Olive Oil Primer: Knowing the Different Types of Olive Oil

If your New Year’s resolution involves healthier eating, chances are good you’ll be cooking with olive oil. So here’s a quick guide to understanding the difference between extra vrigin, light, pure and all the other labels and terms you’ll encounter at the store.

Photo Courtesy of UC Davis Olive Center

Here’s the rundown:

Extra virgin olive oil: The best taste, freshest flavor and typically the most expensive. “Extra virgin olive oil is essentially the naturally extracted juice from fresh olives,” writes Australian olive oil expert Richard Gawel. Because it’s not refined, EVOO contains more polyphenols than other olive oils. True EVOO also can’t have any flavor “defects” such as moldy olives, which can make the oil musty. The oil must meet rigid tasting and testing standards set by the International Olive Council. California is the only state that’s legally adopted strict standards for any olive oil sold in the state.

One problem: With the exception of California, the United States hasn’t adopted such standards. Consequently, not all extra virgin olive oil sold in the U.S. is the real thing. Overseas producers can ship olive oil here and call it extra virgin – even though it isn’t really EVOO. “They can, and they do,” says Nancy Ash, a trained olive oil taster and owner of the consulting firm Strictly Olive Oil.

First Cold Press: First cold press basically means the fruit of the olive was crushed exactly one time – i.e., the “first press.” The “cold” refers to the temperature range of the fruit at the time it’s crushed. The temperature can’t be too warm. Otherwise, the quality of the oil will suffer. But this  can be a misleading term if you’re looking for extra virgin olive oil because it only tells part of the story. EVOO needs to be first cold pressed to qualify as extra virgin olive oil but it also must pass numerous other tests to meet standards established by the International Olive Council or the California Olive Oil Council.

Pure Olive Oil/Olive Oil: Oil has been refined to remove any defects. It’s typically blended with a little extra virgin olive oil to add flavor.

Light Olive Oil: Not a diet product. It’s basically the same as “pure” olive oil. According to the University of California Cooperative Extension, the oil is made from refined olive oil that’s “light in flavor” – not calories or fat.

Pomace Olive Oil: Obtained by mixing solvents into the olive pulp. The pulp is a byproduct of the milling process. Heat is then used to extract additional oil from the pulp. Pomace oil has been found to retain traces of the chemical process.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch