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Olive oil buying guide. What does extra virgin olive oil mean?

Heart healthy olive oil

A general guide to buying olive oil.

Olive oil is great stuff, flavorful, and healthy, what more could you ask for? Unfortunately, olive oil is relatively expensive in contrast with other available cooking oils, so you want to understand what you are buying, to ensure you're not paying a lot for an inferior product.

There are a lot of terms floating out there, and it can be perplexing to look at an array of olive oils at the supermarket, and debate the relative merits of extra virgin oil, and first cold pressed oil, and light olive oil etc.

There is a hierarchical ranking of olive oils, and the different available olive oils are suited to different types of cooking.

The most expensive, and best of the olive oils, are termed extra virgin, and might also be labeled first cold pressed. These are the most flavorful of the oils. These oils have been manufactured through a mechanical pressing of the olives, and no heat or chemicals have been added. The term "first press" means that the oil has been collected from the first pressing of a batch of olives, and this is considered to be the best of the oil. To be labeled extra virgin, the oil must also have an acidity of lower than 0.6 % and also have been judged to have good taste by panel of experts.

Pure olive oil is usually a mixture of oils collected from mechanical pressing, as well as oil collected from further pressings of the olives, that may also use the addition of chemicals and heat. This oil may have been refined to reduce unwanted or harsh flavors. The flavor of this olive oil is noticeably less fruity and flavorful than extra virgin olive oil.

There is also a product called "light" olive oil, and this refers only to the coloration of the olive oil, and although is often sold at a premium, is of no better quality than standard pure olive oil.

Pumice oil is heat and chemicaly pressed oil, has almost no taste, and is not of culinary interest. This oil should no be bought for cooking.

Basically, the more expensive extra virgin olive oil has a much more fruity and complex taste than pure olive oil, and since the yield of this type of oil from a harvest of olives is smaller, it is therefore the most expensive. This olive oil is perfect for salads or drizzling over soups, etc. but the flavorful compounds of extra virgin olive oil are destroyed by the cooking process, and as such an extra virgin olive oil is no better than a pure olive oil for cooking.

Ideally, you should buy both extra virgin olive oil, for use in cold foods, such as salad dressings, and also the cheaper pure olive oil, for use in cooking. Avoid both the "light" olive oil, and pumice oil.

Heart smart, and delicious, good olive oil always brings a taste of the Mediterranean to your table.

Video on olive oil production


pat on September 20, 2011:

what fruits go into o;ive oil

rebcca fudsgufs on October 13, 2010:

what makes olive oil extra virgin

Now_Afraid_of_Oils on December 07, 2009:

Ok...I just had to ask this question since there seems to be so much talk about heat-induced PAHs.

As everyone clearly knows, oils of all kind are used in cooking. Does this mean every time we cook with oil, we are ingesting a bunch of PAHs??? This would categorically condemn ANY kind of cooking with oil.

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Just trying to follow the logic here.

oliveoilguy on September 20, 2009:

This is so frustrating. So much misinformation about something that is pretty simple.

1. The term first pressed means nothing in today's EVOO world as almost all oils are extracted using centrifuges not presses. Using centrifuges you can only extract once.

2. Extra virgin means that the oil is mechanically extracted from fresh quality olives without the use of solvents or chemicals. If the end result is free of any taste defects then it is EVOO.

Pure oil = lite oil = olive oil. They are all refined olive oils. The different names are just marketing abominations of the same thing. Being refined they are indistinguishable in taste from all other refined oils including canola, vegetable (soy bean). They have a healthier fat structure but that's it.

Pomace oil is the only olive oil that is solvent extracted. As the NZ website mentions, this grade of olive oil has been plagued over the years with high levels of carcenogenic PAH's which are formed when the pomace is dried in big ovens prior to the solvent extraction progress. It also has no taste to speak of and because of these other issues it really should be used as a biofuel.


italianoliveoil from London/Dubrovnik/Barcelona on September 11, 2009:

When im buying olive oil i tend to purchase over the internet where it can be delivered to my home, this way its fresher

justina on February 18, 2009:

I just read this on a New Zeland government safety site.Olive-Pomace Oil Questions and Answers

August 2002

What is olive-pomace oil ?

Olive oil is extracted by first crushing the fruit, then pressing the paste and lastly separating the oil from the liquor. The resulting oil is classed into four possible categories, depending on the processed used to extract and refine the oil:

Olive oil is the oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea) without having been subjected to manipulation or any unauthorised treatment.

Virgin olive oil is the oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal, which do not lead to alteration of the oil. Virgin olive oil is an oil which is suitable for consumption in the natural state.

Refined olive oil is the oil obtained from virgin olive oil, the acid content and/or organoleptic characteristics of which render it unsuitable for human consumption in the natural state, by means of refining methods which do not lead to alternations in the initial glyceridic structure.

Refined olive-pomace oil is the oil obtained from "olive pomace" by extraction by means of solvents and made edible by means of refining methods which do not lead to alteration in the initial glyceridic structure."

Olive-pomace oil is produced by refining and processing the olive oil pressings (which may include heating) during which PAHs can be formed.

What are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons?

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of compounds that are formed whenever organic matter is burned and PAHs are ubiquitous in the environment which means that food, air, water and soil are all potential routes of exposure.

There is evidence from cell culture and animal testing that certain PAHS are mutagenic and carcinogenic.

Emissions from vehicles, domestic heating, agricultural fires and industrial processes are likely to be important sources of atmospheric PAHs in New Zealand. For non-smokers, food is regarded as the primary route of exposure.

Foods which have been shown to have the highest levels of PAHs include charcoal broiled or smoked meats, leafy vegetables, grains, and fats and oils. The presence of PAHs in leafy vegetables is believed to be due to atmospheric deposition.

PAHs are effective inducers of cancer when applied to the skin of animals but their ability to do the same when ingested is much less. There is little epidemiological evidence for PAHs risk from ingestion. Although the exposure from foods is comparable with cigarette smoking, the difference in route of exposure makes comparisons uncertain. However, a significant amount of inhaled PAHs is removed from the lungs by clearance and swallowing.

Not all PAHs show biological activity and there is often significant variation between isomers. There is evidence from cell culture and animal testing that certain PAHs are mutagenic and carcinogenic. Epidemiological evidence has correlated PAHs exposure from cigarettes and urban air pollution with cancer incidence.

Bettie Sommer on October 04, 2008:

In the US, your terms do not apply. Typically, Europeans have agreed upon standards and the US refuses to adhere to the guidelines. Hopefully this will change and the US will join IOOC.

Blogger Mom from Northeast, US on March 24, 2008:

I've always cooked with extra virgin olive oil, so maybe I'll try to use the regular for cooking and reserve the extra virgin for my salads - I never knew this! Thanks for sharing!

John D Lee (author) on March 19, 2008:

Hi Rudy,

For cooking taste it would not be - as far as health benefits - yes, it would.

rudy on January 15, 2008:

i enjoy extra virgin olive oil but i have a question. Is pumice olive oil still better than vegetable oils?

very curious


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