For an essential cooking ingredient that has been around for thousands of years, it’s understandable that you’d want to get it right. Here are some facts and insights about the different types of olive oil so you can feel more confident next time you’re standing in that aisle, contemplating your choices.
The difference is in the process
All olive oil, regardless of what it’s called, comes from the fruit of the olive plant. However, the difference between regular olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil is how each is extracted and processed.
- Bottles labeled as simply “olive oil,” “pure olive oil” or “light olive oil” are generally less expensive than extra virgin olive oil and lighter in color. This is because they are usually a combination of cold-pressed olive oil and refined olive oil. When olive oil is refined, any impurities are removed, either by heat or chemical processing. This neutralizes some of the flavor but allows the oil to withstand a higher heat during cooking.
- Bottles labeled “extra-virgin olive oil” is cold pressed from the fruit and remains unrefined. This yields a darker, more flavorful oil. While the flavor of extra-virgin olive oil can vary quite a bit depending on the actual olive plant, the depth of flavor alone makes extra-virgin olive oil coveted for marinades and salad dressings. However, since it hasn’t been processed, this oil has a lower smoke point and is at greater risk of burning when cooked over high heat.
Both regular and extra-virgin olive oil have a place in your pantry
While some people are EVOO purists, both light and dark olive oils have a place in your kitchen pantry. For use as purely a cooking oil, pure or light olive oil is great to have on hand. The flavor is almost entirely neutralized, so you can use it for cooking just about anything without worrying about it affecting the taste. Of course, this is a double-edge sword — if you’re a big fan of the taste of olive oil, you won’t get to enjoy it here.
That’s why it’s also great to have a bottle of high quality EVOO on hand. From making your own salad dressing and marinades, to dipping bread, to drizzling over cooked meat as a finisher, nice olive oil can help to elevate any meal.
If you’ve never spent time figuring out the difference between types and brands olive oils before, do a good old-fashioned taste test and determine what you like. It’s worth it to get it right.