Will you explain the difference between olive oil, virgin olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil? —P.G., Killeen, Texas
With all of the different olive oils on grocery store shelves today, choosing one can be confusing. But it may help to know that olive oils are graded according to acidity. Extra-virgin olive oil is the top grade and is extremely low in acidity (1%). It is produced by the first crushing and pressing of tree-ripened olives and has a deep color and intense olive flavor. Virgin olive oil also comes from the first pressing of olives but has a slightly higher acidity (2%), lighter color and less fruity flavor. Both of these oils are best used in dishes where their stronger flavors can be appreciated.
Bottles simply labeled olive oil (previously called pure olive oil) contain oil with up to 3% acidity. It is usually a blend of refined olive oil and virgin or extra-virgin oil. It has a light color and mild flavor. You will likely find bottles labeled light olive oil on the market, too. The word "light" refers to the color and flavor of the oil, not its calorie content. Light olive oil also contains up to 3% acidity. It has gone through a fine filtration process, giving it a very mild flavor and light color. This oil is perfect for cooking and baking.