Olive oil is a staple in almost every pantry.
Rich in antioxidants, versatile in its utility, and rich in flavor, olive oil makes a strong case for sticking to what you know. While this most-loved, tried-and-true oil is—and will always be—a cabinet essential, there’s something to be said for branching out—and avocado oil is an excellent place to start.
By understanding the differences between avocado oil vs olive oil, you’ll be able to make more informed choices about what ingredient to reach for next time you’re in the kitchen. Each with diverse and nuanced flavor and nutritional profiles, you’ll soon learn that there’s room enough in your cabinet for both of these delicious options.
What is Avocado Oil?
It’s often assumed that avocado oil is a relative newcomer to the culinary world, when in fact that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Although it’s remained a slept-on oil for years, it’s actually been around for decades. In the early ‘30s, the California State Chamber of Commerce noted that some companies were using blemished avocado fruit for oil extraction.
Within the decade, avocado oil was in mainstream production.
How is Avocado Oil Made?
The oil itself comes from the green, fleshy part of the avocado. Once washed, pitted, and deskinned, the pulp is mashed before going through a drum that spins at high speeds, forcing the oil and water to separate. This is called expeller-extraction. It can also be cold-pressed.
Avocado oil comes in a couple of forms, dependent on the methods used during the extraction process.
What is Refined Avocado Oil?
Refined avocado oil has a relatively neutral flavor and high smoke point, meaning it’s a durable oil to cook with. After the oil itself is extracted, it’s either deodorized or bleached, and color is often added. Quite like refined olive oil, refined avocado oil has less of an odor and taste than its unrefined counterpart.
What is Unrefined Avocado Oil?
Unrefined organic avocado oil is more akin to extra-virgin olive oil in that it has a lower smoke point and a more robust flavor. Apart from being filtered for impurities, it’s completely left alone following extraction. It’s higher quality than refined oil and retains all its healthful fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants.
What is Olive Oil?
Dating back almost 6,000 years to Iran, Syria, and Palestine, olive oil eventually made its way to the Mediterranean—the region it’s most popularly linked to. Over the centuries, olive oil has been used in religious ceremonies, medicine, and most notably as an important source of food for many cultures across the globe.
How is Olive Oil Made?
Like its name suggests, olive oil is quite literally oil pressed from olives. After harvest, olives are crushed into a paste, decanted, and put through a centrifuge to separate the oil and water.
The different varieties of olive oil are defined by the process used to extract the oil, the additives, and the level of free oleic acid.
What is “Pure” Olive Oil?
This “pure” cooking oil is a blend of cold-pressed and processed oils. A lower quality product than its extra-virgin counterpart, this type of cooking oil includes any cold-pressed oil that does not meet extra-virgin standards. Following extraction, it’s refined to get rid of undesirable impurities, resulting in a lighter color and neutral-tasting flavor and aroma.
Perhaps most notably, pure olive oil lacks the important antioxidants, fatty acids, and anti-inflammatory properties that make extra-virgin olive oil so desirable. However, the smoke point is the same, allowing you to use this cooking oil at high temperatures.
What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Per standards set by the International Olive Council, organic extra-virgin olive oil is cold-pressed without using high heat or chemicals. This more natural process preserves the naturally-occurring chemicals in olives called phenols which are responsible for providing many of the health benefits olive oil delivers. Because of the unrefined, high-quality nature of this type of olive oil, it retains a more robust taste and aroma and contains more vitamins and antioxidants than pure olive oil.
Avocado Oil vs. Olive Oil: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Avocado oil and olive oil have very similar nutrition profiles, and the same is true of the health benefits they deliver. As you might expect, the quality of the oil makes all the difference when it comes to reaping the health benefits. The higher the quality of the product, the more your body will benefit.
Per tablespoon, avocado and olive oil contain 124 and 120 calories respectively, and each has 14 grams of fat—much of which consists of monounsaturated fatty acids, also known as ‘the heart-healthy kind.’ More specifically, it’s their high level of oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, that makes these oils so desirable from a nutritional perspective. Oleic acid is linked to heart health, lowering the risk of many cancers, lowering blood pressure, and reducing unwanted inflammation in the body.
The biggest differentiator between avocado oil vs olive oil nutritionally speaking is their vitamin E content. Vitamin E is the antioxidant linked to protecting the body against cell damage, maintaining a healthy immune system, promoting skin and eye health, and protecting against diseases like heart disease and cancer. Based on their specific nutrition profiles, olive oil offers 33% of your recommended daily dose of this vitamin, while avocado oil provides about 23%. Although olive oil delivers slightly more bang for your buck when it comes to this important antioxidant, both are considered to be good sources.
Cooking With Olive Oil and Avocado Oil
In terms of cooking with these oils, a main differentiating factor is the smoke point. Both refined and unrefined avocado oils have a higher smoke point than olive oil (as high as 500 degrees), making them a better choice for high-heat cooking methods such as searing or sauteing. Refined olive oil is a perfectly fine choice for an all-purpose oil cooking with moderate heat but definitely shy away from it for higher temperature methods. Cooking with any type of olive oil past its smoke point can destroy the healthy, monounsaturated fats in its nutritional profile.
Flavor-wise, refined avocado oil is very mild, especially once cooked. Because it’s nearly flavorless, it’s a more neutral, versatile choice than olive oil in heated dishes. It can be used in all types of cuisines since it has virtually no taste, whereas the stronger, more distinctive flavor of olive oil is better suited for Meditteranean cuisine specifically.
Tasted plain, extra-virgin avocado oil has an understated buttery, slightly grassy flavor. It’s a great finishing option as a drizzle for mild-foods like tomatoes or fish.
Extra-virgin olive oil is also great as a finishing option, but it can also be used in more ways than its avocado counterpart. Because it’s more flavor-forward, it’s an excellent option for salad dressings and pestos. You’ll get all the delicious peppery flavor, and still reap the benefits of its nutritional profile thanks to the fact that you won’t have to heat it and risk surpassing its smoke point.
When it comes to cooking, the more culinary tools in your toolbox, the better. Next time you find yourself opening the cabinet and automatically reaching for the olive oil, stop and consider. Although they share a lot of similarities, the nuanced differences between olive oil and avocado oil can really elevate your meal, and help you make more informed choices with nutrition and flavor in mind.
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