What’s the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?

The differences between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil are subtle but many. Besides variations in production methods, you can also see a difference in colour, clearness, nutritional value and, probably most importantly, flavour.

Read on to learn why olive oil is more suitable for cooking, and why extra virgin olive oil is perfect for your salad.

Olive oil

Non-virgin olive oil, also known as “regular” or “pure” olive oil, is often made from a blend of cold-pressed and processed oils.

The processing gets rid of impurities, making the oil clean and see-through, and can be either heat or chemical based. Examples of processing methods are bleaching and deodorising, making the oil consistent in colour, taste and aroma.

Unfortunately, this processing leaves the oil with reduced omega-3 fatty acid and antioxidant content, making it less nutritious than unprocessed olive oil.

Regular olive oil will often have a milder flavour and more see-through colour than virgin and extra virgin olive oils. This makes it ideal for cooking rather than salad dressings or dipping, as there may be off-flavours and a less distinct and pure taste of olives.

Another point in favour of using regular olive oil for cooking is its high smoking point. The smoking point is the temperature where the oil starts smoking, meaning that an oil with a higher smoking point is more suitable for high-temperature cooking — such as frying and deep-frying.

Virgin olive oil (VOO)

Virgin oils are, unlike regular olive oil, always made cold-pressed and without the use of any heat or chemicals. This means that the oil is extracted purely mechanically, by grinding olives into a paste followed by pressing.

VOO  is typically made from the second pressing of the olives — after the first pressing has yielded extra virgin oil.

The mechanical-only treatment leaves the oil with a higher content of nutrients, which may benefit your health. It also yields an oil with a purer and cleaner olive flavour and aroma. This makes the oil suitable for dressings, as opposed to just cooking.

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Extra virgin olive oil is often the most expensive type of olive oil.

Like VOO, EVOO is extracted from olives through mechanical processing without any heat or chemicals. It is the first press, making the oil the most flavourful.

EVOO is higher quality than VOO, and it lives up to strict standards on for example chemical and sensory qualities. Ideally, there are no off-colours or off-flavours, making the oil ideal for dipping and dressings. Here, the refined flavour can really shine through.

A good EVOO is characterised by a pleasant, fruity flavour. The riper the olive, the more floral the taste. Unripe olives will produce a grassier and pleasantly bitter oil.

EVOO has a lower smoking point than regular olive oil, making it less suitable for high-temperature cooking. However, it can still be used in a quick stir-fry or for light sautéing.

Finally, being from the first pressing and not heat or chemically treated, EVOO is the most nutritious type of olive oil. It is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins such as vitamin E and vitamin K.