Kate's Cuisine

Oct 20 2010

The Differences Between Olive Oils

It’s something so simple that many of us use on on a daily basis. While it serves such a practical purpose, olive oil also adds tremendous flavour to anything it touches, and the quality and the type you use will greatly determine how your finished dish tastes at the end. I’ve often wondered what the difference is in olive oils, always choosing extra-virgin just because I know it’s “the best.” But why, and will it really make a big difference when you’re cooking with it?

An olive oil can be called “virgin” if there were only mechanical measures taken to extract the oil from the olive. Olive oil is produced by crushing the oil out of the olive. The crushing or the pressing is what’s considered to be the mechanical measure so if that’s all that’s involved, an olive oil can rightfully be called “virgin.” If any heat has been applied to the olives, or radiation, or solvents, then it cannot be called virgin olive oil. It is still however, olive oil. So if you see a label that just says, “Olive Oil” some other measure than just pressing it or crushing it has been used.

There are a few additional requirements, in addition to only mechanical measures being used, that an olive oil must meet to be deemed “extra” virgin olive oil. The main one is that the oil can have no more than 1% oleic acid, which is the major fatty acid in olive oil. Because there’s less of this fatty acid, extra virgin olive oil is much lighter than other olive oils, which makes it perfect for things like salad dressing. Other qualities of the olive oil will be analyzed to see if the olive oil can be called “extra virgin.” Some of these are colour, aroma, and of course, flavour.

There are other olive oils that are called “light” or “mild.” These oils are not virgin, and so some other element besides just the pressing came into play to extract the oil from the olives. Aside from that, the regular olive oil that’s used is of lesser quality and has often been refined several times. While you’ll still receive some of the flavour that you’d expect from olive oil, you’ll also find that it has a much milder taste and the colour is also much lighter. However, because it still has much of the fatty acid, this oil will taste and feel much heavier.

So there are actually differences in the different types of olive oil and the type you choose might depend on what you’re going to cook with it, or what your own personal preference is. I generally try to buy extra-virgin olive oil but it is of course, the priciest of the olive oils and so other times I’ll choose another type. I do find that the taste varies greatly between different manufacturers though so, check some out from a few different brands to see which one you like the best.

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