Deciphering Olive Oils


By: Nikki Nies

Olive oil is a staple product in many cook’s kitchen and is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet.  Can you imagine cooking without it?  Like many products, one can’t peruse the grocery stores without being bombarded with different types and kinds of products.

Sometimes, I wonder.  Are the fancy words on labels there to trip the customers up?  So the prices can be hiked up for words that mean nothing too spectacular?  Have no fear, I’m here to extra-virgin-oilbreak down the common uses of olive oil and the differences among different types.

Olive derives from olive trees, with the particular variety of the olive used in processing producing the specific flavor in different types of oils.

Characteristics Olive Oil Virgin Olive Oil Extra virgin olive oil (EVVO) Refined Olive Oil Ordinary Olive Oil Olive Pomace Oil Refined Olive Pomace Oil
t Blend of virgin and refined olive oil Comes from first pressing, without refining Obtained from original fruit and not synthetically treated, or refined “cold pressed.” Obtained by treating olive pomace with solvents and is blended with virgin olive oil By refining crude olive pomace oil
Expressed as oleic acid Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Free acidity Yes Yes  No more than 0.8% Yes Yes Yes
Grams per 100 grams No more than 1/100 g No more than 2/100 g No more than 3.3/100 g No more than 1/100 g 0.3 g per 100 g
Use Can be used in high temperatures. Can not be used for dressings. Salads, soups, stews, dips Often used when frying Only for high heat cooking
Taste Commons lacks strong flavor Less mild than EVVO Considered to have superior taste More neutral flavor than virgin olive oil
Specific characteristics Will be labeled as “pure” or 100% pure.  Contains very little vitamin E. Lowest grade of olive oil, same fat consumption as regular olive oil

So, now that you know the chemical make up difference of the various olive oils, let’s look at the actual label that is promoting the bottles of olive oil.

Deciphering Labels

  • Means olives have been pressed to extract the oil
  • No heat or chemicals have been used
  • Remains unrefined
Made from refined olive oils
  • Taste and composition have been chemically controlled
  • Do not have less calories than EVVO, even though it may be implied
Cold pressed or cold extraction
  • Oil wasn’t heated over specific temperature, such as 80°F (27°C) during processing
  • Retains more nutrients
  • Less degradation
First cold pressed
  • Fruit of olive was crushed one
  • No international standard of “cold pressed”
  • There’s never “second” press of olive oil, so it’s either first cold pressed or another method has been used
  • “exceptional properties and quality from place of origin”
Oil was bottled and packed In a specific country
  • that does not mean the oil was produced there
  • it may be a mixture of oils from more than one country
  • the origin of the oil may be listed elsewhere on the bottle

Overall, EVVO is considered the gold standard of olive oil.  Rachael Ray has made it popular on her show and its use has been praised by many health professionals.

Benefits of using olive oil:

  • Improves immune system
  • Aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients—i.e. fat soluable vitamins
  • Naturally sodium and carbohydrate free
  • High smoke point, at 410°F, which means it can be used for frying
  • Foods are less greasy when olive oil is used, as it coats, doesn’t penetrate food
  • Helps protect against viruses and diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and/or diabetes
  • Has been shown to lower blood pressure
  • Helps reduce levels of obesity
  • Can be used as a finish or condiment
  • Contains antioxidants, called polyphenols that help protect against cell damage and inflammation
  •  Versatile—can be used on vegetables, rice, potatoes, beans, poultry, fish, meats
  • Has high monounsaturated fat content
  • Has relatively low saturated fat content

Stay tuned, I’ll be following up on the Mediterranean diet shortly.


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