Did you know that if olive oil gets cold, it turns into a butter-like consistency? This isn’t a big deal if you’re cooking at home — but if you’re negotiating cold winters in a food manufacturing plant, it can be a much bigger challenge. Perhaps you’ve even experienced it.
This poses a great question for production managers: what do you do when bulk olive oil solidifies?
Luckily, there’s lots of reasonably simple ways to handle this in your warehouse. Long story short, you’ll need to heat the oil to liquify it, which will allow you to get pumping. The other good news is that when olive oil solidifies, the quality remains the same, so you have nothing to worry about.
Why Does Olive Oil Solidify?
Before we move into how to resolve the cold olive oil issue, I want to talk about why it happens in the first place.
Olive oil naturally solidifies at cold temperatures. The freezing temperature is still disputed, but estimated to be between 35-40° F. The olive oil source says,
“Most manufacturers … don’t generally list a freezing temperature because it is quite variable depending on the olive variety and ripeness of the olive at processing. Unlike the properties of an element or simple compound like water, olive oil is made up of hundreds of chemicals, many of which change with every extraction.”
To help offer a more accurate answer, an olive oil expert ran some tests to see what multiple bottles of olive oil did at different temperatures:
“To determine the actual freezing temperature, Dr. John Deane put several oils in the freezer with a thermometer. At 40°F, most of the oils had not hardened or formed any crystals. At 35°F, most were firm enough that they could not be poured but were as soft as butter at room temperature. As the temperature lowered, more components of the oil solidified. At 10°F, the oils were hard enough that a fork could not penetrate them.
Determining at what point to call the oil "frozen" is a matter of semantics. This slow increase in hardening as the temperature is lowered is in sharp contrast to a pure substance such as water that switches from a liquid to solid phase at an exact temperature.”
His research proves that the solidification of olive oil is a slow and gradual process that takes the consistency from liquid to room-temp butter to solid. Therefore, it may be “not that cold” at your warehouse, or “only on a cold truck for a couple days!”, but the cooling process will still begin. As you can imagine, most freight trucks that carry olive oil in the winter can be in weather below 37°F, especially those in the northern states. Even the back of your warehouses might be below 50°F sometimes.
At about 45-50°F, the olive oil can begin to solidify, making it look cloudy or crystalized. As the olive oil gets colder, it turns into the consistency of butter. When completely frozen, it becomes a very hard butter.
Again, this process doesn’t affect the quality — it will be the same Extra Virgin Olive Oil when you bring it back to room temperature and it becomes liquid again. Some even suggest keeping it at this extra cool temperature to extend the shelf life. There is even a myth that if you refrigerate olive oil and it solidifies that it is authentic (though this has been proven to be not a good measure).
What You Can Do To De-Thaw It - Bulk Warehouse
If your olive oil has solidified, don’t worry. First things first, you will need to bring it to room temperature!
You can use a number of methods to do this:
- You can put the container into a “warm room”
- Move it to a warmer spot in the warehouse before you use it (closer to your ovens or proofers, for example, if you are a bakery)
- If you buy olive oil in drums, you can use drum heaters which wrap around the drums. These are often used to liquify solid oils like coconut oil.
- You might also think about changing your longer term storage location for the winter months
Make sure to give it enough time to turn back into a liquid — the larger the packaging, the more time it will need. This process can take anywhere from 1 day to 1 week, so make sure to plan ahead.
If it makes you feel any better, most olive oil suppliers deal with this at their locations in the winter months as well. We all bring in flexis overseas in the cold, and have to plan for additional time to de-thaw incoming loads as well. You’re not alone!
De-Thawing Olive Oil At Home
If you are looking to bring your retail bottle of olive oil back to a liquid state, this process is quite simple. Just fill a sink with warm water, and place your olive oil bottle in it. Your olive oil will slowing come back to a full liquid form so that you can use it just like normal -- just give it 10 or 20 minutes in the warm water.
You may find that there are small particles that are floating in the oil after defrosting -- these are small, natural molecules of the olive that tend to separate and settle when the olive oil solidifies. Don't worry, your oil is still good and you can use it like normal.
This freezing or solidifying process is completely natural and doesn’t affect the quality at all, so you don't have to worry.
If you’re dealing with large bulk volumes of oil, however, it can still be a hinderance for production if the oil they want to pump is solid. You’ll want to be proactive and close eye on it in the winter months to keep your oil in the “goldilocks temperature range” — not too cold and not too warm.
Have any questions? Ask your account manager.