Light olive oil and extra virgin olive oil are two popular forms of the same oil. They are not always interchangeable. If you want to make a substitution or want to decide between them, you should learn what each will bring to a dish. Let’s take a look at light olive oil vs extra virgin olive oil in this SPICEography Showdown.
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How does light olive oil differ from extra virgin olive oil?
How they have been processed is the main area in which light olive oil differs from extra virgin olive oil. These two oils undergo different degrees of processing. Light olive oil is heavily refined using charcoal and chemical filters. Extra virgin olive oil is extracted without the same intense refinement methods. It will often be centrifuged and filtered but not to the same degree as light olive oil.
The different degrees of refinement results in these two oils having different flavor profiles. Light olive oil has very little distinctive flavor or aroma. Extra virgin olive oil is known for its strong flavor and is often used because of it. Its flavor can be described as being olive-like and is strong and herbal with a slight peppery quality if the oil is particularly fresh.
The maximum temperatures at which these oils can be used are also quite different because of their respective degrees of processing. You can use light olive oil at very high temperatures (up to 470 degrees Fahrenheit (243.33 °C)) without it burning and generating toxins. Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point which means that you should only cook with it at temperatures below 374 degrees. Ideally, you shouldn’t apply any heat to it at all.
The filtration and other kinds of processing give these two cooking oils dramatically different nutritional profiles. The processing required for light olive oil removes many of the fatty acids and polyphenols that make olive oil so valuable for health. Extra virgin olive oil contains these nutrients making it the more nutritious of the two.
Can you use light olive oil in place of extra virgin olive oil and vice versa?
Whether you can use these two olive oils in place of each other depends on what you want from the oil. If you want a high smoke point and richness that doesn’t interfere with the flavors of a dish’s other ingredients, you can use light olive oil as a substitute for extra virgin olive oil.
Light olive oil wouldn’t make a good extra virgin olive oil substitute in dishes that depend on the strong extra virgin olive oil flavor and aroma. The dish may turn out fine in terms of texture and appearance, but it won’t have the distinctive flavor.
You can use extra virgin olive as a substitute for light olive oil in dishes that don’t need to be cooked at high temperatures but which can be enhanced by its flavor. You can also use extra virgin olive oil if you want to enhance the overall nutritional value of a dish.
When should you use light olive oil, and when should you use extra virgin olive oil?
Use light olive oil when you intend to cook at high temperatures. It works best in stir-fried dishes and for deep-frying. It is also a good option for breads and other baked goods where you might need a neutral flavor profile.
Use extra virgin olive oil in dishes where the flavor and the aroma of the olive oil will shine through. You will get the most value from it in vinaigrettes and as a finishing oil that you drizzle over cooked dishes.