There's so many different types of olive oils, from extra virgin, to light, to pure. If they all come from olives, is there really a difference between each kind?

It's all in the process.

The thing about olive oil is that it's categorized based on the process used to extract the oil from the olive, rather than the type of olive that's used.

Take a closer look at the photo below. Apart from the glass container, you can see that the extra-virgin olive oil for this brand has a noticeably darker color, while the regular olive oil lighter.

Color differences are deceptive and vary from brand to bran. You should not use color to reliably place one grade of oil above another. 

Olive oil is graded by its level of oleic acid, which is an omega-9 fatty acid. This monounsaturated fatty acid has no color, is odorless, and occurs naturally in the fats and oils of animals and vegetables. The amount of oleic acid in olive oil changes the acidity of the oil and determines the extent to which fat has broken down into fatty acids.


Extra virgin olive oil is the highest-quality olive oil you can buy. In order to have the label of "extra virgin," there are very specific standards the oil has to meet. It also has a "truer" olive taste, with lower levels of oleic acid than other olive oil varieties.

Because extra virgin olive oil is a unrefined oil that is not altered by temperatures or treated with chemicals, it also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.

Extra virgin olive oil typically has a golden-green finish and contains no more than 1% oleic acid. You will notice the easily distinguishable flavor that has almost a soft peppery finish. 

Because this oil has a lower smoke point than other oils (320°F), it burns at lower temperatures than most other oils. For this reason, it is most typically used for dips, dressings, and cold dishes, 


"Regular" olive oil refers to oils labeled as "olive oil" or "pure olive oil." These oils comprise of a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil.

Virgin olive oil is also an unrefined oil and is second to extra virgin olive oil in terms of quality. Categorized by the standards of the International Olive Council, it is made in a process similar to extra virgin olive oil. While production standards for virgin olive oil are not as rigid, chemicals or heat are not used to extract oil from the olive. 

The difference is that virgin olive oil has a slightly higher level of oleic acid, giving it a less intense flavor than extra-virgin olive oil.

Refined oil is which has been treated to remove "flaws" from the oil, is mixed with virgin olive oil to make pure olive oil. Refined oils lack the important antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that are found in extra-virgin oil.

Pure olive oil has a more neutral flavor, smell, and has an oleic acid content of 3-4%. This type of oil is more sellable and is considered an all-purpose cooking oil.


Another common oil sold in supermarkets is light olive oil. "Light" does not mean the oil has less calories, but rather, has an even lighter taste than other kinds of olive oil. Light olive oil is a refined oil with a higher smoke point (468°F). This makes it ideal for baking, frying, grilling, and sautéing. 


Extra virgin and virgin olive oil is typically used for dips and dressings. Pure and light olive oil is typically used in baking, frying, grilling, and sautéing. However, nothing bad will happen if one is substituted for the other.

The major thing to keep in mind when it comes to different types of olive oils are the specific smoke points of each oil, and the type of dishes being made. For example, it wouldn't be wise to use extra virgin olive oil to deep fry chicken. Another tip is to save the flavorful extra-virgin olive oil for for finishing dishes, allowing its flavor to shine through.

So there you have it. Happy cooking and remember that here at Spoon University, you always have have olive our support!