Gone are the days when an average “cooking oil” simply meant canola or vegetable oil. When you drop by the cooking oil section in your local grocery store, you’ll easily notice the wide-ranging types of oil readily available to the consumers. The selection typically includes canola, sunflower, olive, coconut, palm, corn, sesame, peanut, vegetable, and grape-seed, just to name a few. And each type poses different effect on your body and different taste to your food.
When it comes to cooking, the range of option is very much favorable because it gives us an array of choice when harmonizing the flavor of different ingredients. You can even spoil the flavor of your dish with the wrong oil. Each oil types also react differently to temperature (e.g. some have a higher smoke point than the other). This gives us the ability to apply different heating techniques when cooking. But for many non-professionals, it can also get confusing at times.
For health conscious individuals, the array of option offers a much better flexibility in terms of diet and food prep. A big reason why virgin olive oil and coconut oil has become a fad in the culinary world.
If you look closer, you would also notice that one of the most expensive in the grocery shelf is your extra virgin olive oil. Though popular, many of us really do not understand the difference when it comes to grading different types of olive oil. At times, we are not even sure whether what type of olive oil should we use.
This article will give an in-depth discussion on extra virgin olive oil: the reason why is it different from other olive oils, and its benefits into our food and body.
Confusion Over Oil Bottles
Try to check a cookbook and you’ll notice that many of the recipes will need olive oil. That’s the easy part. The moment you check the shelf of the grocery store, you will be surprised by the range of types. There’s extra-virgin, virgin, pure, light, and so on. The problem is that many consumers cannot discern the difference between every bottle. Is there an actual difference to begin with? What are these?
Grading an Olive Oil
Simply put, “olive oil” is a type of oil extracted from the olive fruit. What sets each of them apart is not the variety of olive that’s used but the process/method of oil extraction (including the level of additives and acidity). Grades and standards are officially defined by the International Olive Council.
Technically, each batch is graded base on the level of acidity (the presence of free oleic acid). The volume of acid signifies the level of fat that has broken down into fatty acids. The lower the acidity, the higher the grade that it will get.
The level of acidity is heavily affected by the process of extraction, whether refined or unrefined. Whereas refined oil is treated with different chemical agents to remove flaws and impurities from the oil, unrefined oil holds the purest essence of the extract due to the absence of any treatment.
Different Types of Olive Oil
We can look at the three major types of olive oil if we want to understand the basics. These are extra virgin, virgin, and refined olive oil. Others include olive-pomace oil and lampante oil as types of olive oil. Experts, however, regard these two as the lowest grade of olive oils, usually made from the byproducts of the other three. They are considered as the lowest grade of all the existing types.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
It is unrefined and the highest grade olive oil in the market. It comes from the first pressing of freshly harvested olive fruits (usually within 24 hours after harvest period). Its acidity level should be less than 0.8% and must be defect-free in terms of taste and aroma. It usually has a golden-green color with a distinct fruity (sometimes bitter) taste.
Virgin Olive Oil
This is also an unrefined oil that comes from the first (sometimes, second) pressing of fresh olive fruits. Its acidity level, however, is less than 2% (higher level of oleic acid). Its taste is milder and its aroma is less distinct.
Refined Olive Oil
This is an oil refined using chemical agents like alkalis or acids to extract the remaining oil from the olive pulp that already undergone pressing. Due to its chemical-based extraction, it is fattier and more acidic. In terms of quality, refined olive oil lacks the distinct taste, aroma, and antioxidants when compared with the first two. Nonetheless, it is true that a bottle of refined olive oil is still healthier than your everyday cooking oil. It’s usually lighter and with a brighter hue.
If you’re wondering why there are no “pure”, “light”, or “100%” olive oil in this list, the answer is that they are not actual olive oil types. These are mere advertising hype created by manufacturers to sell their products. If you read these labels, they are most likely refined olive oils.
Extra Virgin, Extra Special
What separates itself from the others would be the process of extraction, the level of acidity and fat, and the absence of sensory flaws. Extra virgin needs to be extracted by mechanical means, and not chemical agents, and requires stable temperature – specifically below 28 degrees Celsius. It is known that higher temperatures will extract more oil faster but will also ruin the taste and other nutritional components of the product. This is one of the reasons why EVOO is pricier.
Its taste may vary due to the olives’ point of origin. Some may have a very robust flavor. Others have the combination of fruity, buttery, and bitter taste. More unique bottles would even note spicy and grassy feel.
Its unrefined character ensures the preservation of anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, and the natural vitamins and minerals of olive oil. It also retains the core flavor of olive which is quite useful when preparing a dish. Lastly, it has lower fat and acid content compared to its counterparts.
Can One Substitute the Other?
Yes. Extra virgin, virgin and refined can all be used in baking and cooking. But you should always remember that extra virgin has a lower smoke point (it burns at a lower temperature). That’s is why you need to be pickier in using it. It is more useful when you want to incorporate its natural flavor to the dish, not as a frying agent.
For this reason, the more expensive extra virgin oil is more popular for salad dressing, dips and bread, quick sauté, and other cold dishes. Refined olive oil, on the other hand, is favored for cooking and baking. Due to its more neutral flavor, cooks like to infuse it with herbs and spices. It is also the most versatile of the three.
Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This oil has long been part of the traditional Mediterranean diet, home of the world’s healthiest people. Even though many people avoid fat/oil as much as possible, almost everyone agrees on the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
Principally, everyday use of olive oil helps prevent cardiovascular disorder. Heart disease and stroke are listed as the most common causes death in the world. Olive oil reduces cardiovascular inflammation – a key driver of heart disease. It also improves endothelial functions at the lining of the blood vessels. Daily consumption also significantly lessens the elevation of blood pressure. And since all types of olive oils are not animal-based, cholesterol is practically absent.
It is also rich in vitamin E and vitamin K – both boost your overall immune system. It is also lighter to digest compared to other cooking oils like sunflower or canola.
Choosing an EVOO Bottle
EVOO products are being counterfeited more than you’d imagine. This is due to the increasing market demand of the industry for the past year. For many people, knowing the difference between EVOO and other bogus oil products would be pretty difficult.
That is why it would be advantageous for you to know the company or the supplier of your EVOO bottle. The most popular brands in the market include Filippo Berio, Vigo, Pompeian, Columela, Lucini, and Divina. Try to remember these names the next time you visit your local grocer.
In Summary: What is an Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a type of olive oil extracted after the very first pressing of fresh olive fruits. As an international requirement, the fruits should be processed 24 hours after the harvest. Unlike other olive oil, this one has the lowest acidity level (of only below 0.8% free oleic acid). Its unrefined character preserves the core nutritional value of olive pulps. That is why every bottle is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Because of its distinct flavor and aroma, many people infuse it into their dish and salad. But due to its low smoke point, it is not highly suitable for high-temperature cooking.