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Olive oil buying guide. What does extra virgin olive oil mean?
Heart healthy olive oil
A general guide to buying olive oil.
Olive oil is great stuff, flavorful, and healthy, what more could you ask for? Unfortunately, olive oil is relatively expensive in contrast with other available cooking oils, so you want to understand what you are buying, to ensure you're not paying a lot for an inferior product.
There are a lot of terms floating out there, and it can be perplexing to look at an array of olive oils at the supermarket, and debate the relative merits of extra virgin oil, and first cold pressed oil, and light olive oil etc.
There is a hierarchical ranking of olive oils, and the different available olive oils are suited to different types of cooking.
The most expensive, and best of the olive oils, are termed extra virgin, and might also be labeled first cold pressed. These are the most flavorful of the oils. These oils have been manufactured through a mechanical pressing of the olives, and no heat or chemicals have been added. The term "first press" means that the oil has been collected from the first pressing of a batch of olives, and this is considered to be the best of the oil. To be labeled extra virgin, the oil must also have an acidity of lower than 0.6 % and also have been judged to have good taste by panel of experts.
Pure olive oil is usually a mixture of oils collected from mechanical pressing, as well as oil collected from further pressings of the olives, that may also use the addition of chemicals and heat. This oil may have been refined to reduce unwanted or harsh flavors. The flavor of this olive oil is noticeably less fruity and flavorful than extra virgin olive oil.
There is also a product called "light" olive oil, and this refers only to the coloration of the olive oil, and although is often sold at a premium, is of no better quality than standard pure olive oil.
Pumice oil is heat and chemicaly pressed oil, has almost no taste, and is not of culinary interest. This oil should no be bought for cooking.
Basically, the more expensive extra virgin olive oil has a much more fruity and complex taste than pure olive oil, and since the yield of this type of oil from a harvest of olives is smaller, it is therefore the most expensive. This olive oil is perfect for salads or drizzling over soups, etc. but the flavorful compounds of extra virgin olive oil are destroyed by the cooking process, and as such an extra virgin olive oil is no better than a pure olive oil for cooking.
Ideally, you should buy both extra virgin olive oil, for use in cold foods, such as salad dressings, and also the cheaper pure olive oil, for use in cooking. Avoid both the "light" olive oil, and pumice oil.
Heart smart, and delicious, good olive oil always brings a taste of the Mediterranean to your table.
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- olive oil council link