What exactly do the “virgin” and “extra-virgin” in olive oil mean?

The purity of some extra-virgin olive oils is being challenged.

A recent report found that 69 percent of imported oils and 10 percent of domestic oils sampled from grocery stores shelves in the U.S. did not meet the international standards that define the title of extra-virgin.

But what do these terms really mean? Is there a measurable difference between the virgin and extra virgin labels?

(If your mind is more on coffee right now, consider the mysterious origin of the word “coffee” here. Then come back, refreshed, and dip into this story.)

According to the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), the answer is yes. Extra-virgin olive oil should come only from virgin oil productions and contain no more than .8 percent acidity. During the extraction process, no chemicals should be used. Extra-virgin olive oil should be cold-pressed, which means that no heat over a certain temperature was used during processing.

Then of course, there’s the taste. Olive oils with the extra-virgin designation should have superior flavor and aroma. It is recommended that they be used in salad dressings, to dip bread in, or to drizzle on top of sauces.

Extra-virgin olive oils are fragile. Exposure to high temperatures and even light can lead to their deterioration.

The labels “pure olive oil” and just plain old “olive oil” indicate a blend of refined and virgin production oil. Olive pomace oil is obtained by using chemicals in the extraction.

Currently, the USDA lists four grades of olive oil, which were established in 1948. The highest quality bears the cute name U.S. Fancy, or U.S. Grade A.

The word olive derives from the Greek elaia and possibly the older Armenian term ewi, “oil.” Shakespeare apparently coined the name Olivia, from the male name Oliver. The olive branch is a traditional symbol of peace that dates back at least to the Bible, when a dove brought Noah an olive branch to indicate the discovery of land.

The olive branch may signify peace, but why is the avocado known as the “fertility fruit?” Find out here.