Health conscious people prefer olive oil for cooking, owing to several health benefits that it offers. It is also used to manufacture soaps, cosmetics and pharmaceutical drugs as it exhibits exceptional medicinal properties. It is also used as a fuel for traditional lamps. Benefits of olive oil for hair, skin and acne are well-known. Since uses of the oil are numerous, choosing the best quality oil depends upon for what you are going to use it. Various types of olive oil, that vary in color, taste and acidity are available in the market. The type which is best for cosmetics may not be the best for cooking.
Different grades of olive oil like virgin, extra virgin are available in market. One might get confused while selecting correct type of the oil; after seeing so many varieties of the oil in the market. Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal are the leading producers of olive oil in the world. The quality of the oil depends upon the type and quality of the olive fruit and method of preparation. The best quality olive oil produced in Greece is Korōnéiki. Italian olive oil is also one of the highest quality oils produced in the world.
Flavor and stability (shelf life) of the oil depends upon the type of olive fruit used to extract the oil. Picual, Arbequina, Hojiblanca, and Manzanilla de Jaén are some of the exclusive varieties of olive grown in Spain. Picholine is the well-known French variety while 'Mission' is the Californian variety used to produce finest quality olive oil. Other varieties of olives like Galega from Portugal and Oblica and Leccino from Croatia are also very popular. Some of the finest quality extra virgin olive oils from Italy, Spain, and Greece are quite expensive. South Africa and Australia also produce significant quantity of the oil. The quality standards for this oil are monitored by The International Olive Oil Council (IOOC).
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is considered as the best quality and most expensive oil. It is packed with antioxidants. It comes with less than 0.8% acidity and it is cold pressed. It is identified with the help of the unique flavor and aroma it carries. It is not refined or processed. It is added to salads, soups and stews at the table. Extra virgin oil is the best olive oil for dipping. It is the best tasting oil. It comes with greenish-golden to bright green color. The oil which has deeper color, is more intense in flavor. You should not use extra virgin oil for cooking as heating may destroy its flavor and taste.
Virgin Olive Oil: This oil has a good taste but it is considered as slightly inferior to extra virgin oil. If you are interested in cooking with olive oil, then you may use this oil. It is also used in baking cakes and pastry crusts. Virgin oil is obtained by pressing the olives mechanically, but, it is not processed or refined. It has an acidity that is less than 2.0%. It should not be used for deep frying. It comes with strong flavor and aroma, so some of you may not like to use it for cooking. This oil is also used for body and hair massage.
Refined Olive Oil: When virgin oil is refined without changing the original glyceridic structure, it is called refined olive oil. Refining methods help produce edible oil from poor quality oil. Refining helps reduce the high acidity level. This can be used for cooking, but it is not suitable for salad dressing. Pure olive oil is often a mixture of virgin and refined oils. The proportion of the two oils in the final product determines the price of the pure olive oil and hence, it varies from brand to brand. 'Light' and 'extra light' are the varieties of pure oil available in market. It comes with acidity less than 1.5%.
Olive Pomace Oil: This is also a mixture of refined and virgin oil but it comes with a neutral flavor. It offers the same health benefits as regular olive oil. This type of oil is widely used in restaurants and home cooking. It has high smoke point.
A refillable olive oil sprayer or 'mister' as it is called, can be bought; if you are using expensive oil. Olive oil can turn rancid when exposed to air, heat, and light. You should store it in a cool place, in an air-tight container.