User-Friendly Guide to Types of Olive Oil

Understanding olive oil grades and the different types of olive oil will help you make the best choice for use and enjoyment.

Written BY

Lori Zanteson

Lori Zanteson is a writer, editor, and writing instructor. Specializing in food, nutrition and health issues, her work appears locally and nationally in a diverse selection of publications, both print and online, including magazines, journals, and newsletters.

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March 13, 2022

Olive oil has achieved international popularity for its unique flavor profiles, culinary versatility, and health benefits. Relied upon and enjoyed by ancient Greeks and Romans thousands of years ago, it has reached every corner of the globe today, having picked up even greater momentum for its key role in the Mediterranean diet, widely known as the world’s healthiest eating pattern. So much demand for what’s come to be known as “liquid gold” has resulted in a dizzying number of different types of olive oils. Choosing among olive oil grades and types of olive oil can be confusing. Depending on what you want to achieve in enjoyment, use, and health benefits will determine the best choice for you.

An Oil Apart

The process of crushing olives to make olive oil is not so different today than it was traditionally done, thousands of years ago. Stone mills of old have largely become modern, mechanical mills where olives are crushed and the oil is separated from the solids and water in a process called cold-pressing. This is done without use of heat or chemicals. This preserves many of olive oil’s health-promoting plant compounds, known as polyphenols, and its healthy monounsaturated fats, including oleic acid, which has been associated with several health benefits, including lowering cholesterol and bone health. According to a study in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease (2014), monounsaturated fats, such as oleic acid in olive oil, are associated with lower risk of all-cause death and death from cardiovascular events, cardiovascular events, and stroke.  Other plant oils, such as canola oil or vegetable oil, are made using high heat and chemicals, which results in a refined oil with less flavor and fewer health benefits.

         Not all olive oils are made the same, however. There are many components, from the type of olive to where it was grown, and when it was harvested, that will make olive oils different. Quality standards are used to determine olive oil grades, which are meant to inform the consumer about the product they purchase. These standards vary, sometimes by country or state, and compliance is not always required. Yet, assuming the transparency of the producer, the label should reflect the olive oil you are buying. Here’s what you may see:

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

This is the highest quality, known as the gold standard of olive oil.  This category is broad, however, and while all oils given this grade meet a minimum standard, it does include oils of different degrees of quality, based on chemical and sensory parameters. Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first cold-press of the olives, which typically happens within 24 hours of harvest. Once the harvested olives are washed, they are ground into a paste and spun in a centrifuge to separate solids, oil, and water. For an EVOO grade, the acidity level must be below 0.08%. This grade of oil has no defects and at least one positive attribute, according to a taste panel. Defects and attributes in olive oil describe how they affect the sensory, or tasting, experience of the oil.  

         How to Use

·   Salad dressings, sauces, marinades

·   Finishing oil

·   Dipping oil

·   Cooking—EVOO has a smoke point of 375-405 degrees, safe for most cooking methods: sautéing, roasting, baking, light pan-frying

·   Skin moisturizer, antiaging, makeup remover

 

Virgin Olive Oil

Processed in the same way as EVOO, virgin oil is no higher than 2.0% acidity. This difference in acidity is due to the olives and the time between harvest and processing. During this time, olives are exposed to environmental factors, such as temperature and sun exposure, which can cause them to oxidize more quickly and increase the acidity level. Virgin olive oils have been rated by a taste panel to have either no defects or fewer than 2.5, making it of slightly lower quality than extra virgin olive oil.

         How to Use

·   Use as an ingredient, just as with EVOO, but not necessarily as a featured dipping oil or finishing oil. Save those for your highest quality EVOO.

Refined Olive Oil

This grade of olive oil is virgin olive oil that has been processed and refined, using heat and chemicals that lessen many of the oil’s health benefits. The result is a neutral-tasting, odorless, and colorless oil with a higher smoke point, and a longer shelf life. It is sometimes called “light olive oil.”  

         How to Use

·   With a higher smoke point of 470 degrees and lack of flavor, it could be used in everyday cooking and baking when flavor isn’t important.

·   Skin moisturizer, but without extra benefits  of EVOO, due to the loss of antioxidants

Olive Oil

Oils in the olive oil grade (formerly referred to as “pure” in some markets) are a combination of refined olive oil and EVOO or virgin olive oil. Blend ratios may vary, but 85% refined oil and 15% EVOO or virgin is one example of what you might see.  This grade must have an acidity of less than 3.3% and taste defects from 2.5 to less than 6.0. Because these oils contain refined olive oil, they will have fewer health benefits than EVOO and virgin oils.

         How to Use

·   This is your cooking oil! With a smoke point of 470 degrees and a subtle flavor, use it for any type of cooking, including deep frying and grilling

·   Try this as the base for infused oils by adding lemon, fresh herbs, or chilis

·   Skin moisturizer, but without extra benefits  of EVOO, due to the loss of antioxidants

Olive Pomace Oil

This grade of oil is a blend of oil extracted from the pomace, or pulp, which is the ground pit and flesh of the olives that have already been pressed for oil, and virgin olive oil. The pomace is further processed using heat and chemicals to extract any remaining oil. This oil is then refined by bleaching and deodorizing—similar to the method used to make canola oil, vegetable oil, and others—and blended with virgin olive oil.

         How to Use

·   Cooking, especially deep frying, but it’s not a replacement for olive oil. For instance, it shouldn’t be used in your salads.. 

·   Skin moisturizer (used to make cosmetics and personal care products, like soap, body wash, and lotion)

·   Hair conditioner

Bottom line


You can’t go wrong when you choose olive oil as your go-to oil. There really is a type of olive oil for every palate and culinary use. Now that you’ve got the basics on each type and what olive oil grades reveal about them, the rest is up to you. Consider stocking your pantry with two or three different types. You’ll want an extra virgin olive oil with a flavor to your liking—fruity, grassy, spicy, cold, mild…This is ideal for salad dressings, dipping, and finishing touches to dishes. Make olive oil your everyday cooking oil. With its high smoke point and subtle flavor, it’s perfect on the stovetop, in the oven, and on the grill. When it comes down to it, this is your takeaway: Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality, most flavorful, oil you can buy and it delivers the most health benefits. Enjoy!


Further Reading
Tunisian Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Organic Farming and Quality Goes Hand in Hand
Learn about why Tunisia is the world’s biggest exporter of organic olive oil.
August 21, 2022
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Nutrition Facts
What are the nutrition facts of extra virgin olive oil? This article will provide you the answer!
June 29, 2022