What does extra virgin olive oil mean?

Olive oil is a liquid fat obtained from olives, the fruits of Olea europaea trees. It is the main source of fat and health-promoting component of the Mediterranean diet [1]. But why extra virgin olive oil is so beneficial?

Extra virgin olive oil benefits 

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is internationally recognised for its top organoleptic qualities: it is the best type of olive oil among all. EVO Oil is amazingly rich in antioxidants, which help to prevent the cellular damage caused by the free radicals molecules. EVO Oil is also abundant in monounsaturated fatty acids, e.g. oleic acid, which help to prevent a great number of diseases. In 2004, based on numerous clinical trials carried out in the past few decades, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and more recently the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), authorized the health claims for olive oil, suggesting a dose of 20–23 g/day as a replacement for the same amount of saturated fats to reduce the risk of coronary diseases [1] .

Thanks to its broad beneficial effects to human health it’s known as a potential nutraceutical (= food with health benefits) compound. Among its more relevant benefits:

  1. Prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancers [2 – 3];
  2. Chemoprevention of chronic inflammation and age-related diseases [4] ;
  3. Contrast function to high blood sugar, triglycerides or bad cholesterol (LDL) all factors at the base of metabolic syndromes developments such as obesity, insulin resistance and high blood pressure;
  4. Potential prevention of depression and anxiety disorders, and Alzheimer syndrome [5];
  5. Reduction of the malignancy of Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis [6].

Can you cook with extra virgin olive oil?

EVO Oil is not only good for our health but for our food, too. Thanks to his high smoke point (210°C/410°F) EVOO is one of the most indicated oils to be used in the kitchen – compared to other vegetable oils with lower smoke points, it releases the lowest levels of the carcinogen molecule known as acrolein.  

Moreover, EVOO preserves and enriches foods thanks to its high content of antioxidants; when frying, stir-frying, or low-temperature oil cooking (confit), part of the oil used in the process is absorbed by the food, thereby becoming an integrating part of our diet. 

As conventional wisdom says, we are what we eat… so for sure, we don’t want to eat unhealthy food!

Another use for olive oil recently becoming more and more popular is its employment in pharmaceutical compositions – EVOO is in fact being used as an antioxidant, and a nourishing natural ingredient for body creams and soap preparations.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

EVO Oil is obtained by the mechanical pressing of the olives, by modern or by the traditional methods (see the article of production methods); seed oils are instead chemically extracted.

EVOO is composed of a saponifiable fraction, constituted for the 98-99% of triglycerides, important lipids, constituted by glycerol and fatty acids.

Fatty AcidPercentage (%)
Oleic Acid55-83
Linoleic Acid3,2-21
Palmitic Acid7,5-20
Stearic Acid0,5-5
Linolenic Acid0-1,5

The fatty acid composition analysis is fundamental to discern olive oil from other vegetable oils: seed oils are rich in linoleic, while EVOO presents high levels of oleic acids and low volumes of linoleic and linolenic.

On this particular composition depends an important characteristic of the EVO oil: its stability over time and shelf life. Its Oleic acid content, together with polyphenols and E vitamin, slow down the unstoppable decay of oil over time.

The 1-2% of EVO oil composition is represented by its unsaponifiable fraction. In Italy we say that “nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono” (good things come in small packages) and this is also true when it comes to EVO oil: that percentage of the unsaponifiable fraction represents the part that confers to the oil its colour, aroma, flavours and healthy antioxidant and anti inflammatory characteristics. In fact, in EVOO we find squalene, ß-carotene, a precursor for vitamin A, α-tocopherol or vitamin E, polyphenols, pigments, volatile and aromatic compounds. 

The European Union is the first producer of olive oil worldwide (69%): Spain is in first with 63% of total EU production, followed by Italy at 17%, Greece (14%) and Portugal (5%). Outside of the EU, Tunisia in particular, but also Argentina, Morocco and Turkey, are among the key producers of EVO oil worldwide.

Discover our extra virgin olive oil tastings and reviews.

[1]: Nutrigenomics of extra-virgin olive oil: A review; The Nutraceutical Value of Olive Oil and Its Bioactive Constituents on the Cardiovascular System. Focusing on Main Strategies to Slow Down Its Quality Decay during Production and Storage

[2]: Olive Oil Effects on Colorectal Cancer; Olives and olive oil in cancer prevention.

[3]: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Cardiovascular Diseases: Benefits for Human Health

[4]: Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Lesson from Nutrigenomics

[5]: Extra-virgin olive oil for potential prevention of Alzheimer disease

[6]: Olive Tree Biophenols in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: When Bitter is Better