Is extra virgin olive oil better than olive oil?
Medically reviewed by Miho Hatanaka, RDN, L.D. — Written by Gretchen Stelter
Olive oil and extra virgin olive oil are both made from olives, but the method of extracting the oil is different. As a result, they have different colors, tastes, and health properties.
Many types of oil are available on the market, including vegetable, canola, avocado, walnut, and coconut oil. It can be difficult to know which oil is the best. Do they actually taste different? Is one more healthful than the others?
This article takes a look at the differences between extra virgin olive oil and olive oil, including their tastes, health benefits, and cooking and smoke points.
Is olive oil healthful?
The uses of different oils vary. Olive oil has a great flavor that makes it suitable for adding uncooked to salad or bread, and it is relatively heat-stable for cooking. However, there has been some controversy over whether olive oil is actually healthful, and there is no consensus about which type is best.
The main types of fat in olive oil, which mainly consists of oleic acid, are monosaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which health experts agree are a healthful fat.
In contrast, saturated fats and trans fats are unhealthful fats. Research has linked eating unhealthful fats to a range of health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
Replacing saturated and trans fats with MUFAs can help lower a person’s risk of heart disease. These fats raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Olive oil is one component of the Mediterranean diet, which researchTrusted Source has shown to have many benefits for health, including that of the heart, eyes, and brain.
Olive oil vs. extra virgin olive oil
Most of the modifiers that go before olive oil, such as “virgin” or “extra virgin,” refer to the process that manufacturers use to produce the oil. Extra virgin olive oils have undergone the least processing.
When the manufacturer processes the oil, they clean it with chemicals and then heat it. These processes prolong the shelf life, which is great for the food industry, but they may strip away a lot of the oil’s flavor and some of its benefits.
According to researchTrusted Source, extra virgin olive oil has more polyphenols than regular olive oil. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant, and they have many health benefits. Refining olive oil strips it of its vitamins, polyphenols, and other natural ingredients.
Many people find that extra virgin olive oil has a more pleasant taste than olive oils that have undergone more processing. Fresh, unprocessed extra virgin olive oil should taste:
- a bit fruity
- a little bitter, similar to biting into an olive
- slightly peppery
- If the oil tastes metallic, flavorless, or musty, this may be due to overprocessing, or the oil might have gone bad.
Many people opt for cold pressed, unfiltered, or stone pressed products when choosing which extra virgin olive oil to purchase. With these options, the oil has not undergone heating or filtering, which usually adds chemicals to the oil.
Pros of extra virgin olive oil
People may prefer to use extra virgin olive oil in place of regular olive oil because:
- it has undergone less processing
- they find it to have a more pleasant taste
- it contains fewer chemicals
- it is higher in antioxidants, vitamins, and other natural ingredients
What about “pure” and “light” olive oil?
Pure olive oil is a blend of extra virgin olive oil and processed oils. People can check the label to find out exactly what is in the oil before buying it. Some light virgin oils are a blend, too.
The term “light” refers to the flavor of the oil, rather than the calorie content. Light oils are often processed and refined, which strips down the color as well as the flavor.
Processing makes the oil last longer, and it also makes it possible to heat the oil to a higher temperature, which is good for cooking. However, it adds chemicals and takes out nutrients.
Olive oil storage
The best place to store olive oil is somewhere cool, dry, and dark. It is best to place it somewhere where it will not get radiant heat, either from appliances or the sun. Doing this will keep the oil fresh for longer.
Olive oil in cooking and smoke point
When using oil for cooking, it is important to keep the heat level in mind. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down, become carcinogenic, and release smoke into the air. In other words, it is when the oil starts to burn.
If oil starts to burn or catch fire, a person should throw it away and start again.
The American Heart Association (AHA) say that the following oils are relatively healthful for cooking and preparing food:
They recommend using these fats instead of solid fats, such as butter, shortening, or lard, and tropical oils, such as palm and coconut oil, as these types can have a lot of saturated fat.
Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed form of olive oil. Due to this, it retains its natural antioxidants and vitamins, which are often lost during processing. This makes it a more healthful oil than regular olive oil but also makes it a little more expensive.
In general, oils that contain MUFAs, which include olive oil, are a healthful addition to the diet, especially when people use them to replace sources of saturated and trans fats.
However, it is best to eat high fat foods in moderation. Even healthful fats are low in nutrients and high in calories.