Olive Oil: Like a Virgin

My favorite.

As a continuation of last week’s blog on oils, I thought I’d help clear up some confusion about olive oil.  Everybody says use more olive oil in cooking, but what to buy?  There are so many products in the grocery store and at so many different prices.  Really, individual brands are a matter of taste and there is no shortcut to buying, tasting and forming an opinion.  And don’t we all LOVE to have an opinion?  I happen to like “fruity” olive oil as my EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and my current favorite is the house brand at Dibruno’s.

Virgin olive oil is any olive oil extracted by the use of physical means (cold pressing), not chemical or steam extraction.

Extra virgin olive oil is the first press and has an acid content of 1%.  The low acid content has a better taste, but makes the smoke point lower too.  This is also usually the most expensive olive oil.  Use this for salad dressings, dipping and finishing. Here’s where you want to splurge.

Refined olive oil has been chemically treated to neutralize undesirable tastes and high acidity.  It is generally of lower quality than virgin olive oil.

Pure olive oil (or just olive oil) is usually a blend of refined and virgin oils, of no more than 1.5% acidity. It’s fairly tasteless.

Light olive oil is a relatively new kind of olive oil. It’s light in color and flavor through filtration.  However, the “light” designation does not change the calories or total fats.  Light olive oil also has a higher smoke point than regular olive oil, so it can be safer to use in high heat cooking, but you sacrifice lots of flavor with this oil.

Domestic olive oil is mostly grown and harvested in California; imported olive oil is generally from Spain, Greece, France or Italy.  Look carefully, the bottling country may be prominently featured, but is not necessarily the country where the olives were grown.  This will be listed too, but may be found in the fine print, so get out your reading glasses.

EVOO from the fridge. A quick zap in the microwave will bring it back.

Don’t buy olive oil sold in clear glass- this oil likes cool, dark places. Light deteriorates the oil.  If you do not have a cool dark place for storage, store it in the refrigerator.  It will turn cloudy, but as soon as it warms up, the cloudiness will disappear.  Don’t stock up too much during a sale of your favorite oil-shelf life is really no more than 1 year, even under ideal conditions.  I learned this the hard way-somewhere out there is a landfill with several unopened $20 bottles of EVOO.  Nearing the ideal flavor date was probably why it was on sale in the first place.

So in short, buy extra virgin olive oil for non-cooked or low heat items where the olive taste is a very important part of the dish.  Virgin olive oil is fine for cooking. Buy the other oils at your discretion, but for what it’s worth, I, personally, only have EVOO and Virgin oils on hand…but that’s just my opinion.

Categories: Cooking Terms


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