Extra virgin olive oil is not the only type of olive oil you can buy, even though it may be the most popular. Light olive oil is an example of another kind of olive oil you can get. Though it may not sound like it, there can be a noticeable difference between the two.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Background
Extra virgin olive oil is the purest form of olive oil that you can buy, thus a bit of background on it would be helpful towards understanding olive oil in general. Extra virgin olive oil is obtained by crushing the olive fruit and extracting the resulting oil. If the olives are of high enough quality, then the resulting oil will be worthy of the "extra virgin" label. To meet the criteria, it must have a good oleic acid composition as well as exhibit superior taste, color and aroma. What makes extra virgin olive oil more pure than other forms of olive oil is that it uses only mechanical means to separate the oil and no additives are included.
Light Olive Oil Background
Light olive oil on the other hand is considerably less pure. It is derived from olive oil that is not worthy of the extra virgin label. It is refined further using either mechanical, thermal or chemical means so that it may once again be fit for consumption. The resulting oil is more or less colorless and tasteless. To make it attractive to consumers, higher quality olive oil is added to the mix to bring back some color and flavor. Overall, not too much is added back, thus making the "light" label make more sense now. Sometimes vegetable oil, like canola oil, is added to the mix as well.
Now that the different overall profiles have been established, which one is better for you? To be fair, both are derived from olives and both retain the major benefits of olive consumption. In fact, since what light olive oil boils down to is mixing different quality olive oils, yet still olive oils, it has basically the same fat content as extra virgin olive oil. They are both high in monosaturated fats which have been implicated in decreasing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol. As far as nutritional profiles are concerned, they can be considered to be very similar. But, since the extra virgin olive oil is more pure and has a better oleic acid composition, it can be considered to be healthier than light olive oil.
The major difference can be seen in their major uses. Since extra virgin olive oil has a strong flavor, it is more suitable as a dressing or topping. It could possibly interfere with the flavors in baking. Light olive oil, on the other hand, is seen as more suitable for cooking with high heat. When other vegetable oils are added to make light olive oil, it will have a higher smoking point, making it better suited for cooking applications such as deep frying. High heat also tends to burn off the flavor of extra virgin olive oil, so light olive oil is seen as a less wasteful choice.
Though extra virgin olive oil edges out light olive oil, both are considered healthy choices.