Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils we can keep in our pantry. The bioactive compounds found in extra virgin olive oil have been linked to good health1. It’s also an essential part of the healthiest diet in the world, the Mediterranean diet2.
If you look along the supermarket shelf, you’ll see many different types of olive oil. How do you make sure you choose the best olive oil? Firstly, to choose the best olive oil, make sure you know the difference between the types of oil.
What are the different types of olive oil?
Olive oil comes in different grades. In the supermarket the most common types of olive oil you’ll find are
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Olive oil
- Light or extra light olive oil
- Flavoured oil
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil. The Australian Standard for olive oil and olive-pomace oil regulate olive oil classifications in Australia3. Extra virgin olive oil is highest in quality, natural antioxidants, vitamin E and phytosterols that give the oil its health benefits4.
If olive oil isn’t labelled as ‘extra virgin’, then it’s lower quality and has been refined, unlike extra virgin olive oil. Refined olive oil contains much less of the essential nutritional compounds that make extra virgin olive oil so beneficial.
Light or extra light olive oil
These types of oil are usually refined olive oil and not high quality extra virgin olive oil grade. The ‘light’ or ‘extra light’ refers to flavour rather than fat content – it’s a milder taste. Light or extra light olive oil is a refined oil, meaning you miss out on the health benefits associated with extra virgin olive oil.
Many olive oils have added ingredients that flavour the oil, for example, chilli, coriander, lemongrass or garlic. These ingredients give you even more options to add olive oil into your daily diet. If you want to make sure you’re getting the best, then choose an extra virgin olive oil.
Learn more about the different grades of olive oil here.
5 things to check to make sure you’re buying the best olive oil
- Buy extra virgin olive oil
Choosing extra virgin olive oil means you’re choosing the olive oil with the phytosterols, vitamin E, natural phenols and other bioactive compounds that make extra virgin olive oil so healthy4.
Have you heard that you shouldn’t cook with extra virgin olive oil? That’s not true. Check out how to cook with extra virgin olive oil and bust some more extra virgin olive oil myths here.
- Check the best before date on the label
And not just the best before date, but check if you can see a ‘harvest date’ too. The fresher the extra virgin olive oil, the higher the healthy phenols.
- Buy extra virgin olive oil in a dark bottle
The dark coloured bottle helps the extra virgin olive oil stay fresher for longer. If you keep your olive oil in a clear bottle, near heat and light, then the oil will degrade quicker. Buy extra virgin olive oil that’s in a dark bottle and keep it in a cool pantry to make sure it’s giving you the best nutrition.
- Choose a certified extra virgin olive oil
To be sure you’re buying the best extra virgin olive oil, check for a certification mark. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most adulterated food products and vulnerable to food fraud. Standards exist to prevent you from getting a sub-quality product when you think you’re buying the best5,6.
- Check the nutrition panel
Some extra virgin olive oil will state on the nutrition information panel the total phenol content. It’s these phenols that are thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. If the phenol content is stated on the nutrition label, you can be confident that you’re buying a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Download our infographic on what you should look for on your extra virgin olive oil bottle label.
Learn more about the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil
- Dinu M, Pagliai G, Casini A, et al. Mediterranean diet and multiple health outcomes: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised trials. European journal of clinical nutrition 2017; 1: 14.
- US News. U.S. News Reveals Best Diets Rankings for 2020. January 2020. Accessed November 2020. https://www.usnews.com/info/blogs/press-room/articles/2020-01-02/us-news-reveals-best-diets-rankings-for-2020
- Standards Australia. Australian Standard: Olive oils and olive pomace oils. As 5264-2011. Standards Australia Limited 2011. At: https://infostore.saiglobal.com/store/Details.aspx?ProductID=1478754
- Schwingshackl L, Morze J, Hoffmann G. Mediterranean diet and health status: Active ingredients and pharmacological mechanisms. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2020 Mar;177(6):1241-57.
- Moore J, Spink J, Lipp M. Development and Application of a Database of Food Ingredient Fraud and Economically Motivated Adulteration from 1980 to 2010. J Food Sci. 2012. doi: 10.1111/ j.1750-841.2012.02657.
- De Lange E. Draft Report on the food crisis fraud in the food chain and the control thereof (2013/2091 INI)). Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. European Parliament. 2013