Exactly what does "Extra Virgin" mean?

If you are like 75% of Americans, you have some level of confusion about olive oil. Based on many conversations, one of the most confusing things about olive oil is the naming--olive oil, virgin olive oil, pure olive oil, lite olive oil, first cold pressed olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil.

Thankfully, we've got just the thing to de-mystify the names. 

First and foremost, what exactly does it mean when olive oil is labeled "Extra Virgin"? Olive oil that is labeled "Extra Virgin" must meet certain standards. The standards are becoming more and more complex, which will help eliminate lower grade oils from being labeled "Extra Virgin", but will create additional confusion for consumers. The basic standards, however, have been in place for some time and are a good way for most consumers to understand extra virgin olive oil. To be called, "Extra Virgin", olive oil must meet the following basic criteria:

  1. The acidity level of the oil must be no more than 0.8%. Acidity can vary from year-to-year, but most high-grade extra virgin olive oils will have an acidity level below 0.5%. Spartan Oil acidity is typically around 0.3%. 
  2. The oil must be extracted solely through mechanical means. In other words, no chemical additives or heat can be added during the extraction process; doing so degrades the nutritional quality and flavor of the olive oil. 
  3. The oil must be free of taste or smell defects. It should have naturally fruity, bitter, and pungent taste qualities. 

Many times, you'll see the term "first, cold-pressed" on a label. This is somewhat redundant since, technically, all extra virgin olive oils are the result of the first cold pressing. 

All other varieties of olive oil, including "lite", "light", "pure", "virgin", and "refined" are lower-grade highly-refined oils that have had the health-conveying nutrients processed out. While there is some research indicating that a refined olive oil is slightly better than other refined vegetable oils, it should not be confused with an extra virgin olive oil, which has a myriad of health benefits.

Our recommendation is simple--stick to extra virgin olive oil for all of your food. Check out our previous blog post on cooking with olive oil from more ideas and tips.

If you found this post helpful, please consider sharing with your friends. We appreciate it! Also, we'd love your feedback in the comments below!

Pericles Konstas
Pericles Konstas


1 Comment

Jennifer Alladin
Jennifer Alladin

October 01, 2015

Very informative and well written

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