Most olive oils found in the shops are virgin, and most are labelled ‘extra-virgin’. Many refer to regular olive when they in fact mean ‘virgin’, so lets’ start there:

Extra virgin versus regular virgin olive oil:

The difference between virgin and extra-virgin oil is purely quality. All virgin oil is cold-pressed, and it’s good for you thanks to its oleic acid content. Extra-virgin oil is made from the best olives and has the highest oleic acid content, which has proven health benefits.

  • Both regular virgin and extra virgin can vary in colour from dark green to golden yellow and even brown. You’ll find that most virgin olive oils are sold in dark bottles, to protect the oil from sunlight.
  • The higher the quality, the higher the price.
  • The colour of olive oil is not a representation of the quality. When testing and competitions are held a blue glass is used to eliminate any bias and create the best sensory experience.

Virgin versus regular refined olive oil:

‘Regular’ refers to non-virgin olive oil, also called ‘light’ or ‘refined’ olive oil. It is yellow in colour and it’s usually found in ordinary glass bottles. This olive oil doesn’t need to be protected, as it has already been refined with heat.

There are three reasons both (extra) virgin and ‘light’ or ‘refined olive oils are available in the shops. Cost, taste and practicality:

  1. Virgin olive oil is more expensive due to the cold-press process and ‘select olives-only’ source.
  2. Virgin oil has a slightly bitter taste, which is not to everyone’s liking. The highest quality extra-virgin olive oils have a more pleasing buttery taste, but this brings us back to cost. Refined olive oil has a neutral taste.
  3. Since heat destroys oleic acid anyway, you may as well go for the refined oil if you are using it to cook with.

Virgin oil is great for salad dressings, and extra-virgin can add a desired taste to cooking, but refined olive oil can be a better choice for many cooking and baking applications. If you have had your olive oil in your grocery cupboard for over a year, it might be a good time to throw it out as it does have a shelf life. Time to purchase some new Virgin Olive oil and maybe try some that is infused with flavour. Having olive oil in your cupboard has many benefits, after the the ancient civilisations cant be wrong.

Olive oils are individually blind tasted and rated using blue hued glasses. This was done for the 2018 Olive oil awards.