Extra virgin, virgin, pure, 100%, refined, unrefined - what's the deal with oils?

Maybe you've already read my post about oils and which one I use in my kitchen (if not - click here to read it). Once you know which oils you'd like to use, you need to decide which brand/label/certification/criteria you have to look out for. To make this a little bit easier for you, I've created an overview - one for coconut oil and one for olive oil - to help you choose the right oil.

Coconut oil

 Photo by  Jonas Drücker  by Unsplash

Photo by Jonas Drücker by Unsplash

To understand which coconut oil to buy you have to understand the production process first. I'm not an expert in this process and for the purpose of this article it's not necessary to dive to deep into the subject. If you want more details you can find them here.

1. Basis of the coconut oil

There are basically two main types of coconut oil - unrefined (also known as virgin or extra virgin) and refined. The difference comes from the coconut meat which is used at the beginning of the extraction process. 

Unrefined/Virgin/Extra virgin

  • Uses fresh coconut meat
  • Resulting in an oil with a strong coconut flavour

 

Refined

  • Uses dried coconut meat called Copra, which is not sanitary and therefore needs to be refined, deodorized and bleached (RDB oils)
  • Resulting in an oil with no coconut flavor

2. Extraction of the oil

To get the oil out of the coconut meat, three different extraction methods can be used

  • Expeller-pressed: It's a mechanical way to extract oil from fruits. During this process the base fruit can heat up.
  • Cold-pressed: It's part of the expeller-pressed mechanism but the heat, which is produced is controlled.
  • Chemical solvents: To keep it simple - it uses certain chemical solvents to extract the oils. It's used to squeeze more oil out of the already expeller-pressed fruit.

3. Hydrogenation

Some coconut oils undergo hydrogenation which basically makes them solid and prolongs their shelf-life. However, this process leads to the formation of trans-fats and therefore any kind of hydrogenated oil should be avoided. 

Flow Chart

Now that you understand the process, you are able to choose your coconut oil accordingly. Just follow my flowchart to see which oils to use and what to look out for. 

Unrefined/Extra Virgin/Virgin

  • Use for cold dishes, raw desserts, baking
  • Cold or expeller-pressed
  • Un-hydrogenated
  • Coconut flavour
  • High in nutrients
  • High in medium-chain fatty acids

Refined

  • Use for sautéing, stir-frying
  • Expeller-pressed
  • Chemical free
  • Un-hydrogenated
  • No coconut flavour
  • Lower in nutrients
  • High in medium- chain fatty acids

As you can see, refined is not just bad but you need to make sure that the right extraction process has been used. Refined coconut oil loses it's coconut flavor and some nutrients but it does not lose the fatty acids structure for which coconut oil is known for - the lauric acid, a medium-chain-fatty acid which is, in a nutshell, increasing your metabolism and used as energy rather than stored as fat. The advantage of refined coconut oil is the higher smoking point and can therefore be used for high heat cooking.



Olive Oil

 Photo by  James Lee  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

When it comes to olive oil there are many labels companies can use. However, you should only use Extra virgin or virgin olive oil in your kitchen. Labels such as "pure", "light", "100% pure" usually mean that refined olive oil has been mixed with extra virgin or virgin olive oil and should be avoided. Compared to coconut oil, where the refined version can be used for high heat cooking, refined olive oil looses all its health benefits (anti-inflammatory, antioxidants, vitamins).  (Source)

The labelling extra virgin and virgin olive oil needs to meet the criteria of the international olive council. Below a little overview on some characteristics. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Highest quality oil
  • Freshest olives uses
  • One time pressing
  • Extracted mechanically (not using chemicals)
  • Cold-pressed (not exceeding a certain temperature)
  • Dark color
  • Strong olive flavour
  • Low acidity level
  • Highly anti-inflammatory
  • High in antioxidants

Virgin Olive Oil

  • Medium quality
  • Might be pressed more than one time
  • Higher acidity level
  • Lighter color
  • Some companies might label their oils extra virgin even though they belong to the virgin category
  • Cold-pressed

Unfortunately there are no regulations on using the extra virgin olive oil label and so you need to look out for certain clues. 

  • Cold-pressed: this makes sure that the temperature during extraction has been regulated
  • Harvest year: Should not be too old so that you know the olives used are fresh (the older the less extra virgin)
  • Color: Dark color indicates a fresh product
  • Taste: spicy, floral, nutty, fruity, buttery, herbal

Here you can find a list of olive oils, which have been tested to be EVOO

Organic vs Non-Organic

This means that the fruit form which the oil has been produced was organically grown. Olives as well as Coconuts are very strong fruits which are not likely to be attacked by insects. Therefore hardly any pesticides need to be used. However, if you want to be 100% sure I recommend that you choose a brand with an organic certification label. 


When it comes to coconut oil it's rather easy to find the best product by knowing the production process and what to look out for when reading the labels. 

With olive oils it's a bit more complicated due to the missing regulations. Therefore a label can be misleading. I highly recommend to scan through above list and find an olive oil which is in your price category and available in your country. If you spend money for a very fresh and high quality extra virgin olive oil, make sure you are only using it for cold dishes. 

Let me know if you have any questions related to olive and coconut oil and leave any comments. What are your favourite olive oil brands and which coconut oil do you choose?

Nurture your happiness
Dominique