Olive oil can be confusing! After all, what’s the difference between types of olive oils (extra virgin, light, pomace, etc), what are some of the benefits of olive oil and are some olive oils fake? I wanted this article to be the definitive guide to olive oil and olive oil in general, so I dug deep to learn even more than I already knew.
Extra virgin olive oil has many health benefits, but you have to watch out for so-called “fake” olive oils that don’t meet the strict EVOO standards. This ultimate guide to olive oil answers all the top questions about types, benefits, fake vs real, hexane-extraction, and much more.
I knew some of this from my 20+ year career with Whole Foods Market, but there was still a surprising amount of info I didn’t know, especially surrounding so-called fake olive oils.
So let’s dive in!
If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.
I always hand select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.
What is the difference between virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?
Even though I am in the US and here you don’t generally see “virgin olive oil” on grocery store shelves, I wanted to answer this question.
After all, it can still be used in restaurants and you might find it if you shop at restaurant supply stores. You may well also find it if you live or travel in other countries.
In both cases, extra virgin olive oil and virgin are made without the use of excess heat or chemicals. They call this process cold-pressed. You will see the term cold pressed (or expeller pressed) on lots of oils, but the terms virgin and extra virgin are often used exclusively for olive oil.
Believe it or not, there’s an organization called the International Olive Oil Council standards.
While not every country in the world has to recognize their authority, they are actually chartered by the United Nations and for half a century, they have been setting the standards that most of us take for granted when it comes to olive oils.
Whether an olive oil gets called virgin or extra virgin really just comes down to quality.
They look for flavor (is it fruity, too bitter, etc) as well as acidity (it has to be at or under .08 to get labeled extra virgin). If the acidity is above .08 but still under 2.0 it gets the label of virgin.
Is cold-pressed the same as extra virgin?
The short answer is not exactly although they are related.
By definition, extra virgin olive oil is cold pressed. Cold pressed (which is the same as expeller pressed) simply means the oil was extracted from the olive mechanically by a press (possibly metal and sometimes giant stones) and that the olive (and the oil) weren’t heated and no chemicals were used to extract the oil.
With cheap oils (olive and otherwise) a chemical called hexane is often used to get the oil out.
If they can press the oil out, why would they use hexane?
Because it gets more oil out of the olive (or whatever oil they are making) than just pressing alone.
Extra virgin olive oil, as I mentioned above is not only cold pressed but then judged for flavor and acidity as well and has to be at or below .08 acidity to be labeled extra virgin.
Unusual uses for the olive oil pic.twitter.com/nuNDxqpJAi
— KONFIDANT1 (@KONFIDANT1) March 30, 2019
What is hexane and which oils use it in the production process?
Hexane is a solvent compound made of hydrogen and carbon.
It is a by-product of the petroleum industry but in addition to oils, you may also find it used in:
- Clothing (it is used to clean and degrease items)
It’s also worth noting that there have been reported incidents of hexane poisoning among workers who are exposed to large amounts of hexane, including iPhone manufacturers in China.
Officially, it is listed as non-toxic, but many health experts, including my former employer Whole Foods Market, claim it to be bad for your health and do not sell it.
In the cooking oil industry, they are most heavily used in canola oil and soy oil but also non-virgin and extra virgin olive oils too.
It’s worth noting, however, that many products made from soy, from veggie burgers to TVP (textured vegetable protein which is often used as a meat substitute) to nutrition bars (if they contain soy) are often treated with hexane as well.
Ironically, the EPA claims it can cause dizziness, depression, nausea and possible reproductive issues and the CDC lists affirms most of that and also says it could lead to peripheral neuropathy, but the FDA, who actually regulates food in the US doesn’t have an official position on hexane, nor is it required to be listed on food ingredient labels.
Most manufacturers claim that little to no hexane is left in the finished product you buy on store shelves.
Is extra virgin better than olive oil?
The answer here is yes, and you should only buy extra virgin olive oil, in my opinion.
We’ve already talked about the difference between virgin and extra virgin olive oil, so let’s examine the other types of olive oils you might see on your grocer’s shelves.
- Light Olive Oil – It has been chemically altered with hexane or other solvents to get the most possible oil from the olive (and often pit, stems and leaves). It has likely been heated as well to further help get more oil out. Then it gets filtered to remove solid pieces and lighten the color. As with ANY oil, fat and calorie content is NOT changed. If you simply want a lighter flavor, use butter, or cold-pressed vegetable oil (ideally organic or at least non-GMO). If you want fewer calories and fat grams, use less oil, or a spray oil.
- Pomace Olive Oil – Also made using solvents to get the most yield out of the olive (and again, also likely the pit and possible branches and leaves), but in this case, unlike olive oil and light olive oil, it’s mostly the oil that is chemically extracted from the pit that you’re getting. Why would anyone make this or buy this? It’s cheap!
- Olive Oil (with no other description, but also sometimes labeled pure olive oil) – Also extracted using solvents, and using olives that are not good quality. The oil is then heated, filtered and refined to remove impurities and bitterness.
What are refined oils?
You will see the term refined or unrefined oils on many different types of oils, not just olive oils.
Unrefined oils are definitely oils that have been cold pressed (again, sometimes labeled as expeller pressed). They are essentially raw, meaning no artificial heat has been added (the pressing naturally generates a little heat) and they have usually not been filtered.
Thus, you may see tiny bits of olive (or whatever vegetable or nut was used for the oil you’re looking at) floating in the oil. It may also be a little cloudy.
Refined oils, on the other hand, are probably hexane or extracted with some other solvent (but not if labeled cold pressed or expeller pressed). They are often heated to get more oil out and they may have even been bleached and deodorized which help mask unpleasant colors or odors.
They would definitely be filtered to remove impurities and lighten the color.
Refined oils can typically last much longer before they go rancid, whereas unrefined oils go bad quicker.
Dive in deeper in my post about what is the Best Oil for Frying Frozen French Fries (click to read on my site).
What is filtered or unfiltered olive oil?
As I got into a little bit above, filtering your oil lightens the flavor and color. It also removes any impurities from the oil (such as bits of stem, pit, etc).
Filtering your oil also makes it last longer before the oil goes rancid.
The downsides is it can make the flavor very generic. Great olive oil starts with great olives, usually from 1 specific type of olive grown in 1 specific place.
Cheap olive oil is made from a bunch of different types of olives often from across the globe. Thus, the flavor is naturally bland and generic anyway.
Great olive oil has a flavor specific to the olive and area where that olive was grown. Thus, filtering it robs you of really getting to taste that amazing olive.
When money is no object, go for unfiltered oils.
What makes oil go rancid?
Rancidity is when the oil breaks down and goes bad.
Several things can cause an oil (olive or any other) to go rancid. Those factors include exposure to:
That is EXACTLY why experts say to not keep cooking oils right next to a hot stove.
At some point in your life, you have probably opened a bottle of oil, or even a bag of fried chips and smelled that rancid smell; a strong, slightly sour chemical smell and maybe a little musky too.
So to keep oil from going rancid buy smaller bottles, always keep the lids on them tightly, don’t keep near the stove or a window that gets a lot of sun (and a closed pantry is even better).
If you have a bottle of something that’s been in your pantry for years, go ahead and toss it.
I also have an article that goes a little deeper into rancidity and bad oil. Specifically, it’s about How Often Your Should Change Deep Fryer Oil (click to read on my site).
You might be surprised to see what foods require changing after only 2-3 uses!
Why do some olive oils say what type of olive they are made from?
Let me be clear. If you see a bottle of extra virgin olive oil that says Arbequina olives, that means it is ONLY made from that type of olive, most likely from olives from one particular area in Catalonia, Spain.
That is a good thing!
If you buy a bottle of inexpensive oil, that just says olive oil, most likely that company has bought whatever olives were cheapest from a variety of countries. That doesn’t in, and of itself, mean the oil is bad.
But it does mean it will have a somewhat bland, generic flavor.
As you taste more olive oils from specific olives, you’ll naturally start to have a preference for some over others. Maybe you like ones that are super green and fresh tasting? Or you like the dark, rich, peppery ones?
Check out this great list of different olive types used in olive oil from Nutrition Advance.
Should you keep cooking oils in the refrigerator?
This question has confused hundreds of thousands of people for many years at this point.
The idea is that keeping oils in the fridge somehow slows the oil from turning rancid.
Of course, most oils that you put in the refrigerator will be harder to use as many will harden, thicken, or just flat out turn rock solid. Thus, you’ll have to spoon it out or set out on a counter early enough to where it liquifies.
But is refrigeration really helping?
The short answer is not really. ALL oils will eventually go rancid or oxidize. And most oils contain natural antioxidants that help fight spoilage.
DO keep them away from the stove, away from windows that get a lot of sun, and do keep the lid on tight, and ideally store in a closed pantry, but no need to stick in the fridge.
How long do oils last before they go rancid?
This isn’t an exact science here.
For one, I don’t know if you sometimes leave your bottles next to the stove, or adjacent to a window that lets light in. I also don’t know if your kids sometimes leave the lid off or loose.
All of those things can affect how long your oil will last.
But to start with, some good quality olive oils will have a use by date on them like other food items. So for starters, make sure that date hasn’t passed.
Then follow best practices and store your oil in a cool dark place with the lid on tight.
All of that taken into consideration, you might get about 1 year once opened or 2 years if unopened. But if you take that long to go through a bottle, consider buying the smallest bottle they sell, or, if someplace near you sells oils in bulk, buy small amounts at a time.
Is extra virgin olive oil good for you?
Different people will define “good” in different ways.
Certainly, if you like olive oil, extra virgin olive oil is the ONLY one you should be using, and EVOO is definitely better for you than any other type of olive oil.
Organic extra virgin olive oil is even better as it means the olives were grown without the use of chemical pesticides and artificial ingredients.
From a health standpoint, I really like Dr. Andrew Weil and have for decades.
Dr. Weil states “Olive oil has the highest percentage of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat of any edible oil. Quality olive oil also contains abundant antioxidants, substances that have been shown to provide cardiovascular and anti-cancer effects.”
But then there are other so-called experts like Dr. Jeff Novick who advocate for little to no use of cooking oils or fats. Dr. Novick has spent many years at this point trying to debunk the so-called benefits of the Mediterranean diet which often hangs it’s hat on the use of olive oil.
Dr. Novick notes that while olive oil does typically raise HDL (ie: good) cholesterol, “There was no significant difference for most all outcomes including heart attacks (myocardial infarction), death from cardiovascular causes, or death from any cause.”
So again, “good” is in the eye of the beholder, but since most of us do use olive oil, buy extra virgin only, organic if possible.
Can extra virgin olive oil be used for cooking?
Yes is the short answer.
I use extra virgin olive oil all the time in sautéing in a skillet. I would not, however, use it in a deep fryer as it has a relatively low smoke point.
Olive oil has a smoke point (ie: kind of like a burn point) of only 375°. Most deep fryers would start at that temp and go up well into the 400’s. Thus, your kitchen will look like Nine Inch Nails are about to walk out on stage from all the smoke from the oil.
While you can bake with it, since olive oil does have a specific flavor, you’ll want to make sure that flavor complements what you’re making. For example, I would NOT want to make pancakes with it as the olive flavor would be kind of weird.
But a cheddar biscuit? Sure, why not.
Are 86% of extra virgin olive oils fake?
Fake olive oil: Do you really know where your olive oil comes from? https://t.co/BC4c1ZK5oI
— delthia ricks 🔬 (@DelthiaRicks) March 24, 2019
There are a lot of scams in the olive oil world.
Why? Because so many people use olive oil and there’s a lot of money to be made. But picking olives, crushing them, getting that tiny bit of oil out, filtering, bottling, labeling, packing, and shipping is time-consuming!
Thus, for many years, big producers have sought ways to improve the efficiency of the process and maximize profits.
This first became news a few years back when the University of California at Davis released an extensive study that claimed that upwards of 86% of extra virgin olive oils sold at stores (in California) did not meet the standards to truly be labeled as extra virgin olive oil.
Read their complete study on olive oil.
At the time, their report included a LOT of well-known brands such as Colavita, Carapelli, Newman’s Own and even Rachel Ray’s own brand of EVOO.
In most cases, they found that the quality of the oil was virgin and not extra virgin. To be clear, they were not claiming the oils were not produced from olives.
They also found that many of these oils were being mixed with “cheaper reﬁned olive oil” and made from “poor quality oil made from damaged and overripe olives”.
What brand is REAL extra virgin olive oil?
In the aftermath of that UC Davis report, changes have been made.
There have also been experts who suggest that if you put your olive oil in the fridge and it doesn’t turn cloudy that it is fake. (hint: that is NOT a reliable way to test).
Here are the best ways to make sure you are buying good quality extra virgin olive oil:
- Look for oils made from a specific olive type (that way you know it’s not made from whatever olives were cheapest from across the globe)
- Find oils that list a harvest date on the bottle (that way you know it’s fresh)
- Look for certifications of authenticity (from one of the different organizations that verify and certify olive oil)
There are a few organizations, some based in the US and some international that sample, verify, and certify extra virgin olive oils. They put oils to the test and then apply their stamp or sticker to the bottle as verification.
To be sure, there are probably some great oils that don’t have certification (especially smaller, local growers). After all, the farmers probably have to pay for the certification and many can’t afford to.
But if you’re buying well-known brands at your grocery store, I would only consider ones with a certification from one of these companies:
- NAOOA Certified Olive Oils – Check their complete list of certified EVOO
- California Olive Oil Council – Check their complete list of certified EVOO
- Extra Virgin Alliance – Check their complete list of certified EVOO
- UNAPROL – Specializing in Italian oils only (and their site is in Italian) – Check their complete list of certified EVOO
Are olives healthier than olive oil?
Of course, when you eat an olive, you’re also getting the fiber from the olive meat along with other nutrients that get pressed out when they make olive oil.
For example, the typical bottle of extra virgin olive oil contains no cholesterol, no sodium, no protein, no fiber, and no carbs. Pretty much just fat and calories.
A jar of olives, on the other hand, does contain a small amount of fiber, a little sodium, and a trace amount of iron.
To be sure, there’s not a radical amount of nutrients in olives that are missing from olive oil. However, olives are not a high-fat food and olive oil is; it just takes a whole lot of olives to produce a jar of EVOO; way more olives than you would eat in one sitting.
But generally speaking, whether you’re talking about olives vs olive oil or juicing vs eating the whole fruit, it’s generally healthier and better to eat the entire fruit or vegetable as you get all the nutrients.
What are the benefits of olive oil?
Olive oils are made from olives and are naturally high in healthy fatty acids.
Extra virgin olive oil contains many anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants, and heart-healthy benefits. Those extra virgin olive oil benefits include
- Reducing inflammation
- Helping manage the risk of heart disease
- Managing dementia
- Helping fight depression
- Healthy weight management
If you love olive oil, then it stands to reason you probably love balsamic vinegar too!
Like olive oil though, balsamic vinegar can be confusing with some bottles costing 3 bucks and others 150 bucks. I break it all down in my Ultimate Guide to Balsamic Vinegar (click to read on my site), so definitely check that out to see exactly what those differences are and what kind to buy.
Extra virgin olive oil nutrition
No matter what type of olive oil you’re using the nutritional breakdown is going to be about the same (infused and flavored oils aside).
Thus, most typically you would see the following breakdown per 1 tablespoon of oil:
|Total Fat||14 g|
|Saturated Fat||2.2 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||1.8 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||10 g|
|Trans Fat||0 g|
|Total Carbohydrates||0 g|
|Dietary Fiber||0 g|
|Vitamin E||72% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance)|
|Vitamin K||75% of the RDA|
Extra virgin olive oil for hair?
Since olive oil can absorb into the hair shaft, the oil is able to reach the follicles of the hair. This allows the oil to condition, nourish and revitalize your hair with every use.
As we got into above, extra virgin olive oil has antioxidants, vitamin E, and vitamin A. This helps moisturize a dry flaky scalp and can help manage conditions like dandruff.
To use, you can either warm the bottle of EVOO first in a bowl filled with warm water or just use at room temperature.
Start with 2-3 tablespoons and gently massage into your hair starting at the tips, working your way up to the scalp. You can then cover your head with a shower cap and leave in for about 15 minutes before rinsing, shampooing, and conditioning.
You can also use a much smaller amount daily that you just rub in and leave.
Extra virgin olive oil for skin?
Just as extra virgin olive oil is great for your hair, it can also help moisturize your skin.
Olive oil contains plenty of vitamins and nutrients which have been found to be really beneficial for the skin.
As we’ve mentioned, EVOO contains Vitamin E & A, essential fatty acids, and minerals too.
Thus olive oil can help control and manage wrinkles and other signs of aging, such as softening and smoothing the skin, lightening the complexion and moisturizing dry skin.
Extra virgin olive oil is also a natural remedy for helping reduce the signs of pregnancy stretch marks in a woman. Just apply topically and gently massage into the skin. Of course, as with ANY use, I only would use extra virgin olive oil.
What’s the best extra virgin olive oil to buy?
I covered “fake” extra virgin olive oil vs real EVOO above.
If money and time were no object, I would find a local producer at a local farmer’s market and buy their oil after tasting it and liking it. If you can go tour their facility (which I have done a couple of times) even better.
For many of us though, we lead busy lives and can’t always get our extra virgin olive oil that way. Thus, I would find one on the grocer’s shelves that had:
- A harvest date on the bottle
- Listed the type of olive it was made from
- Had certification from one of the companies I listed above
If you can also find one that is certified organic, that’s even better!
Since everyone loves shopping on Amazon these days, I scoured the extra virgin olive oils on there and selected the one they carry that I believe to be the best.
That oil is Dell’Orto 100% Organic Ultra Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
It is certified organic, using only Italian olives grown in the Amalfi Coast region by a family that has been growing olives for 150 years. Dell’Orto is also unrefined (although it is not clear if that means it is also unfiltered).
Amazingly, this oil also has only 4 and 5-star reviews, so you know it’s an outstanding product. It was also a silver medal winner in a New York extra virgin olive oil taste competition in 2018.
Curious? CLICK HERE to check current prices on Amazon and to learn more.
Did I cover everything you wanted to know about extra virgin olive oil’s uses, nutrition, benefits, and the differences in the types of olive oils?
In this post, my goal was to create the ultimate guide to extra virgin olive oils.
There are a LOT of articles out there about olive oil. Each of those often answers 1 specific question, so my goal was to have THE resource that was thorough, fact-checked, and up-to-date that answers ALL your questions about olive oil.
Which extra virgin olive oil is your favorite?
Like olive oil, the world of salt is pretty confusing too!
Luckily, in a recent article, my wife, who does the majority of the food stuff in our house these days, wrote the ultimate resource on salt.
She breaks down the different kinds of salt, what the health concerns are, differences between each type, and much more.
So if you’ve ever pondered whether pink Himilayan sea salt was a healing miracle or just a scam, you’ll want to check out this article.
Just click the link to read it on my site.