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Ask Kirstin: Understanding Olive Oil Grades; Choosing Non-fishy Fish


Here I help you understand the difference in various types of olive oil, and offer you seafood suggestions for those who dislike “fishy” fish.


What is the difference between pure and virgin olive oil? — Anders A.

Regular or Pure, or Light Olive Oil (for high heat cooking like sauteing or when you need a neutral flavored oil):

This olive oil is usually the least expensive. Since it is basically the bottom of the barrel it has to be refined and filtered to remove both the bitter flavors and acid content. This means a lot of the flavors we love have been lost, and it is not as nutritious, however since it has been purified it has a higher smoke point than extra virgin olive oil, so it is good to use in the pan or oven. By the way, “light” does not mean “low fat”, it means light in flavor.

Virgin Olive Oil (for marinades, roasting and dressings):

Virgin olive oil is the result of the olives pressed with hardly any further manipulation or processing, hence the term “virgin”. This milder flavored olive oil is good for marinades, everyday salad dressings, pestos and for roasting vegetables with.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for dressings and drizzling):

This is a high quality olive oil since it comes from the first press. It is delicious just as it is, with lots of flavor so it is perfect for dipping bread, salad dressings, and for drizzling on dishes after they have been cooked.

Cold Pressed Olive Oil (for dressings, drizzling, and general fanciness):

Cold pressed olive oil is the fanciest and most precious of all. Usually this means the farmer used the best olives and they were cold pressed with care to make sure that all the flavors and health benefits remain intact. This is the olive oil you use when you really want to showcase it, so use it in cold or room temperature dishes, for dipping, drizzling and dressings that have just been gently whisked, or for drizzling on hot dishes after they have cooked. This olive oil not recommended to cook with as you will lose a lot of the flavors you paid dearly for.


Often when I make soup this gray stuff floats on top. Is there a way to avoid it? — K.S.L.

You are most likely making a meat based soup and the gray stuff is lipoproteins, a fearsome name, but really just innocent meat bits that have coagulated. You will not be able to taste them in the end, but they do make your soup cloudy, so if you want a clear soup it helps first to rinse your meat really well, then once your soup starts to simmer (don’t let it get to roiling boil, that just agitates those scummy bits more) place the pot half on the burner and half off. This will create a hot and cool spot and the scum will float to the cooler side. Use one of those nifty soup skimmers you can get cheaply in Asian cookware shops and gently remove the offending scum.


We want to start eating more fish, but my kids won’t eat anything that is “fishy.” Can you recommend mild tasting fish? — D. Morgan

First of all, the fresher the fish the less fishy it will taste, so that means that sometimes you are better off buying fish that was flash frozen on the ship and defrosting it yourself (not the kind your supermarket defrosted for you, you never know how long ago that was, so request it still frozen.)

The rule of thumb is white fish = mild taste. Black cod, mahi mahi, white fish, tilapia, flounder (Pacific sole, California halibut), sand dabs, snapper. Unfortunately everyone likes these fish, sometimes to the detriment of the fish population, so check in with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program (click here for their recommendations) to make sure your choices are good ones.

Once your children are ready to try salmon, do try our “Soy Good Salmon”. It is sweet and savory, easy and so good. My favorite way to turn non fish eaters into happy fish eaters.


Want to “Ask Kirstin” for help in the kitchen? Send your questions to And check out the “Ask Kirstin” Archive.


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2 Responses

  1. Iris says:

    Great advice!

  2. Bobbie says:

    You answered my question, what is the best type of oiive oil for a salad. Thank you

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