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Dear Chef,

What is the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil? How do you know which one to use?

B.J. from Wildwood, Missouri

This question is the most common one asked in cooking class, because there are so many olive oils available on the market. Extra virgin olive oil is the first pressing of the olives, so it has the most flavor and is usually more expensive. Extra virgin olive oil is delicious in salad dressings. But when extra virgin olive oil is heated, the reason why you paid extra for that oil is lost when the volatile aromas dissipate. I save extra virgin oil for cold preparations and use regular olive oil for cooking with heat.

After the olives have been pressed the first time, they are repressed, again and again, until all the oil possible has been extracted. The oil from these later pressings is just called olive oil and it is great for sauteing and roasting.

As for which brand of oil to use, trust your taste buds to find one you like. Olive oils — like coffee and chocolate — can vary dramatically from different producers, depending on which olives are used and the climate. Some people prefer stronger and more robust oils; others prefer milder and fruitier ones. There is no right or wrong answer. Taste lots of olive oils and find the one you like best. Don’t be deceived by color; some producers add a greener color to their oil in order to fetch a higher price. The color of the olive oil is not an indication of the quality.



2 Comments for “Ask the Chef: Like an Extra Virgin”  

  1. Alanna

    Gentle Nudge: I always find the ‘trust your taste buds’ advice a little frustrating. The trouble is, with olive oil and other products too, unless you buy five brands and taste them side by side, you really can’t compare. And because retailers add/pull brands/products from their shelves at will, even if you find one you like, good luck finding it again. I happen to be a real fan of both the oils and the vinegars from O Olive Oil. When we tasted a couple at a time last summer, my 16-year old nephew announced, “We could drink these.”

  2. Chef

    Agreed. The O Olive Oil vinegars and oils are very delicious and Kitchen Conservatory sells them. Also, here in St. Louis we have a fabulous olive oil bar, Extra Virgin An Olive Ovation, where you can taste and compare 20 very different olive oils. But trust your palate if you don’t like a particular oil. Just because it is “award-winning” doesn’t mean you want to use it.