a variety of Greek olive oils

There are hundreds of varieties of olive trees, some used mainly for table olives and others generally dedicated to olive oil. Olive oil types are defined differently in North America and Europe, but extra virgin is widely considered the best. Olive oils differ in taste, quality, and health benefits based on a number of variables:

  • variety of olives
  • care of the olive grove
  • climate where they grow
  • amount of irrigation or rainfall
  • presence or absence of insect pests & plant diseases
  • ripeness of olives at harvest time
  • harvesting & storage methods
  • milling process & temperature
  • storage conditions

Of course, the main differences consumers focus on are the results of all of that. The International Olive Council (IOC) defines olive oil according to one of the following designations, with some additional subcategories:

  • extra virgin
  • virgin
  • refined
  • olive pomace oil

On the other hand, the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) recognizes three categories and different uses for each of these:

  • extra virgin olive oil, “the most flavorful” and healthiest
  • olive oil (sometimes called “pure” or “classic”), with a milder flavor
  • light olive oil, almost tasteless

See the NAOOA’s olive oil grade comparison chart for more details about their definitions (click on the phrase on their website).

Terminology and definitions vary between Europe and North America. On both continents, however, the flavor and free acidity level (meaning the oleic acid content) are considered, with lower free acidity preferred, and extra virgin olive oil is the best grade.

Some like to save extra virgin olive oil for finishing and dressings, given its potent flavor and higher price. However, many Greeks, especially those who produce it themselves, use extra virgin olive oil everywhere they add fat, in baking, frying, cooking, finishing, sauces, and salads, with excellent results and health benefits.

Extra virgin can be used in all the recipes on this site. Tastings of several different extra virgin olive oils will show that there is a significant variation in flavor even within this best grade, so consumers can select stronger or milder tasting extra virgin oils depending on their preferences and needs.