A frequent question at AnswerLine is “what kind of olive oil should I use?” The question is often asked by those who are new to olive oil or those who have been advised to consider a Mediterranean Diet. As they begin to navigate new territory, they find that there are a variety of olive oil choices. Choosing the olive oil depends on how much flavor is needed, what the cooking usage will be, and the available budget. It also helps to understand the classifications and common marketing terms used on olive oil labels.
Here’s a quick primer on olive oils from Fooducate, a blog sponsored by the North American Olive Oil Association.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the most flavorful and the healthiest olive oil, because it is naturally produced without heat or chemicals. It retains healthy antioxidants from the olives. The range of flavors is very broad, similar to wines. The oil may be strong and peppery, mild and buttery, or anywhere in between. The natural variations result in a wide smoke point range, from about 350 degrees Fahrenheit to about 410 degrees Fahrenheit. This range is high enough for most at-home cooking. Extra virgin olive oil can be used for sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying. To highlight the many flavor profiles, extra virgin olive oil does best in cold applications like drizzling, dipping, dressings and marinades.
First Press, Cold Pressed or Cold Extracted – Extra Virgin Olive Oils may use these marketing terms. Extra virgin olive oil is produced by crushing the olives without adding any heat or using any chemicals and in fact, all extra virgin olive oil is produced this way even if the label doesn’t call it out. Extra virgin olive oils might list the type of olive or olives the oil was made from, as well as the country or region the olives were grown. Like wine, these indicators help suggest the typical flavors consumers might expect from that oil. Some manufacturers blend different extra virgin olive oils together in order to offer a consistent flavor profile all the time. Also like wine, the best way to determine which ones to buy is through trying different oils with different foods.
Refined Olive Oil – During production, oil with high acidity or flavor or aroma defects will be refined to remove the defects, resulting in Refined Olive Oil. Refining removes odors and flavors using heat and physical or chemical processes. Most seed and nut oils are solvent-extracted and then refined; refined olive oil begins with the natural extraction from the olives and the following refining process for olive oil does not involve solvents such as hexane.
Olive Oil is a blend of refined olive oil with some virgin or extra virgin olive oil added back for flavor. Olive oil has a mild olive flavor, making it a great oil to substitute for other common cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil without changing the taste of the recipe. Because it is mostly refined, olive oil has a higher and more consistent smoke point range from about 390 degrees to about 470 degrees Fahrenheit. Baked goods made with olive oil have a light texture and stay moist longer than those made with other common cooking oils. Olive oil’s subtle flavor and heat resistance make it well-suited for dressings, marinades, sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying.
Classic or Pure Olive Oil is the same as Olive Oil and always refers to a blend of refined oil with some EVOO or Virgin Olive Oil added for flavor.
Other things to know about olive oil:
- The fat and calories are the same in ALL grades of olive oil.
- Olive oil does NOT get better with age. Look for the furthest out “best by date” when purchasing.
- Store olive oil in a cool, dark place and tightly covered; under these conditions, it should remain fresh for about 18 to 24 months. An open bottle of olive oil can also be refrigerated to extend its shelf life and such is especially recommended in hot, humid environments. Refrigerating olive oil may cause the oil to become cloudy and even solidify; this will not affect the flavor or quality. At room temperature, the oil will return to its normal consistency and color. When stored properly, olive oil will be safe to consume after the “best date”.
- Oil should be discarded if an off odor, flavor, or appearance is detected.
- Olive oil is very high in monounsaturated fats and contains a modest amount of vitamins E and K. True extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, some of which have powerful health benefits.