diet derived fat should not be exceed 30% of daily caloric intake with an optimal ratio of 7%, 15% and 8% between saturated, monounsaturated (oleic acid) and unsaturated fatty acids respectively. Olive oil, particularly the extra virgin type is the fat which most closely fulfill these criteria.


Marco Bettini, Bc.S., 

Division of Cardiology, University of Perugia School of Medicine



1) A. Keys et Al., Seven Country, Harvard University Press, 1980;

2) W. B. Kannel et Al, Ann Intern Med, 61:888-899, 1964;

3) S. Dayton et Al, Circulation, 3-40 (Supp. 3), 1-63, 1969;

4) MRFIT Group, JAMA 248:1465-1477, 1982;

5) LRC Programme, JAMA, 251 351-374, 1984;

6) A. Espino et Al, Nutr. Metab. Cardiovasc Dis, 6: 147-154, 1996;

7) Massaro M et Al. Direct vascular antiatherogenic effects of oleic acid: a clue to the cardioprotective effects of the Mediterranean diet. Cardiologia. 1999 Jun;44(6):507-13. Review.


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