Pomace olive oil is a fatty liquid extracted from olives that already have gone through the pressing process. Available in three different grades, it is used in the industrial, beauty and culinary industries. It is not the same as the extra virgin type, and although it does have some health benefits, it can hold carcinogens depending on exactly what happens during extraction and refinement.
During manufacturing, companies use machines to press as much oil out of the olives as they can. The “first press” produces the high-quality, extra virgin kind that people usually want for cooking. The process is sometimes repeated, but at the end of all presses, companies still have the crushed olives or pomace. This still has between 3 – 8 percent oil left inside, so workers add a solvent, usually Hexane, to chemically remove what’s left over. A refining and mixing process often follows.
The International Olive Council separates this product into three distinct retail grades: crude, refined and olive pomace. The first type typically is meant for industrial use and really shouldn’t be eaten as it is. The second kind is one level higher, having had some of the impurities taken out. It’s technically defined as having an acidity of 0.3 grams per 100 grams. The last grade, which is a blend of refined and virgin oils, has an acidity of 1 gram per 100 grams. Even though it is sold for consumption, it has to be labeled clearly, because IOC does not include products obtained through solvents in the strict definition of olive oil.
Use in Cooking
Individuals commonly use high-grade versions of pomace olive oil in cooking. Some people prefer it because it has a very high smoke point of 464° Fahrenheit (240° Celsius), making it especially good for frying. Many chefs and connoisseurs don’t like it, however, because it doesn’t have the aroma or strong flavor of the higher grades available, although the mildness can be a good thing in cuisines where strong olive taste might clash with other ingredients. IOC stresses the difference between extra virgin and consumption-quality pomace oils, emphasizing that, even though both are edible, they aren’t substitutes for each other, with buyers making a selection based on exactly how and what they intend to cook.
Pomace olive oil is an ingredient in many skin, hair and other cosmetic products. Companies use it to make mild, creamy soaps, for example. It is common in hair conditioners, as well, because it coats the hair strands easily, protecting them from moisture loss and damage while adding shine. People also sometimes apply it to their skin to treat dryness and minor inflammation. Some individuals claim that it keep fine lines and wrinkles at bay, because it keeps the skin from losing too much water to the environment, thereby keeping cells nice and plump.
Olive pomace oil sometimes is used as a carrier in aromatherapy products or as a fuel in lamps. The industrial grades are used mainly as lubricants, although it sometimes is mixed into products. Some people also use it for cleaning, such as removing residue from grills.
For those looking for the most health benefits, extra virgin wins out. It is higher in antioxidants, which are substances that fight damage from free radicals. The fat composition of both products is very similar, however, containing roughly 10% saturated fat — the kind linked to heart disease — and 80% mono-unsaturated fat. Even though it is extracted in much the same way as other options such as canola or sunflower oils, it has a higher level of oleanolic acid, which experts think might relieve high blood pressure, hypertension and arthritis inflammation.
In some circles, this product is considered dangerous because of the extraction and refinement process. After the solvent is added, manufacturers have to get rid of it, so they evaporate it with heat. In a good system, the temperature doesn’t get above 194° Fahrenheit (90° Celsius), and the risk of any contamination is extremely low. When heat rises to 572° Fahrenheit (300° Celsius) or more, however, the fats liquefy and drip out, but the oil partially combusts, forming compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Experts believe these compounds can cause cancer.
Understanding that the real problem here is the intense heat, not all versions have high levels of carcinogens. Typically, those that do are made by companies that are trying to speed up extraction and refinement to save money. A person who wants to be certain of quality and safety can read product labels, direct questions to manufacturer representatives or look into the results of tests done by local, state or national organizations.
Olive pomace oil should be kept in an airtight, dark container so that it doesn’t go rancid. Experts say that a temperature around 57° Fahrenheit (13.9° Celsius) is ideal. Refrigeration can slow oxidation, although it might cause the product to get a little cloudy or solidify. Storing it at room temperature — around 70° Fahrenheit (21° Celsius) — is generally fine.