When you walk into a grocery store, you will see many different types of olive oil – different colors, from almost clear to yellow to deep green, different descriptors on the label, and very different price ranges.
Which one fits which application? How does the taste compare? Is the expensive stuff worth the money? In this article, we’re going to go through everything.
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Types of olive oil
Virgo, Virgo extra, light, mixed … what does it all mean? Here we are going to go over the different types of olive oil and the pros and cons of each.
native olive oil
Virgin olive oil is only produced physically and not through chemical treatment. The best stuff only comes from ripe olives (since green and overripe olives produce bitter or rancid oil), which are ground into a paste with millstones or steel barrels. By definition, a virgin olive oil has not undergone any processing other than washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering (although none of these are required for virgin oil, nothing else is allowed). Some heat can be applied, and as long as the composition of the oil does not change the process can still be called virgin pressing.
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is extracted from the first press. As with virgin olive oil, processing only includes washing, decanting, centrifuging, and filtering. Low heat can be used as long as it does not alter the quality of the olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil is widely considered to be the pinnacle of olive oils. According to the International Olive Oil Council, extra virgin olive oil must contain no more than 0.8% acid with a “superior taste”. Extra virgin can also be unfiltered (which deepens the taste and shortens shelf life) or cold pressed (where the pressing is slow and gradual, without creating much frictional heat, and which results in better flavors). Most of the extra virgin also contains most of the polyphenols, which are some of my favorite antioxidants.
Extra virgin olive oil is generally more expensive than virgin olive oil of similar quality.
Primal Kitchen® Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil available here
Light olive oil
Light olive oil has no fewer calories than the other types of olive oil. The only thing missing is taste and color. It may also contain fewer of the beneficial polyphenolic compounds that make olive oil so attractive.
Refined olive oil
Refined olive oil takes poor quality virgin oil (either due to acidity or other deficiencies) and processes it until it is edible. Refining is usually done using carbon filters or chemical processes. Refined olive oil is more stable in storage, but also essentially tasteless.
Olive pomace oil is extracted from the olive solids (pomace) left over from pressing, usually using chemical solvents. This is not a culinary olive oil and it is definitely not for eating. Most of the olive oil-based soaps you see are made from olive-pomace oil.
Mixed olive oil
In my opinion, mixed olive oils should generally be avoided. While it can be a mixture of different types of olive oils, most of the time it is mixed with cheaper industrial seed oils like canola or another vegetable oil. You get a longer shelf life and a higher content of polyunsaturated fatty acids and less monounsaturated fat. No thanks.
What to Look For When Buying Olive Oil – A Few Things To Look For
Just because something is labeled “extra virgin” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good. Instead of buying a mid-priced or inexpensive bottle of Italian or Greek extra virgin olive oil, you might be looking for a local brand. These extra virgins are fragile oils, and travel from the Mediterranean can result in a bland bottle. I’ve also read that much of the Virgo making it here in bulk isn’t worth it (and that was my experience, sadly).
When choosing an oil, treat it a little like wine and appeal to your senses. Smell it – it should smell like olives, very clean and almost like grass and apples. Don’t rely too much on vision – the color of an oil is easy to manipulate. Instead, opt for what’s really important: taste. Take half a teaspoon or so in your mouth and swirl it around (again like wine). First and foremost, it should taste like olives, but there are other flavors in the best oils. Grass, apples, and even fennel are quite common in really great olive oil. If it tastes metallic or has a faint odor of paint thinner, it is likely rancid. If it’s light, tasty, and barely covering your mouth (without feeling greasy) then it’s probably great stuff. And then my favorite part, the finish. The best oils from the first harvest with the highest antioxidant content leave a spicy finish in the throat, like mild peppers.
Just experiment. Keep trying them until you find one that you like. The different varieties are all unique so your trip may be long. Of course I have a favorite. I took these characteristics into account during procurement and development.
The thing about olive oil is you have to use it properly. The best extra virgin, unfiltered, cold-pressed olive oil should never be used for frying, as heat can affect the delicate taste. Instead, use good quality material as a finisher. Cook with butter and fill the dish with your precious native oil. That way, the taste and nutritional benefits are preserved without wasting your precious nectar on a cast iron pan.
Olive oil storage
Store your oil in a cool, dark place. Heat and light are your greatest enemies now (be sure to buy an oil in a dark bottle). Virgin extra is the least stable, so keep it at a good temperature (somewhere between 57 and 65 degrees, like in a wine cellar). You can chill other olive oils if your kitchen is too hot, but chilling extra virgin olive oil can disrupt the delicate flavors. Of course, if you’re getting extra virgin food that’s tasty enough, you don’t have to worry about long-term storage – you’ll be eating it straight out of the bottle.
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About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Marks Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the New York Times best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, which describes how he combines the keto diet with an original lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books including The Primal Blueprint, which is credited with the growth of the Primal / Paleo movement in 2009. After three decades of researching and educating people about why food is the key component to achieving optimal wellbeing, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real food company, the Primal / Paleo, Keto and Whole30 friendly kitchen staples manufactures.
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