Think of Virgin Olive Oil as a little less Special than Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Virgin Olive Oil
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"Virgin" when used to refer to Olive Oil is an ill-defined term. It can and should mean an Unrefined Olive Oil resulting from a second pressing of the olives (often with water added to improve the volume of Oil recovered) but there is a lot of wiggle room.

Virgin Olive Oil can also mean olive oil that was pressed on a hydraulic press (which creates more pressure and heat). Pressure builds heat and heat above 80° F (27° C) can degrade the oil and damage the Flavonoids that give a good oil its nuance.

Season

See Smart Kitchen's Resource on Olives to learn about their seasonality.

Cultivation

See Smart Kitchen's Resource on Olives to learn about Cultivating Olives. 

Production

Virgin Olive Oil should be an Unrefined Olive Oil pressed from the second pressing of the olives (maybe with water added) and kept below 80° F (27° C) so that the oil is not degraded and none of the flavors are damaged.

The problem is that the rules did not anticipate the invention of modern hydraulic presses which can generate tremendous pressures and tremendous heat. 

The USDA rules only state that Virgin Olive Oils (including Extra Virgin Olive Oil) be made "solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, including thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration."  They do not define the "thermal conditions as less than 80° F.

Further the rules on the product itself only state that a Virgin Olive Oil should have "good flavor and odor" a "Median of Defects" (0-2.5), a "Median of Fruitiness" (>0), and have less than 2% Oleic Acid content by volume. The rules do not discuss heating and degradation.

Purchasing

When sampling Virgin Olive Oil before buying, it should have a some noticeable fruity flavor (though less than that of Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and a pale yellow to medium yellow-green color. 

Better Olive Oils are made from crushed, fresh Olives. Like a juice, fresher and purer is better. The trick is finding out how the olives were really handled. The following points are how we would go about purchasing a Virgin Olive Oil.

1. Heat. As we mention above, heat over 80° F (27° C) can degrade Olive Oil and damage the subtler, nuanced flavor compounds. Subjecting Olives to high pressure generates high heat. If the label says "Cold Pressed," and the company is reputable, the oil was likely not over heated during production.  

2. Age/Freshness. Does the bottle have a "Best By Date" or better yet a "Harvest Date?" Time is an element that degrades Olive Oils, which are best until about 2 years harvest. Do the math. How long has the Virgin Olive Oil been sitting in the bottle or alternatively, how much more time does it have to go before being bad. Go as fresh as you can.

3. Origin. Does the bottle have the name of the Olive Mill and the Country of Origin of the Olives? Studies have been done by UC Davis that show as much as 69% of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil sold in the U.S. is adulterated or misrepresented. The story is similar with Virgin Olive Oil. Try to get as good a read as possible on where the olives came from and if any other oils were mixed with them. "Packed in Italy" or "Bottled in Italy" don't mean that the olives were grown in Italy. North African Olives can be exported to Italy, so can barrels of North African Olive Oil that is not subject to our same production standards. 

4. Acid. What is the acidity? Virgin Olive Oil can be as high as 2% acid. Look for bottles with the lowest acidity available. 

5. Dark Bottle. Look for a darker bottle. Virgin Olive Oil is damaged by light. Darker colors help protect the oil. 

6. Color. Don't get fixated on the specific color of the oil. Good Olive Oil can be a variety of shades from olive green to the color of straw to golden hued. Taste and Aroma are more important criteria than color. 

7. Usage. Virgin Olive Oil is an Unrefined Olive Oil which means it will have a shorter shelf life. Buy Virgin Olive Oil in smaller quantities so that you use it up while it is still good.

Storage

Oxygen, heat, light and time cause oils to oxidize and become Rancid. Virgin Olive Oil should be tightly capped and kept, at least, in a cool dark place like a pantry. Dark colored bottles can also protect oils from the sun.

If you do refrigerate your Virgin Olive Oil it may become semi-solid in the cold. Just let it sit for 15-20 minutes at room temperature and it will return to liquid form.

Unrefined oils, like Virgin Olive Oil are less stable and will only keep 4 or 5 months. So buy them in small quantities and use them. 

If over time, your oil gets “sticky” or has off flavors dispose of it. It has gone bad. 

Culinary Uses

Virgin Olive Oil should have a bit less fruity flavor than Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a pale yellow to medium yellow-green color.

Virgin Olive Oil is useful with Medium/High Heat and has a Smoke Point of 419°F (215°C), a Melt Point of 32°F (0°C), a Flash Point of 600°F (315°C) and a Fire Point of 700°F (371°C). 

Virgin Olive Oil is most often used for MarinadesSalad Oils, and Margarines.but can be used for Pan Frying, Sauteing and Medium Heat Deep Frying.

Pairings

AlmondsPecansHerbsRosemaryThymeOreganoSageSaltPepperSpicesMeatsPoultryChickenBeef, Pork, Fish, Eggs, Vegetables, GarlicMustard GreensPotatoesOnionsOlivesTomatoesSoupsSaucesDressingsVinegarsBeans, Cheese, Pasta, Bread

Nutrition

Because they all come from Olive, all Olive Oils have essentially the same fat breakdown. 

Olive Oil is a Monounsaturated oil. It is 14% Saturated Fat, 73% Monounsaturated Fat, and 11% Polyunsaturated Fat.

If you are comparing Oils, switching to Olive Oil can help with cholesterol but it won't have as many Antioxidants because its Polyunsaturated Fat is so low. 

In theory less refined oils that have not been exposed to excessive heat should have better levels of antioxidants but because of the variation in production methods we can't make any antioxidant claims for Virgin Olive Oil. 

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No