Harvest Peace

Which Olive Oil Grade Is Better For Cooking?

Which Olive Oil Grade Is Better For Cooking?

There’s Olive Oil, VOO and EVOO. Oh yeah, and then there’s Organic everything. Good grief! As a mother I so want my children to be healthy, but with time it is becoming increasingly difficult to know exactly what is "healthy". What are all these options and is it or is it not okay to cook with olive oil?

Not so long ago, people didn’t have to worry about what they ate...other than if they had something to eat at all. In the past, food was produced in a more natural way. Today, our grocery stores are full of manufactured and processed "foods". Navigating the shelves to find real foods can be difficult. Thankfully, the Palestinians have a strong will to maintain their traditional methods in harvesting olives and producing their oil.

Olives have a high level of beneficial fatty acids called monounsaturated fats, which naturally transfer in the olive oil along with minerals, vitamins and an abundance of antitoxins called polyphenols. This, in and of itself, is reason enough for all of us to try to incorporate it in our daily consumption. But choosing...well, that’s the issue. Because it varies from brand to brand, you can’t even reliably tell grades of olive oil and, unfortunately, not all of the labels tell the whole truth either.

Here’s what to look for: 

“Pure” or “simply" olive oil indicates a lower quality oil, it is known to not have a lot of flavor or aroma and has a higher burning temperature, which makes it good for cooking. It’s typically less expensive, has an oleic (a monounsaturated fatty acid) acidity level of somewhere between 3% and 4% and is usually a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil (which is treated to remove flaws from the oil) which are extracted using a high heat process.

Rarely found in grocery stores, there is a “virgin” olive oil. It's a higher quality oil than “pure” oil and no chemical or heat is used when it is extracted from the fruit. It maintains more of the flavor of the olive because of production standards set by the International Olive Council. Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil has a maximum acidity level of 3.3%.

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil you can buy.  It is an unrefined oil, meaning pure and untreated with chemicals or altered by temperature. This delicate process, results in a more nuanced flavor profile highlighting the olives natural light, peppery flavor. It is great for dipping or finishing sauces and dressings. It also retains more of the natural vitamins and minerals and has the lowest oleic acidity level of under 1%. This oil is made from the first press of the olives. You can cook with extra virgin olive oil, but it burns at a lower temperature. The oils characteristics shine when cold or at room temperature and is recommended for finishing a dish rather than cooking with it.

The last thing to look for on the bottle is the “Organic” label. Organic olive oils are made from certified organic olives. They are grown without the use of any artificial agents like chemical fertilizers or pesticides. These olives have been documented by an accredited organic certifying agency. The different classes of oils can be confusing but, certified organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil truly is the best choice for flavor and nutritional value.

Olive oil is a great additive to your diet and some types could be used for cooking. While no grade of olive oil is harmful when cooked, it is best to reserve high quality olive oil for non heated dishes or as a finishing touch to a meal. This insure the oil retains its full health benefits and flavor. 

By: Sharon Taylor