What Is the Difference Between Unrefined and Cold-Pressed Olive Oil?

Posted by John Arlotta on

Olive oil has been a dietary staple for human beings for thousands of years, and it remains one of the world’s most popular foods today because of its unique flavor and myriad of health benefits. However, purchasing olive oil can be a confusing experience because there are so many types available, and they all look pretty much the same. This article will explain what makes extra virgin olive oil different from all of the other kinds of olive oil and explain why it is considered the culinary gold standard. 


Organic Olive Oil from Arlotta Food Studio


Understanding Olive Oil

Olives are processed several times to remove as much of their valuable oil as possible, and each step leads to a slight drop in taste and quality. The label on a bottle of olive oil reveals which pressing produced it and whether or not it was blended prior to bottling. This is determined by measuring the amount of free oleic acid it contains. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin is the highest quality olive oil and is produced during the first pressing. It cannot contain more than 0.8 grams of oleic acid per 100 grams of oil, and it must be unrefined. Extra virgin olive oil retains the aroma and flavor of olives and is beloved by gourmet chefs the world over. However, it has a lower smoke point than other oils, which means that it is not the perfect choice for high-temperature cooking. 

Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin olive oil is also unrefined and has a distinctive olive taste and scent, but it is slightly higher in oleic acid than extra virgin olive oil and its flavor is not quite as intense. The minor flaws of virgin olive oil can only be detected by a trained palate and would not be noticed by most consumers. However, most people will never find this out for themselves because virgin olive oil is very rare. 

Pure Olive Oil

Often simply labeled “olive oil,” pure olive oil is actually not very pure at all. It is made by blending refined olive oil with a small amount of virgin or extra virgin olive oil, and it has three to four times the amount of oleic acid as extra virgin olive oil. The refining process also robs this kind of olive oil of many of its health-promoting nutrients. Pure olive oil has less flavor than better quality oils, but it can be a good choice for cooking. 

Olive Pomace Oil

This is the lowest quality olive oil, but it has a higher smoke point than other varieties and is suitable for cooking at high temperatures. It is made by using heat and chemicals to extract whatever oil is left from olives that have been pressed multiple times. 

What is the Difference Between Unrefined and Cold-Pressed Olive Oil?

Every day thousands of consumers in the United States compare two bottles of olive oil and ask themselves “What is the difference between unrefined and cold-pressed olive oil?” They wonder about this because some bottles of extra virgin olive oil are labeled as cold-pressed while others point out that they are unrefined. This is because olive oil producers pick and choose the attributes they print on their labels. The truth is that all extra virgin olive oils are both unrefined and cold-pressed. To understand why we have to know what these two phrases mean.


Unrefined olive oils are so pure, you can drink them right out of the bottle. In addition, they sometimes contain tiny pieces of olive that add even more flavor. Lower quality oils must be refined to remove their impurities before they are suitable for consumption. This is done by using heat or a combination of heat and chemical additives like phosphoric acid. Refining also makes it much easier to blend lower-quality oils with extra virgin or virgin olive oil.

Cold-Pressed Olive Oil

Olive oil is considered cold pressed when its temperature during the extraction process never climbs above 81.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures are kept low to preserve the natural aroma and flavor of the olives and maintain the nutritional value of the finished product. This is how olive oil has been made since the dawn of civilization, and the process remains virtually unchanged to this day. Olives are first crushed into a paste, and then the oil is separated from the pulp in a mechanical press. 

Which is better: Cold-Pressed Olive Oil or Regular Olive Oil?

Regular olive oil, which is also called pure olive oil, is a mixture of refined olive oil and virgin or extra virgin olive oil, and it is not nearly as good as an unrefined and unblended product. It does not taste or smell as good as cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, and it is lower in nutrients. Regular olive oil is fine for baking or low-temperature frying, but it should not be used to make dressings or for dipping or drizzling.

Which Olive Oil is Healthiest?

Cold-pressed and unrefined olive oils are considered healthier because the way they are made preserves more of the olive’s nutrients. When heat and chemicals are used to extract the last traces of oil from already pressed olives, or lower quality oil is refined to remove impurities, the resulting product is lower in crucial phytonutrients like polyphenol compounds and phytosterols. These are the powerful antioxidants that reduce inflammation, protect cells and may help to prevent some forms of cancer. 

Caveat Emptor

Not all bottles of extra virgin olive oil are created equal. This is because olive oil is one of the most defrauded foods in the world. According to law enforcement officials, criminal organizations that sell fraudulent or adulterated foods generate profits of about $60 billion each year and make as much money from selling fake olive oil as drug cartels earn from trafficking cocaine.

These criminal groups used to make their money by adding cheaper ingredients like sunflower or soybean oil to genuine olive oil, but they soon learned that they could increase their profits by starting from scratch using inedible olives rejected by legitimate producers. These substandard olives are then processed with harsh chemicals and bottled and labeled as cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. The resulting product is both low quality and potentially dangerous. In 2014, 800 deaths were linked to a batch of toxic olive oil sold in Spain.

So, what is a consumer who wants to enjoy the taste and health benefits of genuine extra virgin olive oil to do? The best way to take no chances and ensure you get what you pay for is to buy only from vendors that cultivate their own olives and process and bottle their own olive oil.

Premium and Organic

Olive oil is a raw food product that is subjected to minimal processing, which means it sometimes contains traces of the chemicals that are commonly used by large agricultural operations to nurture and protect olive trees. 

This is not something you have to worry about with Arlotta Food Studio because all of our premium extra virgin olive oils are made from Arbosana and Arbequina olives grown on a family-owned farm in California using sustainable methods and no chemical pesticides or fertilizers. 

You can find our premium olive oils at quality stores and farmer’s markets, or you can order them directly from our website. If you are unsatisfied with your purchase for any reason, you can return it within 90 days for an exchange or refund.

Newer Post →