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Everything you wanted to know about Olive Oils but were afraid to ask!


Left to right: Estate bottled extra virgin; Extra virgin; Extra virgin from 4 kinds of olives; "Pure" olive oil

Left to right:
Estate bottled extra virgin; Extra virgin; Extra virgin from 4 kinds of olives; “Pure” olive oil



Extra Virgin vs “Pure” Olive Oil: what’s the difference?

Left to right: Extra virgin, estate bottled; Extra virgin; "Pure"

Left to right:
Extra virgin, estate bottled; Extra virgin; “Pure”

Researching this subject was fascinating to me. When we were in Italy this summer, we had simple salads dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. But the olive oils were extra virgin, estate bottled, cold pressed,  and the balsamic vinegar was the real deal, from Modena, Italy.

So let’s talk today about olive oil. Later I’ll fill you in on balsamic vinegars. 

What sets olive oils apart is the process used to extract the oil from the olives, and also additives that may be included, as well as the oil’s level of acid.

 So what does all this mean?

If you want an in depth look at how the process goes from picking the fruit to the bottling stage, read this fascinating account from the New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/24/travel/italys-treasured-olive-oil-at-the-source.html

How Olive Oil Is Graded

Extra-virgin olive oil will have a greenish golden color. If it’s estate bottled, that means the olives are grown and processed on the same site.  Some purists believe the olives should be picked and the oil bottled within 6 hours.

But here’s some good info from thekitchn.com.

Is “greener” colored olive oil better?

This color differential  varies from brand to brand, and it is deceptive. You cannot use color to reliably tell two grades of oil apart. Olive oils can vary drastically in taste and quality, and color is only one factor and not the distinguishing one.

It’s about the acid

Olive oil is graded by its level of acidity, or free oleic acid. The amount of free oleic acid in olive oil indicates the extent to which fat has broken down into fatty acids.


Refined vs. Unrefined Olive Oil


Olive oil also falls into two distinct categories: refined and unrefined. While unrefined oils are pure and untreated, refined oil is treated to remove flaws from the oil, making it more sellable.


Richard Gawel is an olive oil expert and long-time appointee as Presiding Judge in various major olive oil shows. On the difference of refined and unrefined oils he says, “Refined oils have little or no olive aroma, flavor, or color (what they have gets there via blending in few percent of an extra-virgin oil). They also have no bitterness.”


In contrast to unrefined extra-virgin olive oil, refined oils “lack the important antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that make extra-virgin oil so special.”


What You Need to Know About Extra-Virgin Olive Oil


Extra-virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil and the highest-quality olive oil you can buy. There are very specific standards oil has to meet to receive the label “extra-virgin.” Because of the way extra-virgin olive oil is made, it retains more true olive taste, and has a lower level of oleic acid than other olive oil varieties. It also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.


Extra-virgin olive oil is considered an unrefined oil since it’s not treated with chemicals or altered by temperature. What sets it apart is the low level of oleic acid and the absence of sensory flaws. It contains no more than 1% oleic acid and typically has a golden-green color, with a distinct flavor and a light peppery finish.


While you can cook with extra-virgin olive oil, it does have a lower smoke point than many other oils, which means it burns at a lower temperature. Save the pricey good quality stuff for dipping bread, dressing, dips, cold dishes, and use the less expensive stuff for cooking and baking.


What You Need to Know About Virgin Olive Oil


Next in quality, as categorized by the standards of the International Olive Council, is virgin olive oil. It’s made using a similar process as extra-virgin olive oil and is also an unrefined oil, meaning chemicals or heat are not used to extract oil from the fruit. Virgin olive oil also maintains the purity and taste of the olive, though production standards are not as rigid.


According to the standards of the International Olive Council, virgin olive oil has a slightly higher level of oleic acid. It also has a slightly less intense flavor than extra-virgin olive oil.


Virgin oil is rarely found, if ever, however, in grocery stores; usually your choice will be between extra-virgin, regular, “pure” and light olive oils (these last 2 are a blend of oils).


What You Need to Know About Pure Olive Oil


You may also recognize oil labeled as simply olive oil or pure olive oil — this is what we’d consider “regular” olive oil. This oil is typically a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil (heat and/or chemicals are used in the process of extracting oil and removing flaws from the fruit).


Pure olive oil is a lower-quality oil than extra-virgin or virgin olive oil, with a lighter color, more neutral flavor, and oleic acid measuring between 3-4%. This type of olive oil is an all-purpose cooking oil.


What About Light Olive Oil?


This is the type of olive oil where the name may spark some confusion. “Light” doesn’t refer to this olive oil being lower in calories. Rather, it is a marketing term used to describe the oil’s lighter flavor.


Light olive oil is a refined oil that has a neutral taste and a higher smoke point. It can be used for baking, sautéing, grilling, and frying.


Can They Be Substituted for Each Other?


The simple answer is yes. If a recipe calls for olive oil, as many do, you can use extra-virgin or regular olive oil. It’s up to you, and largely based on personal preference. Both extra-virgin and regular olive oil can be used in baking and cooking, but do keep in mind their differing smoke points.


Note from Rita: I agree with lots of folks who want to use the best extra-virgin olive oil in salads and non-cooked foods. But I go one step further: I love to use extra virgin in cooking, even though I know it has a lower smoke point than other olive oils. So I know experts may disagree with me on that point.



















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