Olive Oil vs Extra Virgin Olive Oil: How Are They Different?

Olive oil is one of the most popular oils in the world, and it has been used for cooking and as a beauty product for centuries. Nowadays, the term “olive oil” itself is a broad term that encompasses many different types of oils that come from olives, including virgin olive oil (VOO), extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), and other blends like pure or light olive oils. This article will discuss the unique uses and differences between extra virgin and the different types of olive oils.

What is the difference between regular olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?

The difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil is that extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the highest quality olive oil, with the least amount of processing. Whereas extra virgin olive oil is made from cold-pressed olives without any heat or chemicals added, regular olive oil is usually a blend of refined and virgin oils.

How olive oil is graded

Before diving into what constitutes regular olive oil and extra virgin olive oil, it’s essential to understand how olive oil is graded. Extra virgin olive oils are available in different varieties with varying acidity levels. Free acidity is an important parameter that defines the quality of olive oil. It is expressed as the percentage of oleic acid (the main fatty acid present in olive oil) in 100 grams of oil. The less acidic an olive oil is, the better is its quality.

Because acidity levels increase when you apply heat, processed (also called refined) olive oils such as light olive oil, extra light olive oil, pure olive oil, etc., have high acidity values compared to high quality olive oil. The same applies to regular olive oil because it’s a mix of virgin and refined olive oils. If you are looking for the best olive oil (or even good enough olive oil), I would steer clear of refined oil.

What qualifies as olive oil?

It’s important to note that every country has its own standards for the “olive oil” designation. For example, in the United States, “Olive oil is the oil obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea L.), to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds and shall meet the minimum requirements of Table I, found in §52.1539 of these grade standards.” In the UK and the EU, there are similar regulations.

In other words, the designation “olive oil” on the bottle almost always means refined (processed with heat and/or chemicals), which makes it an inferior product in terms of its nutrients. Moreover, products in this category are olive oil blends, so you can’t trace their origin.

What qualifies as extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)?

Although every country has its own standards for the “extra virgin olive oil” designation, it is always considered the best type of olive oil, and it typically has less than 0.8% acidity (it’s common for the best extra virgin olive oils to have less than 0.3%). Extra virgin olive oil is always a natural, unrefined product obtained solely using cold mechanical extraction. As a result, extra virgin olive oil has excellent flavor and odor, the lowest acidity, and the highest nutritional content. In other words, it’s the best olive oil category you can buy.

In the United States, extra virgin olive oil “…is virgin olive oil which has excellent flavor and odor (median of defects equal to zero and median of fruitiness greater than zero) and a free fatty acid content, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams…”

The fine print

The EU and the UK have similar guidelines. In almost every case, the regulating body specifies a concentration of oleic acid for the olive oil to claim this designation. You may have noticed that there is no specification that the extra virgin olive oil should be of a single origin. Because of it, it has become a widespread practice from large olive oil brands to blend low-quality virgin olive oils (acidity higher than 0.8%) with smaller quantities of high-quality virgin oils (acidity higher than 0.8%) until the concentration of oleic acid reaches that threshold and their product can claim the extra virgin oil designation.

Our recommendation

Suppose you don’t want to limit yourself to extra virgin oil blends that meet the minimum criteria to be marketable with the EVOO designation. In that case, we recommend starting looking into extra virgin olive oils from a single-grove or with traceable origin. Also, organic producers typically employ better business practices and keep higher standards for their products.

Olive oil vs extra virgin olive oil comparison

Regular olive oilExtra virgin olive oil
Blend of refined and virgin oilsMade exclusively from cold-pressed olives
Little to no smell, often hay or ground notesA rich, grassy smell, often with hints of olive
Less pronounced flavors, often waxy notesSuperior flavor, with fruity, bitter, and spicy notes
Higher acidityLower acidity
It can be used for cooking at a higher temperature compared to EVOOIt can be used for cooking at a lower temperature compared to regular olive oil

Pros and cons of olive oil

Regular olive oil is a popular cooking ingredient and is often used as an alternative to butter or other oils. It has been shown to have several benefits, such as containing healthier fats that can reduce the risk of heart disease. But it also has some drawbacks compared to other cooking oils, such as being more expensive and having a lower smoke point (it cannot be heated too high without burning).

Pros and cons of extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is used extensively in Mediterranean cuisine for cooking, salad dressings, and dipping. Some people in Greece and Italy use it for their skin or hair care as well. Because it’s an unrefined, raw product, it is rich in monounsaturated fats, polyphenols, and has many health benefits such as lowering the risk of heart disease and reducing blood pressure.

Although extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest option, it is more expensive than refined olive oil and other cooking oils like vegetable oil. It also has a lower smoke point (around 190°C or 350°F), so it cannot be heated up too high without burning it. It also has a shorter shelf life of about six months to one year.

Final thoughts

If you are looking for a healthy and tasty option, extra virgin olive oil will be your best bet. Compared to regular olive oil, extra virgin olive oil is full of healthy fats and antioxidants, so it’s a much better choice for people who want to fortify their diet against saturated fats and cholesterol.

Extra virgin oil is also very versatile, and it can be used for cooking, as salad dressing, or as a spread. Many people choose to use it for their skin and hair care as well. In my opinion, it provides most of the benefits compared to other types of oils, and although it’s more expensive, it’s a luxury most people can afford in their everyday life.