Olive oil: it’s one of the most celebrated culinary concoctions in the world. Though a purely Mediterranean condiment (no matter what anyone says), it’s certainly made quite a distance around the globe and is used by many chefs and cuisines.
It’s also no coincidence that olive oil has traveled so far and become so popular. The benefits of olive oil are many, and this is especially the case for extra virgin olive oil, the highest grade olive oil you can get. (Lucky for us, it’s widely available…all because it’s so beloved and preferred!)
There are so many good things about it. Still, some people might not be able to say why olive oil (especially extra virgin) is so great, even if they notice its clear preference above most other cooking oils.
So, what are the benefits of extra virgin olive oil? Why do we love it so much? Should you go out of your way to buy it? Let’s find out.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – What is It?
When choosing an olive oil, it’s hard not to notice all the different grades and qualities there are. There’s “pure,” “virgin,” and then “extra virgin,” the highest grade of all. But what makes extra virgin a standout from (and arguably much better than!) other olive oils?
For one, the label “extra virgin” exists to put a spotlight on a millennia-old tradition and a truly singular Mediterranean master craft.
This process is no simple feat. The oil it produces is superb in flavor, color, purity, and clarity, and most definitely worth every extra penny compared to other grades. Its creation requires rigorous quality control, fine-tuned growing skill, decades of experience, and cold-pressing techniques that must happen within 1 to 2 days of harvesting.
Want to know more about how extra virgin olive oil is made, and what makes it different from other grades? Read our article about it here.
Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Why Use It?
Obviously, a lot goes into making extra virgin olive oil. But why all the effort? What is the purpose behind techniques that took thousands of years to perfect?
In other words: what are the benefits of extra virgin, and are they worth the extra money? Here are some of them (though there are sure to be many others), along with some knowledge and expertise imparted by our very own Michelin star chef and partner: Dominique Le Stanc!
#1: Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tastes Better
All the careful picking, choosing, and selecting of perfect olives ultimately do lead to better flavor in the end. This is the reason why techniques for extra virgin quality exist in the first place: sublime quality does in fact equal sublime taste!
According to chef Dominique, a good extra virgin can have many different flavor profiles: ranging from delicate, floral, and fruity to even slightly “hot” or spicy (or more than one of these). Oils of lesser quality, however, tend to have an unpleasant bitterness and very little balance, and they just don’t accomplish the same culinary feats.
It’s this flavorful balance in extra virgin that helps classic Mediterranean dishes, pasta, breads, and more come alive. Like a fine aged wine, extra virgin takes a lot of skill and experience to produce properly. It also requires both hard labor and patience.
But, just like wine, there are many different flavors and preferences you can have, just like a sommelier with wine. Personally, Chef Dominique likes extra virgin olive oil with a delicate, soft taste and just a touch of heat!
#2: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Good for Digestion
Ever heard of the Mediterranean diet? It’s widely recognized as a healthy way of eating, even by doctors. And it’s mostly thanks to olive oil!
That’s right: extra virgin has some veritable health benefits in addition to its wonderful flavors. Most people don’t realize that it’s great for wellness, and it all starts with digestion!
Studies have lots to say about it, and it has a quite a bit to do with the antioxidants that olive oil contains. One study shows these help prevent health problems like high blood sugar and obesity. Most of these benefits take place right when the oil is digested!
Overall, olive oil enhances digestion and makes it happen in a way that’s healthier for the body. In another study, olive oil was also shown helping the digestion of meat, breaking down its fats in a way that was healthy rather than unhealthy.
#3: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Full of Healthy Fats
Extra virgin helps you digest fats better, studies show; but olive oil itself is teeming with its own unique set of antioxidant fats: healthy fats that are scarcer than many other types of fats out there! You’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids, but have you heard of omega-9? Also called oleic acid, olive oil (including extra virgin grade) is an excellent source of these.
Shown to be an important part of a healthy diet, these fats may help with issues of the immune system and inflammation, too. Research also suggests they improve metabolism, reduce oxidative stress, and can protect many organs in the body against disease.
If you’re in search of the most health benefits possible from your olive oil, it’s best to opt for extra virgin grade. Because it is unrefined, quickly processed, and exclusively cold-pressed, it retains the most healthy fats and antioxidants compared to other grades too, research shows.
#4: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Great for Heart Health
Extra virgin’s biggest healthy claim-to-fame might just be its benefits to the cardiovascular system: a.k.a. the heart and blood vessels! And yes, these properties are all thanks to the oil’s antioxidants and healthy fats.
Because oleic acid (and other antioxidant plant compounds, called polyphenols) help fight free radicals and inflammation, this makes the fine Mediterranean condiment an excellent candidate for a heart healthy diet. Studies also show the Mediterranean diet has a better impact on heart health for those who follow it compared to those who don’t (including those who only follow a basic low-fat diet but don’t eat a lot of olive oil).
And what could possibly make a proper Mediterranean diet this healthy? Why, extra virgin olive oil, of course!
#5: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Good in Almost Anything!
Extra virgin tastes good, looks good, and most definitely IS good for you, too. Of course, it shines best when it’s cooked with. Its main purpose is to enhance, uplift, and accompany so many other flavors and foods out there. And it can do that with (and for) so many.
Chef Dominique has so many recommendations for when and how to use it best. For one: if you’re cooking Mediterranean food, you should absolutely use olive oil, if not extra virgin. (If not, don’t be surprised when Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, and other Mediterranean chefs question its authenticity!)
Add it to fish or pasta dishes (or dishes with both!) and it also tastes excellent with flavorful soft cheeses, like goat cheese. It’s exceptional alongside citrus, with olive oil and lemon being a popular combination.
Want a bit more moisture for your finished plate? Consider topping it with a drizzling of some fine olive oil (though not too much…no need to overdo it).Doing some batter frying or light frying? Try extra virgin (though avoid it with deep frying). Want a healthier replacement for butter, like in baking recipes? Olive oil is a great candidate here, too.
Really, it’s excellent in so many other foods and cuisines. An essential ingredient for many recipes too, foods like mayonnaise and vinaigrette just wouldn’t be the same without it. Almost any dish could use a touch of extra virgin, and a little bit can go a long way.
A Condiment Truly Worth Celebrating
Extra virgin olive oil is used and praised all around the world. Owing to its amazing quality, flavor, and craftsmanship, no wonder it’s considered one of the finest (and healthiest!) ingredients you can use, and a welcome and important part of countless recipes. A top shelf extra virgin can come in many flavor profiles and be crafted in different regions. It can be fiery or gentle, and an authentic one could come from anywhere in the Mediterranean, from Taggia (a province of Imperia), Tuscany, or other regions.
Once you’ve settled on the specific flavor and region you prefer, the sky’s the limit with how you can use it. For millennia already and for millennia more, extra virgin olive oil is here to stay, and it’s always been destined to make our taste buds sing!
Browse through our collection of extra virgin olive oils to learn more!