I often get asked what the term “extra virgin” means in the olive oil world and if it’s worth the price. There are a lot of confusing phrases attached to oils and it’s important to know what they mean.
Most oils are extracted using a refining process with high temperatures. The high temps often damage the oils, making them less nutritious. This process is also not as labor intensive, thus the price of the product is lower.
The terms “cold pressed” and “expeller-pressed” means that the source was literally pressed and squished to get the oil out and high temps were not involved. This helps preserve the naturally-found antioxidants and nutrients.
“Extra-Virgin” describes oil that is unrefined and comes from the first pressing of olives. “Virgin” also describes oil from the first pressing but is slightly lower in nutrients and higher in acidity.
All oils are 100% fat which means that they contain 9 kcals per gram (as compared to carbs and protein that are 4 kcals per gram). Therefore, regardless of how healthy a fat may be (olive oil being at the top of the list), it should always be portioned sized! 1 tbsp of oil is 100-120 calories so use it with caution. When the cooks on The Food Network say “use about 2 tbsp of oil in the bottom of the pan” and then fill up the bottom completely with oil (likely 1/4 cup oil) , they are adding anywhere from 300-600 calories to the overall dish.
See the link of resource #1 for a lengthy description of the many wonderful benefits of extra virgin olive oil.
1. World’s Healthiest Foods: Olive Oil, Extra Vrigin. Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=132
2. A Green, K Ansel. How to Buy the Best Oils. Cooking Light. August 2009. pgs 36-40. **Great article