Olive oil is a broad term given to any oil extracted from the olive fruit. (Yep, that means olive oil is technically a fruit juice. Some people even drink olive oil like juice — albeit in much smaller quantities.) It’s important to understand, however, the oil extraction processes vary greatly — from mechanical milling to heat and chemical processing — and excessive refinement can strip the oil of its natural flavors and health benefits. Olive oil is a versatile product with a variety of uses, including cooking, lamp fuel, make-up remover, and more.
Extra virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil extracted and processed without the use of chemicals, solvents, or heat. Since its milling process involves crushing the freshly harvest olives without adding heat, extra virgin olive oil is often described as “cold-pressed.” Of the multiple olive oil options available today, extra virgin olive oil is the purest — hence the delicate name. And as such, high-quality EVOO is also bursting with flavor and nutrients.
How can virgin olive oil be “extra virgin”?
If you scan the olive oil section at your local grocery store, you’ll likely see a colorful array of bottles and labels. And if you look closely, you’ll probably notice that some products are listed as virgin olive oil while others are branded as extra virgin olive oil. Since we’ve already covered the fact that the extraction process determines the difference between regular olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, it’s natural to wonder about the difference between the virgin and extra virgin labels. This distinction has more to do with olives than the extraction.
Virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil produced by the same mechanical methods as EVOO. That means it hasn’t been altered or affected by heat, solvents, or chemicals. It falls short of the “extra” tag because producers make it from lower quality fruit. If the olives aren’t harvested at the height of their ripeness, they become over-ripe, and the chemical changes in the fruit lead to quality flaws that include degraded flavor and lower nutrient density.
The olives used to make extra virgin olive oil must pass rigorous sensory and chemical quality checks, often by a third-party panel of experts. So, while it is extracted and processed by the same methods as virgin olive oil, EVOO is a higher quality product due to the superior olives used in its production. Better olives make better olive oil. It’s that simple.
Comparing the health benefits of olive oil and extra virgin olive oil
Let’s start this discussion by acknowledging that there are many oils that can be used for cooking. Many of the most popular options are vegetable-based oils such as corn, coconut, canola, soybean, palm, and sunflower oils. Since seed and grain oils require considerable amounts of heat or chemicals to produce, they only offer a fraction of the health benefits you can get from extra virgin olive oil.
While regular olive oil is a good source of monosaturated fat — sometimes referred to as “healthy fat” because of their ability to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing the bad cholesterol levels in your blood — most of the olive’s natural vitamins and nutrients are stripped out during processing.
Along with being a good source of monosaturated fat, fresh extra virgin olive oil, which we’ve already established is an unrefined oil extracted without the use of chemicals or heat, is packed with antioxidants, vitamins (E & K), and polyphenols that provide anti-inflammatory benefits similar to ibuprofen. When you’re looking for an oil that’s good for you, fresh extra virgin olive oil delivers the most health benefits — its vibrant flavor is a delicious bonus!
Can you use extra virgin olive oil for cooking?
Olive oil is a cooking staple in many Mediterranean countries. The same could be said for many American homes. Whether you’re frying, sauteeing, cooking, or baking, olive oil is an excellent choice. Yet, for some reason, many people wonder whether they can use extra virgin olive oil for cooking.
Presumably, this question comes from hearing others talk about EVOO’s low smoke point, the temperature at which fatty acids in the oil break down and turn to smoke. Since it is unrefined, extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point (350-410 degrees Fahrenheit) than regular olive oil (390-468 degrees Fahrenheit). While the difference is real, it rarely becomes a concern as most people cook at temperatures well below either smoke point.
Rather than asking whether you can cook with extra virgin olive oil, it might be better to ask if you should. EVOO offers more vibrant flavors and health benefits than regular olive oil, which is why it carries a higher price tag. When extra virgin olive oil is exposed to high heat, its distinctive flavors diminish along with its antioxidant and nutrient levels. Since regular olive oil is suitable for cooking, it might better financial sense to use it for cooking and save your premium extra virgin olive oil for dipping, drizzling, and finishing your food — uses that highlight its best qualities.
Not all olive oils are created equal. From the quality of the olive fruit to the specifics of the extraction process, there are many aspects that determine the difference between regular olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. If you’re looking for a bold combination of robust flavor and health benefits, you’ll find it in a Pantry Pouch of La Panza’s award-winning extra virgin olive oil.