The difference between extra virgin and virgin olive oil

Do you ever keep reading about something but fail to understand it? That’s how I felt when looking into extra virgin and virgin olive oil. There are no shortage of articles out there but most seem to fail to answer the question simply. So I thought I would give it a try!

The difference between the extra virgin and virgin olive oil is in their oleic acid levels- that’s basically it. According to the International Olive Council (IOC) the acid level of extra virgin olive oil should not exceed 0.8 grams per 100 grams whereas virgin olive oil is permitted to have up to two grams per 100 grams. It is this lower acid level that gives the extra virgin olive oil a better taste and odor often described as fruity and peppery as well as having a greener color. This grade oil is usually reserved as a condiment for salads, bread, dips etc. instead of frying and cooking. There are also other lower grades according to acid levels, some fit for human consumption and others not.

According to the IOC Trade Standards “Virgin olive oils are the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration.” High quality oils are generally labeled as “cold-pressed” to confirm the physical extraction process at temperatures that will not destroy some of the healthy compounds including antioxidants and hydroxytyrosol which is good for your brain. This is in contrast to the pomace olive oil which extracts the oil using chemical solvents. Refined oils may also use chemical processes.

So if you’re looking for a high quality olive oil go for the cold-pressed extra virgin. I think the confusion comes in the supermarket when some companies may be using terminology that does not conform to the definitions in the IOC Trade Standards. If you look for the cold-pressed extra virgin then it shouldn’t leave doubt about what you’re getting.

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