Extra-virgin olive oil is an unrefined oil and the highest-quality olive oil you can buy. There are very specific standards oil has to meet to receive the label "extra-virgin." Because of the way extra-virgin olive oil is made, it retains more true olive taste, and has a lower level of oleic acid than other olive oil varieties. It also contains more of the natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.
Extra-virgin olive oil is considered an unrefined oil since it's not treated with chemicals or altered by temperature. What sets it apart is the low level of oleic acid and the absence of sensory flaws. It contains no more than 1% oleic acid and typically has a golden-green color, with a distinct flavor and a light peppery finish.
While you can cook with extra-virgin olive oil, it does have a lower smoke point than many other oils, which means it burns at a lower temperature. Save the pricey good quality stuff for dipping bread, dressing, dips, cold dishes, and use the less expensive stuff for cooking and baking.
virgin olive oil
Next in quality, as categorized by the standards of the International Olive Council, is virgin olive oil. It's made using a similar process as extra-virgin olive oil and is also an unrefined oil, meaning chemicals or heat are not used to extract oil from the fruit. Virgin olive oil also maintains the purity and taste of the olive, though production standards are not as rigid.
According to the standards of the International Olive Council, virgin olive oil has a slightly higher level of oleic acid. It also has a slightly less intense flavor than extra-virgin olive oil.
Virgin oil is rarely found, if ever, however, in grocery stores; usually your choice will be between extra-virgin, regular, and light olive oils.