If you go into the grocery store and walk down the olive oil aisle, you're going to find many different names on the bottles. Names like Pure Olive Oil, Extra Virgin, Virgin Olive Oil and Light Tasting Oil. It’s true, the olive oil industry can be so confusing! Our goal here is to spell out the differences as simply as possible, so that you know what you’re buying.
What do these names on the label actually mean?
The two most common names that you’re going to find on that olive oil bottle from the grocery store will be Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Pure Olive Oil. Most people outside of the industry don't really know this, but these are the names for the different grades of olive oil which correspond to their quality and whether they been refined or not.
The Difference Between Extra Virgin and Pure Olive Oil
So you're looking for just “plain old olive oil”, eh? You want the stuff that comes right out of the olive? The purest kind possible? It may sound like a slight-of-hand, but do not look for Pure Olive Oil. What you're looking for is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Here's the difference:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the first press of the olives. It's the highest quality and has a superior taste over all of the other grades. Extra Virgin is, in actuality, just a fruit juice squeezed from the flesh of fresh olives. There's nothing added, and nothing else is done to it. It's as "pure" as it gets.
Now here's where it gets confusing. If you take that Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or Virgin Olive Oil) and you refine it using a high heat process, you get refined olive oil. Mix a little bit of Extra Virgin back in, you will have created the grade "Olive Oil" (defined by the USDA). It's important to understand that this simplest term – “olive oil” – is used to describe a partly-refined oil, which is a more complex item then the original squeezed oil that came out of the olive.
Now let's mix it up a little bit more. The adjective "pure" has been used to describe the particular grade known as “Olive Oil” for a long time. So much so, that through the US marketing and labeling of this type of oil, the grade is often just referred to as "Pure Olive Oil" or simply “Pure”.
Fresh squeezed olive oil = Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Refined virgin olive oil blended with Extra Virgin = Olive Oil or Pure Olive Oil or Pure
What's so confusing about this discussion is that the term “pure”, normally meaning unadulterated, authentic, or original now denotes a particular grade of oil quality. If you really want the most untouched original oil, what you should look for is Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Sorry for the confusion everyone-- I know, it can be frustrating. This is just the way the names have developed over the years. I’m not here to change these names, but I do want to make things as clear as possible for you so that everyone can understand exactly what they’re getting.
What would anyone ever want Pure Olive Oil for then?
Well, because it’s refined, Pure Olive Oil is lighter in color and taste, it’s cheaper and it’s still made from olives. You can also use it in place of Soybean or Canola Oil without it changing the taste of your final recipe. Plus-- if you fry with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, think about what the high-heat from the pan is doing to the oil? Again, removing the color and the flavor just like the refining process would do. So, if you’re cooking or baking you can use Pure Olive Oil in place of Extra Virgin and save some money in the process.