The 101 of Olive Oil Types
Olive oil is grouped into three main types
Virgin Olive Oils
olive oils that are made only from cold extraction of oil from the olives
Refined Olive Oils
olive oils made from refining Virgin Olive Oils
products made from blending Refined Olive Oils with Virgin Olive Oils
Testing and grading criteria olive oil are particularly complex at the detailed level, but we have summarised the most important things you need to know to choose the right type of oil when you shop.
Virgin Olive Oils
Virgin Olive Oils are olive oils made only from cold extraction of oil from the olives
Virgin olive oils are prized for their flavour and their high levels of polyphenols, which are said to have great health benefits as antioxidants. Two qualities of virgin olive oil are commonly sold in Australia:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is the highest grade of virgin olive oil, which must have low free acidity and a faultless flavour. Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil to add flavour dimensions to your dishes. In particular this is your best choice for cold use for dipping, on salads and in final touches to dishes.
Keep your eye out for:
- Unfiltered – An Extra Virgin that still has fruit sediments. A very thick oil that sticks well to salad leaves and other foods, while giving extremely vibrant colour.
- Mono-varietal – Extra Virgin made from a single variety of olive for a specific flavour (much like a wine that can be made only from one type of grape). Read more about varieties.
Virgin Olive Oil
This is the second grade of virgin olive oil types. It is allowed to have higher free acidity and a few flavour/odour defects. Generally it will possess less flavour and fewer health attributes compared to Extra Virgin but can be useful for general cooking purposes.
Cooking with virgin olive oils is fine up until temperatures of 180-210ºC, depending on the quality of the oil you have chosen. This is higher than most recommended healthy cooking temperatures, but for confidence at higher temperature cooking, cook with types of olive oils containing refined olive oil. Colour is not an indicator of quality. Virgin oils can be green or yellow depending on the variety of olive, the region or the time of the season the fruit is harvested.
Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil will settle due to the sediment present. It may be more susceptible to degradation over time, so use it up!
Refined Olive Oil
Refined Olive Oil is made from refining Virgin Olive Oils
Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils (most commonly from Lampante Virgin Olive Oil) by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial fat structure. It must be very low in free acidity (lower than extra virgin olive oil) and is almost odourless and tasteless and is of a very faint yellow colour. Refined olive oil is generally only ever used for blending with virgin olive oils to make the product known as "Olive Oil".
The retention of the natural fat structure preserves the health benefits of olive oil’s high monounsaturated fats content, although the refining process removes antioxidants and polyphenols found in virgin olive oils.
Refined olive oil is not a bad product. In fact it is arguably the most pure form of the oil fat within an olive because it has been stripped of almost all components other than the actual oil/fat compounds. That’s why it is tasteless, odourless, near- colourless and won’t burn until very high temperatures. Despite widespread misinformation on the topic, Olive Oil refining is not equivalent to the heavy-duty solvent extraction method refining used for other vegetable and seed cooking oils.
Olive Oil is the official name for an olive oil blend that is not 100% made from virgin olive oils.
The typically high content of refined olive oil in these blends makes them naturally light in flavour and tends to make them more suitable for very high temperature cooking, and often also cheaper in price. “Olive Oil” must meet certain criteria for low free acidity and acceptable flavour. Two variants of Olive Oil are commonly sold in Australia:
Considered the “original” Olive Oil blend due to its early adoption in new markets versus the more strongly-tasting Extra Virgin Olive Oil; became known by many as Classic or Pure because in the early days of olive oil in Australia, brands needed to distinguish this product from other blends that were not 100% olive oil.
Content: 10-25% Extra Virgin/Virgin Olive Oil; 75-90% Refined Olive Oil.
Flavour: Buttery, sweet flavour; hint of olives
Usage: Perfect for general cooking; easily stands temperatures up to 210-220ºC or higher if of good quality; imparts a mild addition of flavour, without overpowering the food.
When consumers wanted the health benefits of olive oil, but demanded an even lighter tasting oil, suitable for very high temperature cooking, this product was born.
Content: 5-15% Extra Virgin/Virgin Olive Oil; 85-95% Refined Olive Oil
Flavour: Near flavourless; very slight hint of sweet butter
Usage: Great for cooking when no olive oil flavour is wanted (or as a butter substitute); easily withstands temperatures of 220-240ºC or higher; great for Asian stir-frying, flash-frying or deep-frying.
Light refers to flavour and colour, not fat. The concept of “Lite” diet products is relatively recent in Australia (compared to this product) and therefore does not apply to olive oil. There is no such thing as an olive oil that is lighter in fat than other olive oils.
Strong taste or odour (particularly unpleasant) is not normal for these products and is an indicator of poor quality, rancidity, or potentially blending with other oils. Quality products will have only mild pleasant flavours.
Olive Pomace Oil
But what is Olive Pomace Oil?
“Pomace” is the left-over paste after the virgin olive oil is extracted from the olive. It can be refined using heat and chemical solvents to produce Refined Olive Pomace Oil.
Technically, Olive Pomace Oil is not an olive oil, that’s why it isn’t called Pomace Olive Oil!
Sometimes used by restaurants for cooking, but not often sold to consumers, Olive Pomace Oil is the blend of Refined Olive Pomace Oil and Virgin Olive Oil. It is allowed to have taste defects and a higher free acidity than olive oils.
The advantage of Olive Pomace Oil is that it is relatively cheap compared to Olive Oil, however it neither has the same flavour, nor health attributes as olive oil.