Olive oil — particularly the virgin and extra virgin varieties — offers health benefits thanks to its monounsaturated fat content, which is connected to heart health and weight control. It's also versatile, as it can be used to sautee vegetables, bake meats and even replace butter in some recipes.
The region where your olive oil comes from may have an effect on the flavor of the foods you eat, though, so it's important to know some of the differences between the most common olive oils: Spanish and Italian.
One difference between Spanish olive oil and Italian olive oil is color. Spanish olive oil typically has a golden yellow color, while Italian oil tends to be darker green.
This has to do with the climate in Italy being more temperate year-round as compared to Spain. The thickness of the olive oil does not tend to differ, though.
Another difference between Spanish and Italian olive oils is their flavor. Spanish oil often has a fruity, nutty flavor. Italian oil, on the other hand, has more of a grassy flavor with an herbal aroma. You may not be able to tell much of a taste difference between the oils, though, as they're sometimes mixed together or added to oils from other countries.
Italian virgin olive oil has higher levels of cycloartenol than Spanish virgin olive oil, according to the book Olive Oil: Chemistry and Technology by Dimitrios Boskou. Cycloartenol is a sterol that lowers the amount of cholesterol moving through the body and also increases the excretion of bile, lowering acidity in the body.
Cycloartenol also tends to be higher in Italian virgin olive oil than Italian solvent-extracted oils, which means the type of olive oil you purchase is just as important as where it comes from (if not moreso).
Is There Really a Difference?
One of the reasons you may not notice much of a difference between Spanish and Italian olive oils is because they are mixed into the same bottle.
Despite the fact that many labels on olive oils say "Product of Italy," they're actually a combination of several countries' oils — including Italy, Spain and Greece — but were packaged in Italy. This is partially due to the fact that Italy doesn't have enough olive trees to support supplying international demand for the oil.
Chef and writer David Lebovitz recommends not worrying about the country of origin of olive oil and instead focus on the taste and quality of the product.