Early vs. Late Harvest Oil
Something a lot of olive oil consumers don’t always know is that olive oil can differ vastly depending on the olive varietal and when the olives themselves are harvested from the trees.
Australia’s southeastern region (primarily Victoria, South Australia and parts of New South Wales) has a Meditteranean climate that is optimal for producing some of the world’s tastiest extra virgin olive oil. In this region, olives can be harvested anywhere as early as March and as a late as June or July, depending on that year’s conditions.
Olives harvested in this region within the earlier part of this timeframe (March or April) are considered to produce “early harvest” oil, while harvesting in the later part of this timegrame (June, sometimes July) produces “late harvest” oil.
Early harvest extra virgin olive oils are made with unripe olives that have a high chlorophyll content. Because the chlorophyll levels are high, early harvest oils are usually greener in colour (but may fade as they age or are exposed to any light). In contrast, the presence of carotenes and carotenoids will give us oils of a more or less intense yellow color. Generally, one reason why people love to buy early harvest oils is they have extra low acidity and higher antioxidant levels compared to late harvest oils.
Flavour-wise, early harvest oils often have a bitter, peppery or pungent finish in the throat. This “bitterness” is actually a good thing. It signifies high-quality production and processing and is one is one of the first giveaways that the oil you are tasting is indeed extra virgin olive oil. What you are tasting in the peppery flavour are the nutrtious antioxidants.
Finally, early harvest oil can also have a longer shelf life (although you probably won’t be keeping it on the shelf for long!).
When olives are harvested later in the season, the olive is more mature (often a purple, blueberry or black colour, depending on the varietal). The advantage to waiting to harvest later in the season is that it produces a different flavour and the olives themselves will produce more oil during processing.
Compared to early harvest oil, late harvest oil is often more golden or yellow in colour due to the lower chlorophyll and polyphenol content.
In terms of flavour, the oils often have tasting notes that are more floral, less bitter and less pungent. Because they have been harvested later in the season, their shelf lives are shorter than early harvest oils.
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