Are You Cooking with the Right Olive Oil?

July 12, 2021 | By Ernesto M. Becerra

Buying the essentials from the supermarket always seems like an easy task, especially if you’re grabbing your go-to items: milk, eggs, bread, oil. But, what type of oil should you be buying? In my opinion, olive oil is the best type of oil for a variety of uses. It is healthier than canola oil AND has a delicious taste when added to almost any dish. However, even olive oil has several subcategories with subtle differences that can be overwhelming to the average consumer. Let’s break some down, so that you have the best of the best when you’re ready to start cooking!

Olive Oil comparison chart (exra-virgin oil, virgin, pure)

Why Olive Oil?

Olive trees are primarily cultivated along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea encompassing France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Morocco, and other European countries. While South America and California famously produce their own olives, it is believed that fresh European olives take their flavor to the next level due to the rich soil nutrients found along the Mediterranean coastline. In terms of healthfulness, olive oil sets itself apart from the other oils (such as canola and vegetable) making it known to consumers that it is the best olive oil that can be purchased. Olive oil has monounsaturated fats that reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also contains rich polyunsaturated fats that greatly benefit the cardiovascular system. Now that we know the benefits of olive oil, let’s jump into the attributes that differentiate each type.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Taking the crown amongst the healthiest of olive oils is extra-virgin olive oil. Extracted through a cold-pressing method, the olives are kept at a cooler temperature (no higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit) before being crushed into a paste and pressed to ensure maximum quality. Exposures to high temperature drastically change the natural content of the olives; hence why the cold-press retains most of its natural flavor and aroma. Extra-virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil, since it’s also not treated with any additional chemicals containing less than 1% oleic acid. This oil can be consumed (or drunk) directly without any other ingredient mixed into it as the health benefits are so extensive. It is recommended to add it as a dressing on a salad or even combine it with some pepper and garlic to dip bread into it as an appetizer. While cooking can be done with extra-virgin olive oil, it is not recommended as it has a lower smoke point than other oils, which means it burns at a lower temperature.

Virgin Olive Oil

While not as high-quality as extra-virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil comes in second place on the healthiness scale. It may have a similar manufacturing process as the extra-virgin olive oil, but production standards are not as rigid, which allows for a higher percentage of oleic acid to be produced, typically between one and four percent. This oil type has a milder taste and is suitable for low-heat cooking purposes, which includes baking! You can use it in sauces, like an olive-based pesto sauce, or simply drizzle it on a sandwich. Because of its lower quality compared to the extra-virgin oil, virgin olive oil is not commonly found in grocery stores and has to be purchased through an e-commerce supplier or filtered through one of the bigger branded items.

Refined Olive Oil

Extracted from black and ripe olive fruits, refined olive oil is a neutral middle point for these oil types. It is given this name because it is not altered after the refining process. Among other types, this oil is considered low quality, which is why it is only marked as good for cooking, especially for those recipes involving high temperatures. Also known as the “light” olive oil, it is mistaken to have fewer calories and a healthier approach amongst the rest. However, the “light” part is only referring to its flavor as it has a lighter flavor compared to the rest. With its neutral taste and higher smoke point, it is an ideal pairing for a roasted flank steak or a sautéed spinach.

Pure Olive Oil

Despite its misleading name, pure olive oil is the least pure of them all. The blending method is only used to improve the quality of the extraction when it is not as good as the production company expected it to be, thus the refined oil has to be mixed with a better quality virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. This oil does excel in the amount of vitamin E and flavor it contains. With a 85% refined oil to 15% extra-virgin or virgin olive oil ratio, pure olive oil still has the same health benefits of higher quality virgin and extra virgin grades with a higher smoke point ideal for high temperature cooking. If you’re looking for a good, cheap olive oil for your daily dishes, pure olive oil is your ideal choice.

Olive Pomace Oil

Last but not least, olive pomace oil is the lesser-known of all olive oils. Because of its ingredients and primary use, it is not commonly found in grocery stores or labeled as a food item. This is the only olive oil that is made by using a variance of chemical solvents creating a cheap, low-quality product. By soaking leftovers from other olive oils in certain solvents, the remaining oil can be extracted and sold. As you can imagine, this oil has far fewer health benefits than the others we’ve looked at so far. Think of it as using fresh mangoes to make a juice: all of the edible fruit part is used to make the mango juice while the core that is juiceless and hard is mixed with chemicals to utilize the full fruit. The vast majority of olive pomace oil is sold as furniture polish or used in other non-edible products. However, some manufacturers will mix pomace oil with virgin oil and sell it alongside other cooking oils. While it does have a sufficiently high smoke point, we do not recommend consuming this cheap oil if you can help it.

Olive oil

So next time you’re purchasing a pantry essential, think twice about the benefits that it will give you! Remember: check the ingredients on your preferred brand to determine if the olive oil is a mix or if expeller-pressed oils were also used. You’ll also want to look for indications that the product was harvested in a single location and processed in European countries as these have higher standards for olive oil production. If you’re already looking to switch, TerraMar Imports offers a wide selection of European olive oils and olive-oil-containing-products that can be delivered right to your home.

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