Why Is Olive Oil So Expensive? (11 Reasons Why)

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Maisie Hughes

Maisie Hughes is a 20-year veteran of the culinary world. She has worked as a chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, and she currently volunteers her time at local food banks.

Olive oil sets the standard for healthy and delicious meals worldwide. In fact, you can hardly call most European and Mediterranean cuisine authentic if any other type of oil is used.

However, olive oil’s reputation goes beyond taste and usage. If you have ever indulged in olive oil, you know that it is expensive, but do you know why? Here is what I found!

Why Is Olive Oil So Expensive?

Olive oil is expensive because of the exacting methods required to harvest and mill olive fruits. It takes at least nine kilograms of olive fruits to produce one kilogram of olive oil. When you consider the import fees and care taken to store and transport olive oils, it makes sense why it’s expensive.

If you want to know more about what makes harvesting and milling olives so complicated, as well as other factors that influence the selling price of olive oil, keep on reading!

1. It Takes A Lot Of Olives For A Single Liter Of Oil

Do you know how many kilograms of olive fruit it takes to produce one kilogram of olive oil? Well, most olive oil producers estimate the numbers to be around nine to 11 kilograms.

Unfortunately, a single olive tree cannot produce that many olive fruits in one harvest, which means that one kilogram of olive oil requires the yield of at least a handful of olive trees.

Therefore, if you consider the number of trees necessary to produce olive oil on an industrial scale, there is no wonder why olive oil is pricier than other types of cooking oil on the market.

2. There Are Limited Harvests

Apart from producing only 15 to 20 kilograms of olive fruits per year, most olive trees may not produce olive fruits annually, to begin with.

So, while some olive trees can bear olive fruits yearly, it is normal for most olive trees to bear them every other year. Additionally, there is no guarantee that their yield will be heavy.

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As such, companies need to nurture large amounts of olive trees to meet their production goals, and the more land and trees they cover, the higher their expenses.

3. Picking The Right Olives Takes Patience & The Right Weather

There is more to harvesting olives than waiting for the olive trees to bear fruit. That said, producers always consider everything from the temperature to the shape of the tree.

More specifically, producers sometimes wait to get the proper oxygen levels and humidity before beginning the harvest, with cold temperatures being favored by most.

Therefore, with so many factors out of a producer’s control and many specialists and equipment necessary for a good harvest, the cost of making olive oil is naturally high.

4. Olives Are Mostly Handpicked

Olive trees thrive on rocky terrain and higher altitudes, so you will find most olive trees growing on hills or slopes of land in the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, such terrain is difficult, and sometimes impossible, for harvesting machinery to maneuver in. Consequently, this makes it common for olives to be harvested by hand.

That said, in at least 80% of olive farms globally, olive fruits are handpicked by farmers, and manual labor is significantly more expensive than automated harvesting.

Also, to cover the expenses involved in manual harvesting, such as the salaries of the workers and the tools they need, the cost of olive oil is increased appropriately.

5. Olives Are Difficult To Preserve

While some farms harvest their olive fruits through handpicking, some favor any machine they can use to get the olives collected and processed as fast as possible.

That said, faster processing lets producers preserve the oil quality in olive fruits. After all, as soon as the olive fruit is picked, the olive fruit oxidizes and deteriorates quickly.

Nevertheless, if the mills cannot take all of the harvested olives at once, a large number of olives sit unattended for hours or days, and the olives become unsuitable for processing.

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As you can see, harvesting and milling difficulties, combined with losses due to unused olives, drive up the entry point of olive oil and, therefore, the selling price.

6. Brands Use High Processing Standards

6. Brands Use High Processing Standards

Different olive oil brands have different standards when it comes to processing their products.

Typically, brands try to maintain a certain percentage of acidity throughout all the olive oils they produce, requiring special equipment.

Moreover, most brands either employ centrifuges to extract the oil or press the olives using direct contact. Regardless, both methods can be costly and exacting.

7. A Lot Of Olives Get Wasted

Unlike other produce, olives cannot be reused once the oils have been extracted. As a result, making olive oil generates tons of leftover olive mush that must be thrown away.

Also, this matter is so serious that the European Union has decided to step in to mitigate the effects of olive mill wastewater and the solid waste called pomace.

Until then, companies need to deal with discarding heaps and heaps of olive mush, which requires a sizable sum to accomplish.

8. Distributing Olive Oils Requires Great Care

Timing is not only crucial in harvesting and milling the olive fruits, but it is also vital in endorsing the olive oils to distributors and consumers.

After all, when it comes to olive oils, the fresher, the better. That said, certain measures are carried out to preserve the olive oil’s quality better and may differ per brand.

Just the same, these efforts can add a huge sum to the already high cost required to produce olive oil, and if the olive oil is not sold at a high price, companies will not profit.

9. Import Fees Increase The Cost Of Olive Oils

Harvesting and milling aside, the import fees really augment the selling price of most olive oils.

Like most expensive goods in the market, most of the world’s olive oil supply is produced by a select few countries, namely Morocco, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Turkey.

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So, while you may find olive farms in countries like America, these farms produce much less olive oil and may even be considered of lower quality.

Additionally, if you live outside of the countries above, the chances are big that you are paying as much as double the price for olive oil.

10. Olive Oils Have Various Grades

Olive oils come in different grades, specifically olive pomace oil, pure olive oil, refined oil, virgin oil, and extra virgin oil.

That said, with different grades come different types of processing, and this may require extra time, machinery, and precautions in storage and transportation.

Consequently, you will notice that some types of olive oil are more expensive than others and revered as higher-quality products.

11. Some Olive Oil Brands Are More Expensive

Nevertheless, costs are influenced by the brand. So, more well-known brands are likely to be more expensive, even if the quality is nearly the same as their counterparts.

However, some brands are expensive because they use better olive fruits and milling methods, which often results in fewer bottles of olive oil.

Typically, a higher-quality olive oil brand will have too few supplies to meet the demand and can justifiably increase the cost of its products.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why olives are so expensive, why Manuka honey is so expensive, and why maple syrup is so expensive.

Conclusion

Producing olive oil is costly, especially when considering the manual labor and the special machinery required to preserve the olive oil’s quality.

Now that you understand why olive oil stands out from other oils in terms of taste and price, you can have a better appreciation for your next costly—but totally worth it—-purchase.

Author

  • Maisie Hughes

    Maisie Hughes is a 20-year veteran of the culinary world. She has worked as a chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, and she currently volunteers her time at local food banks.

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