Olive Oil Types and Culinary Uses

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Olives. © 2008 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Types of Olive Oil

Nope, we are not talking about Popeye's girlfriend but a condiment some describe as liquid gold. Olive oil is highly-prized not only for its health benefits, but also for its wonderful flavor.

The best olive oil is a blend of oil from a mixture of red-ripe (not green and not fully ripe) olives and a smaller proportion of oil from green olives of a different variety. Cold-pressing, a chemical-free process using only pressure, produces a higher quality of olive oil which is naturally lower in acidity.

When purchasing olive oil, it is important to check labels for the percentage of acidity, grade of oil, volume, and country of origin. The level of acidity is a key factor in choosing fine olive oil, along with color, flavor, and aroma. Here are the different categories of olive oils:

  • Extra virgin olive oil: cold-pressed result of the first pressing of the olives, with only 1% acid; considered the finest and fruitiest, and thus the most expensive; ranges from a crystalline champagne color to greenish-golden to bright green; generally, the deeper the color, the more intense the olive flavor.​
  • Virgin olive oil: also a first-press oil, with a slightly higher acidity level of between 1-3%.​
  • Fino olive oil: (meaning fine in Italian) is a blend of extra virgin and virgin olive oils.​
  • Light olive oil: This version contains the same amount of beneficial monounsaturated fats as regular olive oil, but due to the refining process, it is lighter in color and has essentially no flavor. This makes it a good choice for baking and other purposes where the heavy flavor might not be desirable. This process also gives it a higher smoking point, making it a prime candidate for high-heat cooking.