Using oil in cooking and meal preparations is a common technique, and olive oil is an ingredient that can serve a multitude of purposes. Whether in a frying pan or in a salad, olive oil offers a rich taste, color, and scent to many types of foods. While it can be used in a variety of ways, there are also many different types of olive oil, or “grades,” that alter its taste, color, quality, etc.
Such things as the kind of olive used, the ripeness of the olive, harvesting and manufacturing methods, pressing techniques, environmental factors, and additional ingredients can play a role in the grade of oil that is produced.
The six main types of olive oil are outlined and explained below.
Six Different Types of Olive Oil and What They’re Used For
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
A “virgin” olive oil has a low acidity level and is made with healthier ingredients. It is generally considered high-quality olive oil and is most commonly used for its divine taste. Extra-virgin olive oil is the healthiest and most flavorful grade for several reasons. Its acidity level is the lowest – less than 1% – and its taste is fruity and light, allowing it to be used “uncooked” in salad dressings, soups, pasta, and as a dipping oil. It is naturally extracted (no chemicals or preservatives added) and comes from the first press of the olive fruit. It is a deep yellow-green in color.
Premium extra-virgin olive oil can also be purchased and is everything that normal extra-virgin is, taken up a notch in quality. As well, cold-pressed olive oil is the top of the line in terms of price and flavor.
Virgin Olive Oil
Regular virgin olive oil is extremely similar to extra-virgin but slightly lesser quality. It is also naturally pressed and extracted, but it contains a slightly higher acidity level at no higher than 2% (on average). Its taste remains of high quality, albeit less fruity, and it is also great to use in dressings, marinades, pasta sauces, etc. Virgin olive oil is commonly used for roasting vegetables or placing over corn-on-the-cob when grilling. It is lighter and more golden in color.
Virgin olive oil can be broken down into two more-specific categories: fine and semi-fine. Fine-virgin olive oil has an acidity level of around 1.5%, while semi-fine should be no more than 3.3% acidic. Fine virgin olive oil is a good option for shoppers on a budget who desire the taste of extra-virgin; semi-fine virgin olive oil is lesser-quality and should not be consumed raw.
Refined Olive Oil
This category of olive oil gets its name because of the additional (refined) techniques that are used to press the olives and create the oil. These additional refining methods are necessary in order to create an oil that is fit for human consumption (oils that are over 3.3% acidic or generally lacking in quality go through this process). Refined olive oil lacks the naturalness of virgin olive oil and is often supplemented with chemicals and preservatives to develop a strong taste that is good for cooking and adding flavor to bland foods. It has an acidity level of less than 0.5%, giving it a long shelf life. It lacks an overall quality of taste and odor and is much lighter in color.
Pure and Regular Olive Oil
Regular olive oil (also called/previously known as pure olive oil) is the middle-man of the olive oils because it blends qualities of both virgin and refined olive oil – about 85% is refined and 15% is virgin. Its acidity level can be no more than 1.5%, and it’s a good option for frying and searing. Although it has some taste, and is of slightly better quality than refined oil, it should not be consumed raw.
Instead of being made from the pressed olives, olive-pomace oil is made from the “left-overs” – the paste-like material that is created as a by-product during pressing. This oil is extracted from the pomace (pulp) of the fruit with the use of chemicals and heat. It is refined and commonly used only by restaurants with an added amount of regular olive oil for additional taste.
The final grade of olive oil is one not consumed in any way, shape, or form by living organisms. But you’re unlikely to find it on your supermarket shelves! It is colorless, highly acidic, and is historically used in lamps and industry.
The grade of olive oil you use should match up with the occasion and reason for which you are using it. Virgin olive oils are meant primarily for uncooked preparations of salad dressings, sauces, and dipping oils, while regular and refined types are better for cooking and adding flavor to foods. Each different type of olive oil differs in price as well. Knowing what grade of olive oil to look for will make both the trip to the grocery store and the preparation of your meals more-efficient and beneficial to your health and tastebuds!