Olive oil is a versatile and widely used cooking fat found in most kitchens worldwide. Its longstanding presence can be attributed to its rich history and numerous culinary applications. From sautéing and frying to creating delicious salad dressings and dips, it's a culinary staple.
However, it's essential to recognize that not all olive oils are created equal, with significant distinctions between regular vs extra virgin.
Deciphering the differences between the two products solely based on product labels can be challenging for consumers. In today's expansive grocery stores, the array of cooking fats available can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, we are here to offer guidance and shed light on the disparity between the two.
By understanding the characteristics and recommended uses of each product, you can confidently choose the appropriate option for your specific culinary needs. Whether you're seeking a neutral cooking fat or aiming to add a burst of flavor to your creations, both products offer their own unique advantages and can elevate your dishes to new heights.
What is Olive Oil?
Regular or ordinary olive oil is refined and blended with a small amount of superior product, such as extra virgin, to produce a milder-tasting product with a higher smoke point.
It's deodorized using heat, which helps eliminate any smell or strong flavors. In addition to making the product taste flat or homogenous, it makes it more suitable for cooking at high temperatures. However, it's important to note that a high smoke point is not an indication that a fat remains stable during the cooking process.
Lastly, since it's much more refined than EVOO, this results in a lighter color and fewer nutrients. It's widely used as for cooking and shallow pan frying, especially foods like zucchini fritters and fried Italian meatballs.
Technically speaking, olive oil refers to a group of products with varying levels of refinement.
The most common grades include extra virgin, virgin, ordinary, and pomace. While all of these products technically come from the same fruit, the way in which they are milled, processed, stored, and used is quite different.
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What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Italy is the most biodiverse country in the world when it comes to the olive fruit with over 650 native cultivars. This means there are endless possibilities when it comes to extra virgin flavor profiles.
Common flavor profiles include but are not limited to herbaceous, fruit, nutty, floral, fresh, and peppery. The product is also often described as grassy, which might be true, however, that's a very general and broad term. Try to be a bit more specific when doing a tasting.
As stated previously, EVOO has incredible health benefits. It's been studied for decades and is rich in monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, especially polyphenols, and can help with memory loss.
To be considered extra virgin, the product must also meet specific physicochemical such as a maximum for free fatty acids and peroxides. And lastly it must be free of sensory defects which can be found during an organoleptic tasting.
Olive Oil vs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Both products are made from the fruit of the olive tree, but there are some key differences between the two.
Extra virgin is produced through strictly mechanical means, without the use of chemicals of heat. Whereas ordinary, or regular, is very refined, therefore, uses heat and/or chemical solvents.
Which is Better?
Overall, extra virgin is considered to be better because it's a higher quality product, offers more health benefits, and tastes better. It offers more depth and flavors to food and can be used for cooking, frying, baking, and finishing making it more versatile.
It's also a more stable cooking fat, although technically the smoke point is lower. However, stability is far more important than smoke point. The downside is that it's typically more expensive.
However, both products can be healthy choices when used in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Which is Better for Cooking?
As an overall cooking fat, extra virgin is better. However, both fats can be used, Here are some of the differences to consider.
Extra virgin offers more depth and complex flavors than regular olive oil. Regular has a milder flavor and can be a good option for dishes where you don't want the flavor of the oil to overpower other ingredients.
Technically speaking, extra virgin has a lower smoke point than regular olive oil. However, extra virgin is a more stable cooking fat which means it's better for everyday cooking and protecting the nutrients within your food.
Read more about smoke point.
Extra virgin offers way more health benefits, it's is packed with healthy monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients that can help to lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Regular olive oil is still a healthier option than many other cooking fats, but it doesn't have the same nutritional value as extra virgin.
How to Use Each Product
Use each product based on your own personal cooking needs and flavor preferences. If you can, we recommend using extra virgin for all your culinary needs because of the incredible flavors and health benefits.
It can be used for pretty much all cooking scenarios, however, if you have a smaller budget, consider exclusively using it for foods such as salad dressings, vinaigrettes, dips, cooking light vegetables, and fish. It also works well in pasta, vegetables, or to drizzle over cooked dishes.
Then use regular olive oil for frying, baking, and all other heavy cooking.
Use the highest quality cooking fat you can afford for all of your cooking needs.
There's room for both products in your kitchen. However, if you're looking for a more stable product with incredible health benefits reach for the EVOO.
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