Understanding olive oil varieties and how to best use each one

Understanding olive oil varieties and how to best use each one

Olive oil labels can be confusing, so choosing the right one can be difficult. While it’s easy to distinguish extra virgin from refined olive oil, many varieties have characteristics that overlap.

You probably already know that extra virgin olive oil is a high-quality oil, but with cheaper, ‘pure’ and ‘refined’ varieties available, why should you spend more on premium-priced EVOO? Since deciding which oil is best for your needs can be confusing, here’s a brief guide on olive oil varieties and how each type is best used.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil because of its excellent flavor and fragrant aroma. Unlike other oils, it is unprocessed and unadulterated by lower-quality oils. Even though it is the purest kind of olive oil, no EVOO producer would slap a ‘pure’ label on their bottle.

EVOO also has a low acidity level and the highest level of antioxidants, making it the healthiest among all olive oils. Because of its excellent taste and aroma, it’s ideal as a dressing for salads, a dip for fresh breads, and a finishing touch drizzled over savory dishes -- basically, anything that requires no heating.

Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin olive oil is also flavorful and unrefined like EVOO. It has a 2% acidity level (compared with EVOO’s 1%), which is still significantly lower than regular oils. Because of its fruity taste, virgin olive oil is also excellent for salads and as a condiment for bread, as well as for sautéeing and baking, but not for deep frying. It is, overall, a great alternative to EVOO.

Refined Olive Oil

Refined olive oil is basically virgin olive oil that’s been chemically treated or heated to reduce acidity. It is produced in bulk and lacks the distinct olive taste and aroma of virgin oils. But because it’s processed, it has a longer shelf life than EVOO. Even though it’s inferior to virgin oils in terms of flavor profile and aroma, it’s an ideal choice for cooking due to its higher smoking point, which allows it to withstand high-heat cooking.

Pure Olive Oil

Varieties labeled ‘pure’ or simply ‘Olive Oil’ are a mixture of both refined and virgin olive oils. Like virgin olive oil, they have low acidity. However, they’re not as nutritious, flavorful, or aromatic. If you prefer to use olive oil for deep frying, pure olive oil is an ideal choice, as it’s relatively flavorless and cheaper.

The proportion of virgin to refined olive oil also tends to vary by producer, so when you see a bottle labeled as ‘Olive Oil,’ it’s most likely refined. In other words, there’s little difference between pure and refined olive oils.

Pomace Olive Oil

Pomace refers to the pits and flesh that have been extracted from olives. It then undergoes further processing using solvents to extract residual oils from the used paste. Pomace oils are low in nutrients, taste, and aroma, and are known to have contaminants due to heavy processing.

You’re unlikely to see many of this variety in stores, as producers are likely to label them as refined or olive-pomace olive oil. They’re best for soap-making and other non-culinary uses.

Light and Extra Light

Don’t get confused -- olive oils labeled ‘light,’ ‘extra light’ or ‘mild’ do not mean they have fewer calories. Rather, they have fewer nutrients (polyphenols) and are much less flavorful and aromatic than virgin oils. That’s because they’re produced from low-grade olives, which are characterized by their light color and taste. They are, however, a good substitute for regular cooking oil.

You wouldn’t want to use pure olive oil as a salad dressing or use extra virgin to make french fries. Knowing the key differences among these varieties helps you pick the right olive oil. If you want nothing but premium-quality olive juice regardless of grade, order from our online store today!