Olive Oil Vs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: SPICEography Showdown

Olive oil and extra virgin olive oil are two well-known varieties of the same product. They consist of oil extracted from the olive fruit. If you plan to cook food from the Mediterranean and the Middle East, you may want to keep both on hand. In this SPICEography Showdown, we take a look at how olive oil and extra virgin olive oil compare to each other. 

How does olive oil differ from extra virgin olive oil?

The product that is labeled simply as olive oil is also sometimes referred to as regular olive oil or pure olive oil. It is sometimes called pure solely because it consists entirely of olive oil, not because it is unmixed. Olive oil is usually a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. The oils used to make it may be extracted without heat (cold-pressed) or by other means.

Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives and is cold-pressed. 

Olive oil can have a moderately high smoke point. It can get to 410 degrees Fahrenheit before it starts smoking and creating toxic compounds. Extra virgin olive oil has a much lower smoke point of about 320 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Because olive oil can include extra virgin olive oil (usually less than 10 percent), it will have the olive flavor, but it will be muted because the extra virgin oil is diluted with lower-grade oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a much stronger flavor.

Because olive oil has been processed, it lacks the nutritional value of extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil retains many of the compounds that are known to treat or prevent serious illnesses. For example, extra virgin olive oil will have more polyphenols and vitamins. 

Can you use olive oil as a substitute for extra virgin olive oil and vice versa?

Olive oil can work in all recipes that require extra virgin olive oil, but it won’t be ideal in all of them. That said, it can be an improvement in some dishes and cooking methods. Olive oil’s muted flavor means that you probably won’t get a strong flavor when using it as a finishing oil or in salad dressings. If you need an oil for high-temperature frying, olive oil will be a superior option to extra virgin olive oil. It has a higher smoke point. However, the dish won’t be as flavorful as it would be with extra virgin olive oil. 

Extra virgin olive oil can work as a substitute for olive oil in dishes that are not going to be cooked or that have finished cooking. You can use it for gentle frying too, but it is not a good option for frying on high heat. Note that its strong flavors may affect the recipe’s overall flavor profile.

When should you use olive oil, and when should you use extra virgin olive oil?

Olive oil works best as a neutral oil for general frying. Use it in the same way that you would use canola oil or any other mildly flavored oil. Save the extra virgin olive oil for dishes where its flavor and health benefits will shine. Drizzle it over a finished pizza, into hummus, or use it as a dip for pita bread. Extra virgin olive oil is also a great addition to salad dressings and bread doughs.