There is confusion about the terms “first pressed” and “cold pressed”; what do these really mean?

All genuine extra virgin and virgin olive oils are first cold pressed. So what sense can we make of these terms?

First pressed refers to the idea that the olive oil has been produced from a first crushing of the olives. It is based on a method of producing oil that is now rarely used.

In the old days, up to about fifty years ago, olive paste was placed between mats and crushed with a hydraulic press to produce oil. This was the ”first pressed” oil that produced the best quality. The remaining paste was then mixed with hot water and pressed again to produce more olive oil. The oil coming from this second pressing was inferior to the first, as many nutrients and flavors were removed.

Modern methods of oil extraction use centrifuges that crush the olive paste only once. Whatever residue remains cannot be used for a “second pressing”. In fact the residue is used to produce olive pomace oil, explained above, which is devoid of nutrients, potentially harmful, and is not even considered to be olive oil at all.

Therefore it is meaningless in our age to speak of “first pressed” olive oil, as there is only one pressing.

Cold pressed refers to the idea that the temperature did not exceed 80.6oF (27oC) during crushing of the olive paste. This maximum limit applies to both virgin and extra virgin olive oil, as determined by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC). The reason this temperature limit is important is that higher temperatures degrade the oil, reducing its flavors and nutrients.

However, raising the temperature above these limits increases the quantity of olive oil produced by a given amount of olives. Producers are therefore sometimes tempted to exceed the temperature limits in order to produce more olive oil and lower their costs. Strictly speaking, by violating the temperature rules they are no longer producing virgin or extra virgin olive oil that conforms to international standards.

Therefore the term “cold pressed” on a label only means that the producer has not violated the IOOC’s rules on temperature.

Do not be taken in by a label that says “First cold pressed”. If an olive oil is genuinely and authentically “extra virgin” or “virgin” according to international standards, it must necessarily also be first cold pressed.