Olive oil is pressed from the fresh-picked fruit of the olive tree. Photo by Iliana | SXC.




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November 2005
Updated December 2013

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Oils, Vinegars & Salad Dressings

Olive Oil & Olives Glossary

Page 9: Terms With S ~ Z


This is Page 9 of the Olive Oil & Olives Glossary. If you think we should consider terms or definitions than those we have provided, use the Contact Us links on this page. Also read our article, Flavors and Aromas of Olive Oil. Visit our collection of many other food glossaries to learn more about other food products.

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See pomace oil.


From the area of Sevilla in southern Spain, the Sevillano cultivar is also planted extensively in California. One of the largest green varieties, this olive has a light fruity flavor. It pairs well with fresh or fresh-style cheeses like goat cheese and feta.


Sevillano olives. Photo courtesy


A large green Italian olive from Sicily, often pitted and stuffed with pitted and stuffed with cheese, garlic, a hot chile pepper or pimento. It is also marinated in olive oil that is highly-seasoned, an used as a snack, appetizer or sandwich topping. There are different varieties of green olives sold as generic “Sicilian” olives.



See estate oil.

  Green Olives

Sicilian green olives. Photo courtesy
Australia On A Plate.


This refers to the processing of the green olives picked from the tree. Olives cannot be eaten straight from the tree and must be processed to leach the oleuropein which makes them inedible. The olives are treated in a diluted lye solution (sodium hydroxide) to eliminate and transform the oleuropein and sugars. Fermentation is then carried out with the olives covered in brine. Traditionally, this was done in wooden casks; more recently, larger containers of modern materials are used. When properly fermented, olives keep for a long time. Olives can be whole, stoned (pitted) or stuffed with anchovies, pimento, etc. The most commonly used varieties are Manzanillo, Sevillano/Gordal (see above) and Moroccan Picholine.


Manzanillo olives. Photo courtesy
Australia On A Plate.


See Sevillano olive, above.



Italian for cold pressed.



An artisanal technique using a traditional millstone to crush and grind the olives.



The souri (Arabic for “Syrian”) originated in Lebanon; it is widespread in the Levant— Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territory. It has a high oil yield and exceptionally aromatic flavor.


Il Nudo is a modern brand that uses old-fashioned millstones to crush the olives (and also the fruits that flavor some of the oils). Photo courtesy
Il Nudo.


The degree to which the olive oil retains its freshness, i.e., does not turn rancid. This is a function of the intrinsic composition of the cultivar—the amount of oleic, linolenic and palmitoleic acids. Of course, keeping the oil tightly-capped in a dark, cool space will help; and the ultimate aid is using a wine preservative spray to displace the oxygen in the bottle, thereby slowing oxidation. (But, sprays are expensive, and need to be balanced against the cost of replacing the bottle. If it’s a bottle brought back from Europe that is difficult to obtain, it’s worth it.)


An olive that is grown for eating (“at the table”) as opposed to pressing for oil. These varieties tend to be fleshier, with more fruit surrounding the pit. Some varieties, fleshy and satisfying as table olives, also yield delicious oils and are pressed into artisan oils as well.


Photo of Niçoise olives by Nathalie Dulex | SXC.


Pronounced tur-WAH, the French word for soil, land or terrain, “terroir” has long been used in wine and coffee analysis to denote the special characteristics of geography that give the grape or bean its individuality: soil, geology, aspect, altitude. It is an extended meaning of the word for land and can be loosely translated as “a sense of place,” the sum of the effects that the environment has on the creation of what is grown there. The term can also be used to describe olive groves (or cacao beans, or cheese, any other agricultural product where the flavor is significantly impacted by its surroundings), as the same variety of olives grown in the same region can create different-tasting and different-colored oil based on the terroir of the grove. The term is now being used, appropriately, for cacao beans.


Young olive trees in New Zealand. Photo courtesy Village Press.


IOOC Definition: Unfiltered oil contains tiny particles of olive flesh, which leaves the oil cloudy. Olive oil aficionados claim this adds additional flavor. Unfortunately it causes a sediment to form at the bottom of the bottle over time which can become rancid, negatively impacting flavor and shelf life. Unfiltered oil should be carefully stored and used within 3 to 6 months of bottling.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most countries use the IOOC standards. The U.S. is one of the few major markets which has not adopted the IOOC definitions. Instead the USDA has a 1948 classification which uses terms such as “fancy” and “choice.”  As of this writing, new standards are being presented for comment and adoption.



USDA logo. Image courtesy United States Department Of Agriculture.


These are the official IOOC definitions: This oil is obtained only from the olive, the fruit of the olive tree, using only mechanical or other physical means in conditions, particularly thermal conditions, which do not alter the oil in any way. It has not undergone any treatment other than washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering. It excludes oils obtained by the use of solvents or re-esterification methods, and those mixed with oils from other sources. It can be qualified as a natural product, and virgin olive oil can have a designation of origin when it meets the specific characteristics associated with a particular region. Virgin olive oils can have the following designations and classifications depending on their organoleptic (taste and aroma) and analytic characteristics (the degree of acidity refers to the proportion of free fatty acids, not to the taste).

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams (0.8%), and the other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this category. Extra Virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries. Used on salads, added at the table to soups and stews and for dipping.

There are all levels of quality labeled Extra Virgin Olive Oil. While the acidity level is the base line of identity, the type and quality of the olives (single varietal or blend) will create a bland olive oil or a richly flavorful one.

  • Virgin Olive Oil: Oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 2 grams per 100 grams (2.0%) and the other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. Virgin olive oil represents a very small percentage of production, and is rarely found in the U.S.
  • Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil: Virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams and the other characteristics which correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. Ordinary oil may still be fine for frying or where flavor is not wanted or needed.
  • Lampante Virgin Olive Oil: Virgin olive oil not fit for consumption as it is, designated lampante virgin olive oil, is virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams and/or the organoleptic characteristics and other characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category in this standard. It is intended for refining or for technical use.

As with all olive oils of all grades, the health benefits are the same regardless of quality and cost.


See cultivar.


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