Let’s talk olive oil. If you have ever found yourself in the grocery store aisle in front of the olive oil shelf with a big frown on your face, this article is for you.
Let’s be honest olive oil terminology can be confusing! What does it mean when the bottle is labelled extra virgin olive oil, pure olive oil or just olive oil? Never mind the meaning, how does that affect me as a customer? Which one is best and how do they differ?
This article is all about helping you through the journey of olive oil discovery. We hope that the next time you find yourself in front of the olive oil shelf you will have a big smile on your face and the picking will be easy since you now understand how olive oil is labelled.
Olive oil is simply put the oil extracted from the olive fruit. Olive oil is all about the process. The quality of olive oil is determined by the quality of the olives received from the olive groves, the time-lapse between picking and processing and whether the processing methods were conducted correctly. The olive oil is graded according to the composition – whether it is natural or whether it has undergone a refinement process or chemical treatment. With natural olive oils, the criteria is the level and presence of free fatty acids, the peroxide levels and whether any defects are present at all on the nose and palate.
According to this, olive oil is grouped into the following categories:
- Natural olive oils
- Refined olive oils
Natural Olive Oil and Refined Olive Oil
Natural olive oil is unadulterated and usually cold-pressed. We commonly know Natural olive oil as either extra virgin olive oil or virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is characterised by a strong olive aroma and flavour. The presence of the peppery anti-oxidants makes natural olive oils unique. These olive oils have low levels of free fatty acids.
Refined olive oil is oil that undergoes heat and/or chemical processing. This results in a lighter olive flavour and aroma. In contrast to natural virgin oils, refined oils lack the antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Refined oil is associated with higher levels of free fatty acids. We commonly know refined oils as pure olive oil and light olive oil
Now that we understand the main grouping of olive oil let’s get into the difference between extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, pure olive oil and light olive oil. This is where things get interesting.
NATURAL OLIVE OILS
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Extra virgin olive oil is the crowning glory of olive oils since it is the highest grade, most natural and best quality available. EVOO is a cold-pressed oil with low levels of free fatty acids, true olive taste and contains vitamins and minerals naturally present in olives. No chemicals are used during the extraction of this olive oil and the milling process is kept below 28.5°C.
Virgin Olive Oil
Virgin olive oil is the next best thing to extra virgin olive oil in terms of quality. Virgin olive oil is also a natural olive oil but has a slightly higher level of free fatty acids, higher peroxide levels and a minimal amount of defects in comparison to extra virgin olive oil. The distinctive fresh olive aromas and flavours are also less than that of extra virgin. Your nutritional benefit is therefore less in virgin olive oil. You will find that virgin olive oil is rarely found in grocery stores.
REFINED OLIVE OILS
Pure Olive Oil
Pure olive oil also known as regular olive oil or just olive oil, is a refined olive oil. The refinement process strips the olive oil from undesirable flavours and odours – usually due to defects that occurred during processing. Pure olive oil is a blend of natural and refined oil.
Light Olive Oil
Light olive oil or extra light olive oil is your lowest grade of olive oil. Being a blend between unrefined oil at less than 10% and the rest refined oil, this oil has a very light olive taste. The name of light olive oil is misleading to customers since most think it refers to low fat or low calories but in truth, the light refers to taste.
Olive pomace oil is a solvent that has, by means of bleaching, heat and chemicals been dissolved from the olive residue/pulp that was removed during the original extraction process. This can not be classified as olive oil – yet some labels in-store indicate Pomace Olive Oil.
There you have it. Extra virgin olive oil is your highest quality natural olive oil with the most health benefits and most intense flavour. Next is your virgin olive oil which has a less intense flavour, fewer health benefits but is still a natural olive oil. Pure olive oil is a refined olive oil with little olive flavour. Also in this category – we have light olive oil which is has a very light olive flavour.
Now you will be able to stand in front of the olive oil shelf and distinguish which oil is best for you, by asking yourself what you are looking for in terms of quality, flavour, health benefits and processing.