Virgin olive oil, and extra-virgin olive oil both come from olives, but they are two very different types of olive oil. In this article, we’re going to explain the difference between virgin olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil and discuss whether one oil is better than the other.

What Is Olive Oil?

Let’s start with the basics.

Olive oil is a type of olive derived from pressing olives.

It has a very rich history and dates back to 6,000 years ago. It is first thought to be common within Iran, Palestine, and Syria before it made its way into the Mediterranean culture. In modern days, most olive oil comes from the Mediterranean counties.

In particular, North Africa produces some of the best quality olive oil in the world. Italy and Spain also produce very high-quality olive oil.

This is because most olives, and the highest quality olives, are grown in the Mediterranean regions. Hence, they are the regions that produce the best quality olive oil.

How Is Olive Oil Made?

When it comes to virgin olive oil, and extra-virgin olive oil, the key differences stem from the factory process. With the former, heat is used. With the latter, no heat is used, or in some cases, incredibly minimal low heat.

Virgin Olive Oil

Olives are first picked from olive branches and then transported to a warehouse. Here, the olives are crushed until they reach a paste-like consistency, before they are decanted, and undergo what is called a centrifugation process.

The centrifugation process is vital, as the function is to separate the oil. When it comes to olive oil and virgin olive oil, heat is involved in the factory process.

The oil is often heated, which will help prolong the shelf life. Once the olive oil has been processed efficiently, the olive oil is stored in stainless-steel tanks, ready to be bottled.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Now, when it comes to extra-virgin olive oil, there is a big difference in terms of processing.

The olives are selected at harvest just the same, but different machinery is used to produce extra-virgin olive oil. At the highest quality, no heat is used during the process.

The olives should be cold-pressed mechanically, without the use of chemicals, or heat. If heat is used, which will lower the quality of the olive oil, it is very, very notably low.

What’s The Difference Between Virgin Olive Oil, And Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Other than how virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil are processed, you may be wondering if there are any key differences.

Extra virgin olive oil is more expensive than virgin olive oil. That’s in part due to the process, because it’s more rigorous and difficult to extract olive oil through cold press methods.

The reason behind the cold pressing is that it results in olive oil that has far better quality, compared to when heat and chemicals are used.

By cold pressing, a chemical called polyphenols is preserved. Polyphenols are an antioxidant, which is believed to provide olive oil, and olives, which its rich health properties.

Thus, it is much healthier to consume extra-virgin olive oil, because you will be obtaining the health benefits of the oil.

With virgin olive oil, the health benefits are drastically reduced due to the use of high heat and chemicals. While it can still taste good, it isn’t particularly healthy, and it does not compete with the taste of extra virgin olive oil.

How Does Virgin Olive Oil And Extra Virgin Olive Oil Differ In Taste?

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

As extra virgin olive oil has undergone less processing, it produces a much pleasanter taste. As a general rule, you should be able to taste these keynotes in extra virgin olive oil:

  • A little fruitiness,
  • A slight bitterness, akin to biting into a fresh olive
  • A bit of a peppery note

In extra virgin olive oil, there will be more body. You will be able to taste a slight bitterness of the olives, and the fruitiness of the olive oil is key. In some cases, you will be able to taste a light pepper note. The color of extra virgin olive oil is always rich, often dark green, or a light yellow color.

Virgin Olive Oil

When it comes to virgin olive oil, the taste will be noticeably different.

Virgin olive oil will tend to be very thin in texture, and subtle in flavor. It will contain barely any fruitiness, if any at all. In cases of bad, or moderate quality olive oil, it can be void of flavor, rendering it tasteless. When it comes to color, virgin olive oil is usually very transparent with a yellow tone.

If you do find that your virgin olive oil is tasteless, has a mustiness, or has a metallic flavor, take it back to the shop. It means that the olive oil was over-processed, or the oil might be bad. It could just be that you bought a bad batch. While virgin olive oil is not as tasteful as extra virgin olive oil, it should still be enjoyable.

Further, Impacts On The Quality Of Olive Oil

Now, not all extra virgin olive oil, or virgin olive oil will taste the same. There are other various factors to consider. For example, you have to take into account the different regions that olives grow in. Olives from Italy will taste different from olives from Tunisia.

You also have to remember that there are hundreds of different variations of olives, and the taste of the olive will impact the taste of the olive oil. The soil also has a big impact on the olive.

If a fruit or a sweet vegetable had been previously grown in the soil, then it may pick up a slight residue of flavor.

Another aspect to consider is the quality of the olive itself. If the olive is not of good quality, then it may not produce very good tasting olive oil, even if it has been cold-pressed.

Moreover, if the olives were picked too early, or too late within the harvest, it can have a big impact on the taste.

These are all factors to consider, as the process of both extra virgin olive oil and virgin olive oil is not as black and white as it seems. There are many variables to consider, which impact the taste and quality of olive oil.


That brings us to the end of our wonderful article on the differences between virgin olive oil, and extra virgin olive oil.

We hope that you have found our article helpful. The key is to remember that virgin olive oil undergoes a process that involves chemicals and high heat.

Extra virgin olive oil undergoes a different process, called cold pressing, which ensures that the vitamins and nutrients found in olives are not lost.

It creates a much healthier olive oil. Also, extra virgin olive oil has more of a pleasant taste, due to it being the least processed form of olive oil.

You should taste notes of fruit, bitterness, and pepper, depending on the olives used. While virgin olive oil is not as full-bodied, it should not be completely tasteless, musty, nor metallic.

Rick Zullo

Former doctor and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy.


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