Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Olive Oil

Last Update: November 17, 2023

Although extra virgin olive oil and olive oil are often interchangeable in the culinary world, there are a few nuances worth noting. (the difference between olive oil and butter being one such example). We’re diving into the history of olives, spotlighting our members’ favorite bottles, and sharing plenty of cooking ideas that go way beyond vinaigrette.

But first, a history lesson. Despite many theories, no one truly knows the exact origin of the olive tree. According to Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology, the modern olive tree originated in ancient Mesopotamia and Persia, then gravitated towards the Mediterranean. A 2007 article by Paul Vossen at the University of California suggests that while we commonly associate olives with Mediterranean countries (where the tree thrives and was domesticated at least 6,000 years ago), researchers believe that the wild olive may have originated in Syria or sub-Saharan Africa.

Regardless of the mysterious origins, one thing is certain: olives and olive oil have had an enormous impact on cultures and economies worldwide.

What Is Olive Oil?

what is olive oil

Worldwide production of olive oil rose to 3.2 million tons in 2020, making it one of the world’s most popular cooking oils with recorded use dating back thousands of years. In addition to the kitchen, olive oil is a popular ingredient in soaps and other beauty items. (You can even use it to remove eye makeup.) The liquid gold is made by cold-pressing olives to extract the liquid, which sounds straightforward, but there are a variety of grades available based on how the olives are processed. Virgin oil, for example, is produced without chemical treatments, while refined olive oil may be processed using charcoal or other questionable ingredients to help refine the oil. According to the Olive Wellness Institute, olive oil is a blend of refined olive oil and natural olive oils that is lower in antioxidants and may produce higher levels of trans fats than extra virgin varieties (more on that below).

What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Extra virgin olive oil (commonly known as EVOO) is the highest quality oil you can purchase. It’s the least processed variety, with less acidity and exceptional flavor. When the olives are cold-pressed at room temperature, they’re labeled either virgin or extra virgin. Both types are unrefined, but after olive oil authorities do a taste test and check the acidity levels, only the best is allowed to have the EVOO label.

Olive Oil Benefits

Olive oil is a common ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Harvard Medical School reports that this olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which may help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol, and offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil also contains polyphenols—natural compounds found in plant-based foods—that may help reduce or slow the development of certain cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Olive oil boasts vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, vitamin K, and iron.

Spotlight: Thrive Market Olive Oil

One of Thrive Market’s O.G. products is a member-favorite extra virgin olive oil from Greece. Here’s a closer look at how this Grecian gold gets made.

From Greece to Your Table

olive oil vs. extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil maker Nikos Renieris says his first childhood memory was watching the bottling process. His father and two uncles started the family business in 1982 in Crete, and today, Renieris helps oversee the groves that produce our beloved extra virgin olive oil without the use of toxic pesticides or GMOs. During the annual harvest, olives are gathered and quickly pressed to minimize acidity. From there, fresh oil is transferred into airtight, stainless steel drums, which are plugged directly into a bottling line to prevent oxidation and preserve nutrition and flavor.

Stock Your Pantry: Must-Have Olive Oil Products

olive oil vs. extra virgin olive oil

Our line offers an assortment of options which means from everyday baking to finishing drizzles, there’s a bottle for every occasion

Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Our Certified Organic extra virgin olive oil is grown and bottled on a single estate in western Crete. It’s mild and grassy in flavor—ideal for homemade dressings, drizzling over vegetables, or dipping with bread and a drop or two of thick balsamic vinegar.

Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Tunisian

This bottle has a buttery mouthfeel thanks to hand-picked Tunisian olives. Try it as a light pasta sauce (mixed with a generous amount of cheese) or tossed with roasted veggies for crostini.

Thrive Market Extra Virgin Olive Oil, California

Pressing California olives within eight hours of harvest leads to a fruity oil with hints of vanilla. Plus, each bottle hails from an award-winning zero-waste farm.

Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray

To make this convenient spray, we use cold-pressed Italian olives that are bottled using natural air pressure technology—that means no additives or propellants.

5 Versatile Olive Oil Recipes

Unless noted in a recipe, EVOO and olive oil are relatively interchangeable. Just keep in mind that extra virgin olive oil tends to have a more robust flavor that could range from grassy to peppery, while olive oil will be milder and stand out less in the finished dish.

Immersion Blender Mayo

Homemade mayo sounds fancy but is actually super simple to make, especially when you use an immersion blender. Enjoy it plain, or jazz it up with herbs or garlic.

Gluten-Free Fish Tacos

Canned albacore tuna makes this family-friendly dish extra economical (and no less delicious), and olive oil is one of the ingredients that delivers added flavor in every bite.

Paleo Olive Oil Cake

Zesty lemon, sweet figs, and woody thyme combine for this anytime dessert that works with whatever fruit is fresh at the market.

Vegan Olive Oil Skillet Brownies

Need an easy-yet-impressive dessert? Skillet brownies are a winner. This recipe scores major bonus points by needing only pantry staples you likely have on hand, like extra virgin olive oil, gluten-free flour, and cocoa powder.

Olive Oil, Chocolate, and Rosemary Popsicles

This sophisticated dessert blends olive oil, chocolate, and rosemary, and full-fat coconut milk with a pinch of flaky salt.

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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