What 'First Cold Pressing' On Your Bottle Of Olive Oil Means

As if the cooking oil aisle at the grocery store wasn't confusing enough, once you locate the olive section you're apt to be even more perplexed. There's extra-virgin vs. virgin, cold-pressed vs. expeller-pressed, refined vs. unrefined — how is one to choose?

According to the North American Olive Oil Association, the labels portray several essential clues as to how the olive oil was made and the quality of the product. Which one you should choose depends on the flavor you're looking for, how you intend to use it, and the price point that fits your budget.

There are two methods of extracting the oil from any plant or seed — one involves heat, and the other is done at room temperature. When it comes to the darling of the culinary and health world, extra-virgin olive oil, all extraction is done without heat. However, there are a few different labels indicating just how the oil was extracted from the olives. "First cold pressing" is usually touted by brands as the best option. But what does that label mean, and what do you need to know about it next time you hit the grocery store?

A marketing buzzword

To make olive oil, the olives are ground up into a paste and then the oil is separated out. Historically, this was done using a stone press operated by livestock. While the olives were pressed without the addition of heat, this doesn't mean that the heat created by the friction of the stones didn't come into play. As more and more pressings occurred throughout the day, the olives would be exposed to some heat. Hence, the "first" cold pressing meant there was the least amount of friction heat, and was of the highest quality and saved for the upper class (via EXAU Olive Oil).

Nowadays, stone pressing to extract olive oil is rare. Most extraction is done with a mechanical centrifuge that separates the oil from the flesh and pits, per The Olive Oil Company. The modernized process carefully regulates the temperature to ensure the quality of the oil remains intact. In addition, legally, anything labeled "extra-virgin" olive oil must come from a first press. Alas, there really is no such thing as a "first cold pressing" of olive oil anymore, and it's now just a marketing term.