With the plethora of labels present on all our food in grocery stores around the world, it can be confusing knowing exactly what you’re buying. And this is especially with one particular pantry item: olive oil.
Virgin, Extra Virgin, Refined, and Unrefined, the labels start to get confusing unless you know exactly what each of these designations mean. Here is a quick, simple guide to knowing the difference between refined olive oils and unrefined olive oils to make your next shopping experience a little easier.
Why are there different types of olive oils?
Let’s start with the basics. Olive oil comes in many different varieties and it all has to do with the way it’s processed.
When making olive oil, the olives are harvested, prepared and crushed to create a paste. Then, through a process called maceration, the oils and water are extracted from the fruit. The water is then removed from the oil to produce olive oil.
What happens from this point on is where the differences begin to be apparent.
What is Refined Olive Oil?
Refined olive oil is oil which is processed further after the water has been removed. Different chemical agents and heat are used to make the taste more bland, and other types of oils are usually mixed in as well. The reason for this refining process is to mask the taste of lesser quality olives.
Refined olive oil can be good for cooking, but it wouldn’t be the ideal olive oil to use on it’s own as a dressing or dish accompaniment because it doesn’t contain that rich, aromatic flavor of extra virgin olive oil.
You will usually see refined olive oils at the grocery store labelled as just “Olive Oil” or “Light Olive Oil” with no mention of it being virgin.
What is Unrefined Olive Oil?
Unrefined olive oil on the other hand ends at the point where the water is removed. Unrefined olive oils are the purest form of olive oil in that it contains much of the original flavor, aroma and nutritional value of the olive.
Unrefined olive oils are typically more expensive because of the quality and the purity. You will see unrefined olive oils labelled as “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” and “Virgin Olive Oil”.
How are Olive Oils Graded?
The true way of determining whether something is extra virgin, virgin, or just olive oil is by measuring its percentage of free oleic acid. Oleic acid is a fatty acid naturally produced by olives. Extra virgin olive oil contains no more than 1% of oleic acid in a bottle.
Virgin olive oil contains a slightly higher percentage of oleic acid, and regular, refined olive oil having a percentage of 3 to 4%.
The different types of olive oils have different uses, with the highest quality being extra virgin olive oil. Having an unrefined variety of oil in your pantry is great when you want to add immense flavor to different dishes by drizzling it over your food. Refined olive oils can be used for cooking purposes so you can reserve the better olive oil as a topping.