Terms like “dry roasted” and “slow cooked” appear on the labels of many food items and consumers know what to expect when they read them, but the phrases found on bottles of olive oil are rarely seen anywhere else. The International Olive Council categorizes olive oil based on how and when it was pressed, but the terminology the organization uses does not mean much to most consumers. This article will explain what all of the phrases you see on bottles of olive oil mean and why “cold-pressed” and “extra virgin” are the terms you should look for.
What Is the Difference Between Cold-pressed and Regular Olive Oil?
The pressing techniques used to extract oil from ripe olives have been used for thousands of years, but modern technology allows growers to use heat and chemicals to recover even more oil. The oil extracted from olives that have already been pressed is not as tasty or nutritious and usually finds its way into products that list “olive oil” as one of their ingredients, but it can also be found in bottles on supermarket shelves. You can avoid disappointment by checking olive oil labels for these two terms:
- Extra virgin or first press: The best olive oil is extracted during the first press and called extra virgin. This oil has the highest concentration of nutrients and the most intense flavor and aroma. To be branded extra virgin, olive oil must be extracted during the first press and meet the International Olive Council’s oleic acid standards.
- Cold-pressed: The heat used to extract the last traces of oil from olives greatly diminishes the quality of the final product. Heat is not needed during the first press, which is why all extra virgin or first press olive oils are also cold-pressed.
Cold-pressed olive oil is considered superior because it has more flavor, a stronger aroma and far more nutrients than oils created using heat and chemicals. While taste is subjective and there may be people who actually prefer the taste of regular olive oil, the nutritional benefits of extra virgin olive oil can be measured and quantified. These benefits include:
- Higher levels of vitamin E and vitamin K.
- Higher concentrations of natural antioxidants like oleocanthal and oleuropein that protect against heart disease by preventing LDL cholesterol from oxidizing.
- More abundant fatty acids like Omega-3, Omega-6 and oleic acid.
The FDA says that about a third of the calories we consume each day should come from fat, but not all fats are created equal. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and has been linked to elevated heart disease and cancer risks, but the polyunsaturated fat in olive oil could actually protect against heart attacks and strokes. When researchers studied the health benefits of saturated and unsaturated fat, they concluded that the risk of heart disease is far lower when 15% of daily calories come from polyunsaturated fat.
Just how much polyunsaturated fat lowers heart attack risks was studied by a team of researchers who in 2014 asked more than 7,000 men and women considered at high risk of developing heart disease to follow either a low-fat diet or a diet high in olive oil. They discovered that eating olive oil every day reduced the risk of developing heart disease by as much as 35% and almost cut the chances of suffering a fatal heart attack in half.
Olive oil is also packed with antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body to prevent inflammation. One study found that 50 milliliters of extra virgin olive oil could treat pain almost as effectively as ibuprofen. The protection olive oil provides against inflammation could be its greatest health benefit as it is the inflammation that builds slowly over years or decades that contributes to debilitating and deadly conditions ranging from diabetes to cancer.
Can You Drink Olive Oil?
While you are unlikely to see many people swigging from an open bottle of olive oil on a beach or hiking trail, it is quite safe to consume the product in this way. Some people who follow Mediterranean diets drink a quarter of a cup of olive oil each day, and the science suggests that this improves digestion and prevents constipation.
Consuming smaller quantities of neat olive oil can also have health benefits. The FDA recommends taking one and a half tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil each day to reduce the risks of heart disease.
Can You Tell If Oil Is Cold Pressed?
Experts can determine when an olive oil was pressed by measuring the amount of oleic acid it contains, but this is not something that can be done in a supermarket or grocery store. Consumers can avoid disappointment by choosing olive oils branded as extra virgin or cold-pressed, but there is not much they can do to be sure the product inside the bottle lives up to the claims made on the label.
The best way to avoid an inferior product is choosing olive oil made by companies that grow their own olives and control all phases of production. It may also be a good idea to read online reviews and look for oil made from olives that have been grown in a sustainable way and without using chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
In addition to being delicious and nutritious, olive oil is a great moisturizer and can be found in many popular soaps, shampoos and skin products. Olive oil can also be used to:
- Loosen earwax
- Remove makeup
- Clean stainless steel
- Loosen a snagged zipper
- Get chewing gum and paint out of hair
- Revitalize rubber
- Soothe cracked or chapped lips
- Peel off stickers
The olive oil section of your local supermarket will be a lot less confusing if you limit your search to products labeled as extra virgin or cold-pressed, and you can eliminate guesswork entirely by selecting premium organic olive oil from Arlotta Food Studio. We make our oil from Arbosana and Arbequina olives grown organically in California, and we back up our products with a money-back guarantee. You can visit our website to find a local retailer, or you can order our olive oil directly.