What is the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?


I’ve been asked this question on many occasions both for work and amongst friends.  I understand its curious appeal.  You may have heard that extra virgin olive oil is better for you but do you know what makes an olive oil an extra virgin olive oil?  I’m going to appease your curiosity and provide you with an answer.

Olive oil are commonly labelled as ‘olive oil’ or ‘extra virgin olive oil’ but what exactly is the difference?  The main differences are the level of processing and nutritional qualities:

  Olive Oil Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
Composition Composed of refined olive oil and typically 5-15% EVOO (and/or Virgin Olive Oil, VOO) EVOO only
Processing Contains refined olive oil Naturally derived and unrefined
Nutritional Qualities Contains monounsaturated fats;
Lower in natural antioxidants and polyphenols
Contains monounsaturated fats;
Higher in natural antioxidants and polyphenols


The refining process of refined olive oil targets impurities such as colour, odour and flavour from the oil and removes these compounds from the oil either through chemical or physical means.  The nutritional quality is reduced through the refining process as it also removes much of the beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols.

EVOO and VOO are extracted from the olive fruit by mechanical or other physical means and meet specific taste and composition requirements. The beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols are retained in EVOO and VOO as these types of olive oil do not undergo the refining process.

For detailed information (plus a handy infographic) on olive oil grades, you can check out the Australian Olive Association.

Dusan Zidar/Shutterstock.com

Nutritional Qualities

It is the monounsaturated fats and higher levels of antioxidants and polyphenols in EVOO that provide many health benefits.  Research from the National Health and Medical Research Council states that consumption of monounsaturated fats is associated with an improved blood cholesterol profile and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  What are polyphenols you ask?  Simply put, polyphenols are compounds with a certain structure of which many provide beneficial antioxidative effects such as reduced inflammation and cell protection from oxidation.  EVOO therefore is associated with overall greater health benefits than olive oil.


We are very fortunate that the majority of Australian olive oil is indeed EVOO as a result of Australia’s high standards of farming practice and harvesting techniques.  We therefore recommend you choose Australian EVOO and enjoy the delicious and healthy benefits of this truly wonderful locally made produce.


  • Dr Joanna McMillian. EVOO: Benefits Beyond Heart Health
  • The Australian Olive Oil Association. Olive Oil Grading
  • Australian Olive Association.  Olive Oil Grades
  • National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013)

Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not intended as advice and should not be relied upon as such. Independent advice suited to individual circumstances should be sought from relevant industry professionals prior to making any decisions.