If you’re doing the Pure 21 Wellness Challenge or are just being more conscious of the things you eat, you may have started experimenting with different cooking oils. While there is clear evidence supporting the idea that common cooking oils, like canola and vegetable oil, are unhealthy, there are conflicting views around olive oil in general, and especially around Extra Virgin olive oil (EVOO). Let’s get into all things olive oil, with a particular focus on clearing up the noise surrounding EVOO.

What is Olive Oil?

Let’s cover the basics first. I probably don’t have to say this, but just in case, olive oil comes from olives (surprise, surprise!). The process for making olive oil is quite simple:

  1. Harvest olives by shaking them off their trees
  2. Process the olives by separating the olives from branches and leaves, then crush them into a paste
  3. Add water and mix
  4. Press or spin the mixture to separate the pure oil from the water and pulp of the olives
  5. Refine the oil
    1. NOTE: high-quality olives harvested at peak ripeness do not need to be refined. Lower-quality olives are refined by heating or adding chemicals to the oil, which results in a less-flavorful, less-nutritional oil.
  6. Bottle the oil

Characteristics of Olive Oil

Olive oil is known as one of the healthiest oils you can buy. It is naturally high in monosaturated fat (which reduces your body’s cholesterol levels), antioxidants, and vitamins. As we’ll talk about later, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is particularly healthy. It retains most of its natural health benefits throughout the extraction process. As a result of these antioxidants and vitamins, olive oil is a natural anti-inflammatory, stabilizer of cholesterol, and can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Olive oil is also known to have a relatively low smoke point when compared to other traditional cooking oils. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil will begin to smoke. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the smoke point, the healthier, tastier, and less refined it will be.

Across the internet, there are a variety of articles and blogs claiming that, because of olive oil’s low smoke point, it loses its natural antioxidants and vitamins when heated. However, research shows that olive oil is more stable and produces less unwanted fumes when cooked than canola, vegetable, or sunflower oil.

Olive Oil is not neutral. An oil is considered neutral when it has little-to-no flavor and therefore will not impact the flavor of the dish. While olive oil’s non-neutrality may pose an issue if you’re averse to the taste of olives, it can also provide wonderful fruity notes to dishes that call for a Mediterranean flair.

What is the Difference Between Types of Olive Oil?

It can be confusing or downright overwhelming to choose the olive oil that will taste best and be healthiest when going down the olive oil aisle (say that three times fast!) at the grocery store. With so many different types, places of origin, and companies making olive oil , it can feel impossible to make the right choice without being a full-on olive oil sommelier (yes, that’s a real thing, and you can even get your certification online).

So, let’s simplify the process by uncovering what the different labels really mean. There are five types of olive oil, though they go by several names. Each type of olive oil has a different level of acidity and smoke point, which are important when deciding which to use for cooking.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This unrefined olive oil is considered to be the healthiest and tastiest variety available. Because it is unrefined, it is the closest olive oil to its natural state. That means it retains most of its antioxidants, fats, and healthy vitamins throughout the extraction process. It has the lowest smoke point of all olive oils, but don’t let that prevent you from using it to cook! It is actually the preferred cooking oil for making a delicious steak.

Virgin Olive Oil (VOO)

This is also unrefined olive oil, but unlike Extra Virgin, it is slightly acidic and has a higher smoke point. It is not commonly sold in North America.

Pure Olive Oil

Also known as Light Olive Oil, this refined oil has a higher smoke point than Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but lacks flavor. As a result of the refinement process, it also lacks some of the antioxidants and vitamins present in EVOO or VOO.

Refined Olive Oil

A more processed form of olive oil, this has a high smoke point in relation to other olive oils but has less nutritional content.

Olive Pomace Oil

This is oil made from leftover residue after the olives’ pressing is complete. This is the lowest form of olive oil and is not suitable to be eaten raw (such as for dipping or salad dressing), but is good for cooking on high heat or massages

So, next time you’re strolling down the olive oil aisle, keep this knowledge in mind. It may be tempting to reach for the cheap, tried-and-true canola or vegetable oil, but if you’re serious about improving your diet, it starts with how you cook your food. EVOO is certainly the best oil to use in any situation, but its premium flavor and health benefits typically come with a premium price too.

However, you don’t have to spring for that Italian-imported, fancy-bottled EVOO where only sommeliers taste a difference. California Olive Ranch is a trusted brand that is consistently ranked as one of the best EVOOs on the market, without the hefty price tag, and is carried at most major supermarkets so you don’t have to worry about shipping cost either!