Cook guide

A Home Cook’s Guide to Understanding the 5 Types of Olive Oil

There’s a reason olive oil is a favorite oil for eating and cooking.

Made from pressed olive oil, it’s a relatively healthy fat, packed with antioxidants and high in monounsaturated fats, which help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Olive oils are classified according to their level of acidity. Here are the different types:

■ The extra virgin is the most popular and the most expensive. It is made from the first cold pressing of olives, without any additional heat, refining or processing. With an acidity level of no more than 0.8%, it is generally not used for cooking but rather for dips, drizzle and salad dressings.

■ Ultra premium extra virgin olive oil, a relatively new category of olive oil, is even less acidic (up to 0.23%) and is considered a finishing oil. It tastes clean and fresh on the palate.

■ Virgin olive oil is also cold pressed and free from refined oils, but it is more acidic than EVOO (less than 2%) and has a slightly lighter taste. It is also good for basting and cooking as long as you are sautéing or making gravy and not frying.

■ Pure olive oil (less than 3.3% acidity) is a blend of virgin and refined olive oils. It has a bit of flavor and is a good all-purpose oil for frying, baking, grilling and baking.

■ Extra Light does not mean that the oil has fewer calories or fat, but rather a lighter color, odor and neutral flavor. This is because it has been refined using heat. It has a higher smoke point (the temperature at which an oil begins to burn and smoke) and can stay on the shelf longer. But it’s lower quality and meant for those who don’t want an olive flavor.

Whatever you choose, buy only the amount you will use up relatively quickly. Unlike wine, olive oil is best when it’s fresh. (A good olive oil will have a press date or an expiration date on the label.) It should be used within two years and kept in a dark, cool place. Dark bottles are better than clear bottles, and if you buy it in an aluminum can, transfer it to a glass container. Always put the cap back on and close the bottle tightly; Olive oil begins to degrade when exposed to air.

Also be aware that labels can be misleading. “Product of” does not mean that the olives were grown in this country or were pressed there, but simply that they were put into containers there.

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