Olive Oil De-coded – What Makes It Virgin, Extra-Virgin, Organic or Not

by Martha Rather on June 26, 2009 · 4 comments

By Martha Rather


“Good oil, like good wine, is a gift from the gods.”


 – George Ellwanger


The merits of extra virgin olive oil have been talked about everywhere, from Oprah to the Sunday paper. But when you go to the store to buy it, the range of products and prices is astounding.


How do you choose?


Let me make it easy for you. Here is the explanation of what makes olive oil virgin, extra virgin, organic or not.


First we have to consider the quality of the olive itself. If the olive is picked while still green, the oil will be bitter. Using an olive that is too ripe will result in rancid tasting oil. Great care is used in choosing olives that are ready to become oil.


The words “hand picked olives” on the label indicate that great care was used.


Organic olive oil means that the olives are certified to have been grown without the use of pesticides, an important point.


Extra-virgin olive oil is produced by the old-fashioned way of slowly grinding the olives into a paste, allowing the oil to form naturally, and not letting any heat build up in the process.


Too much heat will produce an oxidized oil that loses its health giving vitality. Extra-virgin olive oil must be cold processed and cannot be adulterated with any refined oils.


I agree that this olive oil has a superior taste.


Virgin olive oil is slightly more acidic with a less pronounced taste. Some literature says that it is the second pressing of those olives. There may be a little bit of heat building up as the process continues.


The second way to produce olive oil is by using a centrifuge process which is considered to produce an olive oil of lesser quality because it can result in a build up of heat.


Refined olive oil has been chemically treated to neutralize those “strong” tastes. This can result in a tasteless oily product that most olive oil lovers avoid.


Labels that read “100% pure olive oil” or “Made from refined olive oils” or “Light olive oil” indicate that this product was made from inferior oils or chemically processed.


The best olive oil labels should include these phrases like “from hand-picked olives” or “first cold pressed” or “organic” to insure the most nutritious and delicious oil.


One of my favorite things is to taste test the olive oils at Whole Foods Market. A few drops can be dripped onto small pieces of bread for a quick taste test.


The best olive oil should please your taste buds. If it burns your throat, that oil is not for you. It might be rancid or there could be other personal concerns. I avoid clear bottles or plastic bottles and choose oil in dark green or brown glass bottles to insure freshness.


If you love the taste of it, do not choke when you see the price. Really great nutritious olive oil should taste absolutely delicious! You just need a little bit daily on your toast or salad to reap the nutritional rewards.


About the Author: Martha Rather, the co-owner of Mother Nature and Son restaurant, in Albuquerque, NM, has been researching how to improve the nutritional quality of cookies and cakes for 35 years and counting.  Her e-cookbook is entitled The Holistic Cookie — Enjoy Nutritious Time-tested Recipes, and also includes recipes for casseroles and other comfort food.  Click HERE to visit Martha’s website and get a FREE copy of her famous Chocolate Chip Holistic Cookie Recipe.


[Editor’s Comments:  Awesome information on this incredibly healthy omega-3 rich oil! We are big fans of olive oil in our house and consume it every week. We currently use more coconut oil than we do olive oil…but I’ll save that story for another article. 


We’ve tried many different brands and grades of olive oil over the years. Because we use so much of it, we tried one of the huge “industrial” sized bottles from Sam’s Club…but it just wasn’t very good.


Just like Martha described, the taste was bland (almost flavorless) and a little too “oily.” I know that sounds a little strange…it is olive oil after all…but taste test several different types and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. 


Taste-wise, we’ve found it best to stick to first cold pressed 100% Organic Extra-virgin Olive Oil that is sold in the dark green bottles.  Yes it is pretty expensive, but it is definitely worth the extra cost.  In our opinion, the brand doesn’t matter much as long as it fits into this category. 


What do you think? Can you tell the difference between regular over-processed olive oil and the organic extra-virgin variety? Do you have a favorite type or brand?  Leave us a Comment and let us know your thoughts!]


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mel June 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I didn’t know that about extra-virgin olive oil when it’s heated. I will have to use something else from now on. Can’t wait for the article about coconut oil, I hear great things about it.

2 Dianne Gregg June 26, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Grat article! I too, am mindful of the color, and can taste the difference!

Extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed) and coconut oil are always on my list!

Now I’m off to check out the Chocolate Chip Holistic Cookie Recipe.
I’ll have to substute the chocolate chips with a soy-free chip.

3 Michele June 30, 2009 at 8:54 am

I should have read this before buying my oil the other day. Yes indeed I just started (ok attempting) to cook. I had no oil and stood there for at least 20 minutes deciding on oil. I almost called my sister and brother in law, the health experts. By the way does olive oil have gluten?:) In the end I decided to buy Extra Virgin Olive oil (what I grew up with), and yes the one on sale.

This article will help me next time I am contemplating oil at the grocery store.

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