We’re encouraged by most of the country’s top chefs to fling a bit of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) into a skillet to fry just about everything. However, I disagree. Most of my friends in Italy never fry with EVOO because it has a low smoke point and is way too expensive to be wasted on frying. Instead they use Pure Olive Oil (see below), or canola/safflower oil and then finish off the dish with the EVOO.
Here are the different kinds of olive oil that you can buy:
Extra-virgin: Considered the best, and if it is the real thing, should not be used for frying.
Virgin: This oil comes from the second-pressing*
Pure: This undergoes some processing, such as filtering and refining.
Extra Light: This oil undergoes considerable processing and retains only a very mild flavor.
A bigger problem is that most EVOO sold in large grocery chains is that what they would have you to believe it to be – despite the labeling. Except in California, the labeling laws allow for adulterated oils to be called “Extra Virgin”. Many of the large Italian manufacturers dilute their olive oil with cheap hazelnut oil from Turkey. They estimate they can add up to 20% of a cheap oil without the consumer noticing. This is why you can buy EVOO relatively cheaply in these large chains.
* “Cold-Pressed” and “First-press” are often obsolete terms that are used for marketing. Fifty years ago, olive oil was made in vertical presses and the paste was pressed to make the “first-press/ cold-pressed” oil. It was then mixed with hot water to make the less nutritious “second” press. . Nowadays in most modern facilities, the paste is centrifuged using horizontal decanters, so there is no such thing as a “cold-pressed” oil. Also, fifty years ago, the oil was pressed in a screw or hydraulic press, whereby the first pressed oil contained all the nutrients and the second-pressing, less. Today, the continuous centrifugal processing means there is no “first” or “second” press.
So, unless you live in CA where manufacturers are forced to label honestly, you may have to do a bit of research on the brand you are buying.
Remember that an authentic unprocessed olive oil contains amazing health benefits, largely due to the high concentration of polyphenols. I recently visited an Olive Oil farm in CA (where some of the world’s best EVOO comes from). The owner still used the old process to press her oils, and she explained to me that the fresh, first-pressed oils often have a more bitter/stronger taste due to the polyphenol content. They are also greener in color.
Here are some useful resources:
The California Olive Oil Council: This is a wonderful resource for some of the best olive oils that you can buy in the US. It’s also a treasure-trove of useful information.
Olive Oil Source: This website is a great source of info about olive oil.
Eden Foods: I love Eden foods and they carry a lovely olive oil from Spain
Figueroa Farms: This CA farm makes some of the most delicious award-winning, truly cold-pressed oil that I’ve ever tasted.