What makes virgin olive oil virgin?

In this brief article, we will provide you with the answer to the question: “What makes virgin olive oil virgin?”, and share what are the health benefits of olive oil consumption.

What makes virgin olive oil virgin?

Virgin olive oil gets its name from the process of cold-pressing olives to extract their juices without the use of heat or chemicals. This method ensures that the olives are not processed and maintains the oil’s highest quality, making it the most expensive type of olive oil available.

The term “virgin” signifies that the oil is obtained from the first pressing of olives and undergoes extraction without the use of heat or chemicals, preserving its “virgin” state. 

This term also applies to other oils like canola and sunflower, indicating that they were not subjected to high heat, solvents, or chemical processes during extraction.

Among the various types of olive oil, extra virgin olive oil holds the most esteemed reputation. It is extracted through physical methods while strictly adhering to regulations that prohibit the use of solvents. 

To be classified as extra virgin, the oil must exhibit a fruity attribute and be completely free from any sensory defects. Additionally, it should have an acidity level of 0.8% or below, adhering to established standards.

Virgin olive oil, which includes both extra virgin and other high-quality oils, is suitable for direct consumption. 

It allows for the presence of sensory defects, though they must be below a certain threshold of 3.5 on a scale of 10. The maximum acidity level allowed for virgin olive oil is 2%. (1, 2)

What is the difference between extra virgin olive and those labeled pure, light, or simply olive oil?

The requirements for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) include the presence of a fruity attribute, the absence of sensory defects, and specific physico-chemical characteristics such as free acidity below 0.8%. 

On the other hand, virgin olive oil (VOO) allows for sensory defects below a threshold of 3.5 on a scale of 10, and a maximum acidity of 2%.

When the sensory analysis determines the absence of fruitiness or the presence of sensory defects with intensities surpassing the value of 3.5, the olive oil is classified as Lampante Olive Oil (LOO). 

To make these oils edible, they must undergo a refining process, resulting in Refined Olive Oil (ROO). However, ROO is not consumed alone; it is mixed with EVOO or VOO and categorized as Olive Oil (OO).

Olive Oil (OO) can be produced as specific mixtures or “coupages” tailored to meet market demands by manufacturers. (1)

What are the health benefits of virgin olive oil consumption?

Extra virgin olive oil stands out as the healthiest option, characterized by its unique flavor and aroma. It shares the same benefits as virgin olive oil; however, the higher acidity level of virgin olive oil can result in a less desirable taste and scent. 

Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, omega-9 fatty acids, vitamins E, A, and K, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and amino acids. These components, along with its antioxidant properties, contribute to various health advantages.

Its richness in monounsaturated fatty acids (omega-9) also promotes a healthy balance of cholesterol by reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and increasing HDL (good cholesterol).

Additionally, extra virgin olive oil is abundant in polyphenols, which provide its distinct flavor and contribute to its antioxidant properties and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. 

High levels of LDL have been linked to the development of fatty plaques that obstruct blood flow and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. 

The antioxidants in olive oil play a role in supporting brain function and preventing damage caused by blockages in cerebral arteries, including strokes.

Ongoing research is exploring the potential of olive oil in enhancing cognitive function. A specific molecule called hydroxytyrosol, found in olive oil, shows promise in preventing neurodegeneration and slowing down brain aging.

It has been associated with reducing the risk of heart and vascular diseases, neurodegenerative conditions, cytotoxicity, metabolic disorders, and inflammatory diseases. 

This is mainly attributed to its functional compounds like polyphenols, tocopherols, carotenoids, sterols, fatty acids, and squalene. 

The lipid fraction of extra virgin olive oil provides protective properties against coronary, autoimmune, and inflammatory disorders, while also exerting anti-thrombotic effects and blood pressure regulation.

Moreover, extra virgin olive oil contains other compounds like tocopherols and polyphenols, which contribute to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities, among other qualities.  (2, 3)

What are the uses of extra virgin olive oils?

Extra virgin olive oil is not only versatile for various cooking techniques such as roasting, frying, baking, or sautéing, but it also offers a wealth of antioxidants and heart-healthy fats. 

It predominantly consists of monounsaturated fats, which can withstand moderate heat levels during cooking. Furthermore, it possesses a relatively high smoke point, making it an excellent option for a wide range of cooking methods. (3)

Olive oil plays a vital role in the well-known Mediterranean diet (MED). This diet emphasizes a balanced approach, incorporating lower animal protein consumption alongside a high intake of fruits, vegetables, and cereals. 

In the Mediterranean diet, olive oil serves as the primary source of dietary fat in many dishes. (2)

Other FAQs about Olives  that you may be interested in.

Why is olive oil liquid at room temperature?

Is it healthy to consume 4 tablespoons of olive oil a day?

Why is it called virgin olive oil?


In this brief article, we provided you with the answer to the question: “What makes virgin olive oil virgin?”, and shared what are the health benefits of olive oil consumption.


  1. Cayuela, J. A., Gómez-Coca, R. B., Moreda, W., & Pérez-Camino, M. C. Sensory defects of virgin olive oil from a microbiological perspective. Trends in Food Science & Technology, 43(2), 227–235. 2015.
  2. Jimenez-Lopez C, Carpena M, Lourenço-Lopes C, Gallardo-Gomez M, Lorenzo JM, Barba FJ, Prieto MA, Simal-Gandara J. Bioactive Compounds and Quality of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Foods. 9(8):1014. 2020.
  3. Imashi Fernando,Imashi Fernando, What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Why Is It Healthy? Them. Healthline Media LLC. 2021.

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