Choosing olive oil can be a tough decision. The shelf is filled with what seems like hundreds of olive oil types and brands. What is the difference between light and extra virgin olive oil? What are the best purposes for each? Is one healthier than the other?
We’re here to tell you that all olive oils are not made alike. The quality, or “grade,” of olive oil determines its flavor, color, smoke point and more. If you’ve ever seen light olive oil on the shelf and wondered whether it’s the right oil for your cooking needs, here are the facts to help you decide.
DOES LIGHT OLIVE OIL HAVE FEWER CALORIES?
The labels “light,” “extra light,” and “lite” olive oil tend to be used interchangeably, and infer that this type of olive oil is healthier or has fewer calories. However, the truth is that the “light” label refers to the neutral flavor of the olive oil, not its caloric value. All types of olive oil, regardless of the grade, contains 14 grams of fat per tablespoon and approximately 119 calories. For this reason, light olive oil is sometimes also referred to as “light tasting” or “light flavor” olive oil.
EXTRA VIRGIN VS. LIGHT OLIVE OIL: WHICH IS HEALTHIER?
Despite its name, light olive oil is not healthier than other types of olive oil like extra virgin olive oil. The nutritional value of an olive oil is largely determined by the way it is processed.
The process to create extra virgin olive oil is a rigorous one. Depending on the producer, the olives may be hand-selected to ensure that the oils that are pressed from it are only of the best taste.
Our partner and in-house Michelin star chef, Dominique Le Stanc, is closely involved in the process of creating our delicious extra virgin olive oils. He knows first-hand the difference that high-quality extra virgin olive oil makes in a dish. So what does he say is the way to get the highest quality of olive oil?
Firstly, Chef Le Stanc emphasizes that the olives are pressed right away – at a maximum of 48 hours of harvesting. This reduces the risk of fruits fermenting before they’re pressed.
Secondly, the oil must be cold-pressed. The use of heat or chemicals to extract oil, while convenient, jeopardizes the distinct olive oil flavor that transforms dishes we love.
This pure, chemical-free and heat-free process is what makes olive oil “extra virgin.” These quality standards make extra virgin olive oil not only the best-tasting olive oil, but also the healthiest. In comparison to regular grade olive oil, extra virgin olive oil has fewer chemicals and free radicals, is higher in heart-healthy antioxidants, and plenty of good fats.
So what goes into the process of creating light olive oils? Light olive oil is considered a refined olive oil. While it’s made in the same way as higher grade olive oils, it undergoes additional processing to remove any chemical or flavor defects that would otherwise make it unfit for sale.
The process of making refined olive oil involves high temperatures and chemicals, to render the oil largely colorless, flavorless, and odorless. Refined olive oils typically contain a small portion of extra virgin olive oil to provide some flavor, aroma and color.
The refining process also rids the oil of its natural antioxidants, making regular or light olive oil a less healthy choice compared to extra virgin olive oils.
WHAT IS THE BEST USE FOR LIGHT OLIVE OIL?
Because of its neutral flavor, light olive oil can be used in dishes that require milder flavors. It also has a higher smoke point than unrefined oils, making it suitable for high temperature cooking like baking.
WHAT IS THE BEST ALL-PURPOSE OLIVE OIL?
Due to its exceptional flavor and nutritional value, we recommend extra virgin olive oil for all forms of cooking. High quality extra virgin olive oils, like those sold here at La Merenda, have a complex flavor profile that can elevate any meal.