How Is Olive Oil Made? And Is Extra Virgin Actually Better?

It’s not an exaggeration to say that olive oil is one of the foundational building blocks of cooking. Oil of some kind is crucial for many cooking processes, and olive oil is one of the most popular in the world. It’s light, it’s relatively low in calories compared to some other oils, and of course, it’s delicious. Yet one thing you definitely can’t say about olive oil is that it tastes like olives—to many this is probably a relief, olives being such a controversial food and all. But while we may enjoy it as a component of countless recipes or as a tasty thing to dip for bread at an Italian restaurant, what do you really know about olive oil? Let’s dip in. 

How is olive oil made?

In essence, you smoosh olives to extract the oil. And that, my friends, is how olive oil is made! 

Okay, to get a little more technical, the first step to make olive oil is to harvest the olives, and then clean them. After that, olive oil makers grind the olive fruit into a paste. Then, the paste is put in a trough with a mixer in it known as a malaxer. As explains, “This machine slowly stirs the olive paste, which allows the tiny microdroplets of oil to coalesce into larger drops of oil that are easier to extract.” That takes about 20-40 minutes. 

From here, the paste is placed in a centrifuge, to separate the olive oil from the rest of the slurry. Then, the resulting oil is filtered numerous times until the oil is clear. After that, it’s sent to store shelves and drizzled on your mozzarella.

How is extra virgin olive oil made?

Labeling olive oil as extra virgin olive oil basically means that it has to meet certain standards and be processed in a particular way. Specifically, no heat or added chemicals can be used in the oil-making process. And once the oil is made, to be classified as extra virgin it must first be tested chemically, by a lab, and for flavor defects, by a tasting panel. 

How is extra light olive oil made?

Extra virgin is the purest quality of olive oil, but what if you don’t care about going through that whole arduous process, and you just want your oil by whatever means necessary? Well, then extra light olive oil is the choice for you. You see, the life of the olive paste used to make extra virgin olive oil is not finished. As Tasting Table explains, “The olives then undergo further pressings. Light olive oil is the product of these pressings, and heat and chemicals are often involved.” It ends up being less expensive than extra virgin olive oil, but since it’s much more processed it also has less flavor. It does have a higher smoke point, though, which means you can use it to cook things at a higher temperature than extra virgin olive oil. 

How is cold pressed olive oil made?

“Cold pressed” olive oil might sound cool, but there’s no real distinction between it and extra virgin olive oil—at least in the U.S. As mentioned before, you can’t use heat when you’re making extra virgin olive oil. So, it’s really just marketing jargon meant to entice you. 

There you have it—the oil truth and nothing but the truth.

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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