If a product is called "Olive Oil" but not "Extra Virgin Olive Oil," what is it?"

March 7, 2017

Most shoppers know that extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil available. But what other forms of olive oil are there and should you buy them?

All olive oil starts out the same way. The olives are harvested once a year and the oil extracted. The resulting oil is graded. The best tasting olive oil meeting strict quality and purity parameters can be sold as extra virgin olive oil.  Extra virgin olive oils undergo only very minimal processing, such as filtration.  Oils that don't meet the high standards of extra virgin can be refined to create an oil that has no flavor color or aroma.   Typically refined olive oil is blended with about 15-20% virgin or extra virgin olive oil to give it some taste and color before it is sold. So if a product is called simply "olive oil," it is a mixture of two types of olive oil:  refined and virgin.

"Olive oil" is 100% authentic olive oil that has many of the same health benefits as extra-virgin olive oil at a lower cost. Here are some facts about olive oil.

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  • "Olive Oil" has all of the same heart-healthy monounsaturated fat as extra-virgin olive oil.
  • "Olive Oil" contains around 15-20% of the healthy antioxidants and polyphenols found in extra virgin olive oil. 
  • The FDA and the American Heart Association have designated olive oils of all qualities, including "Olive Oil", as "heart healthy".
  • "Olive Oil" may range in color from green to light yellow (depending on the color and amount of extra virgin that is added). Like all olive oils, color is not an indication of flavor.
  • Like all olive oil, "Olive Oil" may solidify in cold temperatures but this is not an indicator of quality.
  • "Olive Oil" should be stored the same way as extra-virgin olive oil to avoid rancidity.
  • The refining process is much less harsh than that used for other cooking oils (e.g., corn, vegetable, soy, canola) because unlike those products, olive oil by definition can NEVER be extracted using chemical solvents, making olive oil an especially healthy cooking oil.

Some people refer to "olive oil" as classic olive oil, regular olive oil or pure olive oil. When the term ‘pure' is used, the word is intended to indicate there are no other ingredients or oils in the product other than olive oils, specifically a blend of virgin and refined olive oils.  Olive oil is beloved by those who prefer a lighter tasting olive oil with a higher smoke point than extra virgin—but still with the healthy monounsaturated fat profile.

What is the difference between "Olive Oil" and "light-tasting" olive oil?

Light-tasting or extra light-tasting olive oil is similar "Olive Oil" but contains a higher percentage of refined olive oil. It has the same number of calories and grams of fat as all olive oils. The word "light" means it has a lighter flavor. 

If it is not extra virgin, is the olive oil "fake"?

"Olive Oil" and extra-light tasting olive oils are all "real" authentic olive oils. All contain 100% olive oil and are not mixed with seed or vegetable oils unless explicitly stated on the package. There are unsubstantiated rumors on the internet that pure olive oil is being sold as extra-virgin. These rumors are false.

When should I use Olive Oil in place of Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

It really comes down to a question of taste preferences and budget.

  • "Olive Oil" has a milder flavor which makes it a good choice for some recipes. The neutral flavor of the oil will not interfere with other flavors in your dish.
  • "Olive Oil" is a good substitute for seed and vegetable oils. Unlike seed oils, olive oil is extracted without the use of solvents making it the more natural choice.
  • Depending on the amount of refined oil it contains, "Olive Oil" has smoke point of 390⁰ - 470⁰ F -- higher than extra virgin olive oil, canola, vegetable shortening or corn oil.
  • "Olive Oil" is less expensive than extra virgin olive oil.

We recommend that families keep more than one bottle of olive oil in their pantries. In addition to a high quality extra virgin olive oil, you may want to choose a lower cost olive oil for high volume uses or when you want a neutral flavored oil. 

To find an olive oil that has been certified for quality and authenticity, check out our list of certified olive oils.

Learn More About Joining the  NAOOA Certified Olive Oil Seal Program

 

Posted in: About Olive Oil, Buying Olive Oil