As we all learned from the Butter or Margarine Quiz, olive oil is a much healthier alternative. Butter is bad for your heart since it is high in saturated fats, and most margarines are made from hydrogenated oil so they contain trans fats which raises your cholesterol.
OK back to olive oil — what's the difference between virgin and extra virgin? Is one healthier than the other? What about refined olive oil? Does refined mean better? Is one better suited for cooking?
Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives. It contains no more than 8% acidity (oleic acid), and is said to have a superior taste. Extra-virgin olive oil has higher levels of Vitamin E, Vitamin A, chlorophyll and magnesium. Contrary to popular belief, heating it will not cause it to lose its health benefits, it will only lose flavor.
Want to know about virgin olive oil and which one is best to cook with? Then read more
Virgin olive oil is made with olives that are slighly riper than those used to make the extra-virgin kind. It has an acidity of less than 2%, and while it has a good flavor, extra-virgin's flavor is considered superior.
When you see the term refined on the label, it means that the oil has been chemically treated to neutralize the strong acid taste. Refined olive oil is lower in quality than virgin olive oil, which is why it is less expensive. There is no refined oil in either virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. If a label simply says "olive oil" then it is a blend of virgin and refined, containing at most 1% acidity. It commonly lacks flavor.
When using olive oil in foods, save the more expensive extra-virgin oils for salads, for drizzling over fresh breads, or for brushing over cooked vegetables since it loses its flavor when heated. When cooking, use the cheaper olive oil - you can always add some extra-virgin olive oil right before serving to add flavor back.
Fit's Tips: Don't be fooled by the words "100% Olive Oil" on a label. This is often low quality olive oil. For best quality, choose bottles that say "extra-virgin."