Spanish olive oil: varieties, types and origins

Olive oil, also known in Spain as 'liquid gold', is a classic in the Spanish cusine. It's used in every single kitchen for dressing, frying or cooking, and it's a must-have for the Mediterranean diet.


Olive oil

Each person consumes 13 to 15 liters of Olive Oil every year in Spain. The features and varieties of this product aren’t as well known as they supposed to be. In this article, we will show you how to recognize each of them and how to choose which one will better match your food and your wallet, as well.

What is Olive Oil?

Olive Oil is just the juice extracted from olives as a result of squeezing them.

How many types of Olive Oil are there?

Olive oil is classified firstly depending on its juice obtaining process, secondly for the type of olive and finally for the area where the olives are grown.

The Virgin Olive Oil is obtained by mechanical and hand processes, which don’t make any alterations. Therefore, this needs to be procedure performed in cold.

The acidity is measured in grades. It goes from less than 0,8 degrees up to 3 degrees. Depending on their free fatty acids and purity level, they can be classified as following:

  • EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL – less than 0.8°, pretty aromatic, on the top of the list of quality and price
  • FINE OLIVE OIL – less than 2° degrees
  • REGULAR OLIVE OIL – less than 3° degrees
  • REFINED OLIVE OIL – less than 0.2° degrees, less flavor and vitamines
  • PURE OLIVE OIL – 1° degree, made of mixing Virgin and Refined. It’s the most popular
  • ORUJO OLIVE OIL – less than 0.3° degrees, made out of the waste of the process. It’s the lowest quality one

How many different varieties of olive are there in Spain?

OlivesBeing the first Olive Oil producer, Spain holds the largest list of olive varieties. There are 262 classified and documented varieties, some of which are used for eating while some are dedicated to producing oil. The following list contains the main varieties used for obtaining Olive Oil, together with their main features and where their trees came from originally (nowadays are grown and harvested in many other places throughout Spain). Here are the most popular:

  • ARBEQUINA: from Arbeca – Lléida (Catalonia), Fruity flavour, Intense aroma, Reminds you of apples & almonds, Quite suitable for dressing salads, veggies and fish ,Smooth & sweet, ideal for dipping
  • HOJIBLANCA: from Lucena – Córdoba (Andalusia), Medium size, Deep green colour, Fruity scent, Slightly bitter, Ideal for frying
  • PICUAL: Jaén (Andalusia), The best variety, One of the most produced, Big size, Pointed shape, Fruity & hot nuance, Massive harvesting, For dressing salads, Ideal for gazpacho & salmorejo, Matches pretty good with bread
  • CORNICABRA: from Mora de Toledo (Castille- La Mancha), Sharped shape, Can be used for eating as well, Golden yellow, Fresh aroma, Sweet & bitter at the same time, A bit peppery

Designation of Origin: D.O. stands for Denominación de Origen

They are the classifying organizations which group products grown, harvested and processed in a specific region or area in Spain. The most well-known Spanish D.O. is probaby Rioja (for wine). This process is run by a Chamber called «Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen» in which experts control the quality and processes required for certain products like wine, cheese, meat, vegetables… Once these products are acepted in the D.O. they are given numbered labels to place in each bottle or package. Being part of a D.O. requires the producers to follow certain process in order to ensure that olive oil meets the quality standards defined .

Olive Oil holds its own D.O. as following:

  • SIERRA MÁGINA: Jaén (Andalusia), Picual variety, Pretty aromatic, Fruity, Bitter touch
  • BAENA: Córdoba (Andalusia), Hojiblanca, picual & lechín varieties, Golden Green, Fruity aroma, Bitter almond like flavour
  • MONTES DE TOLEDO: Castille-La Mancha, Cornicabra variety, Golden yellow or deep Green, Fruity scented, Almond flavour touch
  • PRIEGO: Córdoba (Andalusia), Hojiblanca & picual varieties, Greeny yellow, Fruity aroma, Nuances of grass, apple & almond, Slightly bitter, Peppery finish
  • SIERRA DE SEGURA: Jaén (Andalusia), Picual variety, Greeny yellow, Well-balanced, Bitter & peppery touch
  • SIERRA DE CAZORLA: Jaén (Andalusia), Picual variety, Greeny yellow, Deep fruity & fresh aroma
  • BAJO ARAGÓN: Aragón, Empeltre & arbequina varieties, Golden yellow, Fruity aroma, Slightly sweet

What are the healthy properties of olive oil?

Bottled olive oilSince Olive Oil is a monounsatured oleic acid, its main property is reducing «bad cholesterol» (LDL-Low Density Lipoprotein) levels by rising the amount of «good cholesterol» (HDL-High Density Lipoprotein). As a result, the risk of cardiovascular diseases decreases significantly.

Which olive oil is the best for…

  • Making a Mayonaise: a mild one or a mix of Virgin Extra & sunflower
  • Salads: arbequina, for sure
  • Frying: refined, arbequina works prettty well (use it 5 to 8 times, at the most)
  • Gazpacho and could soup dishes: Virgin Extra, picual

The tip by Jessica

Add a small sprig of rosemary, a garlic clove, three bay leaves, a red hot chilly pepper, some wallnuts or whatever you like to aromatize and customize your oil with a slighty different and amazing touch that will surprise your gests.