Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the most flavorful and the healthiest olive oil, because it is naturally produced without heat or chemicals and retains healthy antioxidants from the olives. The range of flavors is very broad, similar to wines, and will depend on the olive type, where the olives are grown, when the olives are harvested, the weather during the growing season, and the processing. Extra virgin olive oils may be strong and peppery or mild and buttery and anywhere in between. These natural variations result in a wider range of smoke points, from about 350⁰ Fahrenheit to about 410⁰ Fahrenheit. This range is high enough for most at-home cooking and 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 really shines in cold applications like drizzling, dipping, dressings and marinades.
Extra Virgin Olive Oils may have marketing terms such as “first press,” “cold pressed” or “cold extracted” on the labels, referring to the fact that extra virgin olive oil is produced by crushing the olives without adding any heat or using any chemicals. In fact, all extra virgin olive oil is produced this way even if the label doesn’t call it out. Additionally, 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 specific extra virgin olive 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 cooking styles or dishes.
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 468 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.
Some marketing terms on Olive Oil labels in North America may include “Classic” or “Pure” Olive Oil. When a label calls out “Light Flavor” or “Light Tasting” Olive Oil, it indicates there is very little virgin olive oil in the blend and therefore a very subtle flavor. The fat and calories are actually the same in ALL grades of olive oil.
One major area where olive oil is different from wine is the shelf life – olive oils do NOT get better with age. When choosing a bottle at the store, check for a best by date that is further out and make sure the bottle doesn’t show signs of mishandling or age such as oil drips or leaks, an orange-y color if in a clear bottle, or dust on the bottle suggesting it has been on the shelf a long time. Experimenting with different olive oils for different types of cooking will help you find brands that best match your flavor preferences and budget.