Olive oil is great for health and is always in demand. Unfortunately, too many producers pass off subpar oils as top quality products. Is it possible to choose the very best olive oil?

How to choose an olive oil

  • Always opt for extra virgin olive oil: this oil was extracted from olives using mechanical pressing and is likely to be lower in acidity. Only first-pressed oils can be called extra-virgin, what’s more, this term means that no chemicals, solvents, or heat were used to obtain the juice of fresh olives.
  • Do not confuse ‘extra virgin’ oil with merely ‘virgin’ one that is usually pressed from riper (i.e. lower quality) olives or comes from the second pressing.
  • ‘Light’, ‘pure’, ‘refined’ and ‘purified’ olive oils were chemically processed to improve their taste and odor – mainly because they were obtained from olives of questionable quality. Such oils usually don’t have the antioxidant benefits of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • On the other hand, ‘extra virgin’ only refers to how the oil was extracted and says nothing about the quality of olives. Thus, extra virgin oils might greatly differ in taste and odor, and many products that are (truly) marked as extra virgin, are actually blends of substandard olive oils.
  • Do not rely on the color of the olive oil to determine its quality. The color of the olive juice is mainly influenced by the level of chlorophyll in the olives and ranges from deep green to yellowy gold.
  • Many people believe that the best olive oil comes from Italy. However, even if the label on the bottle says that the oil was produced in Italy, it might actually mean that olives were brought to Italy from other Mediterranean countries (like Tunisia or Turkey), and the oil was only pressed and bottled there.
  • Olive oil does not age well and is only good for about two years after it was pressed (and only if it was stored in optimum conditions). You can tell a bottle of quality olive oil by its having the ‘pressing’ or ‘harvest’ date on the label. Always buy the freshest oil possible.
  • As olive oil easily goes rancid if exposed to light, only buy olive oils bottled in dark-colored glass. Do not by olive oil if it is bottled in plastic: you cannot know what chemicals (including BPA) it contains.
  • It is also reasonable to buy olive oil from a reputable seller: there is no way for you to know how the oil has been treated in transit from Europe, and if it has been overheated, the oil’s quality will go down considerably. Shop at stores that specialize in olive oil, farmer’s markets, and gourmet food stores.
  • If it is possible, taste the sample of the oil you are going to buy. It should taste ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ and ‘grassy’ and have a bitter aftertaste.
  • If you can’t taste the oil, ask whether it is possible to smell it. High-quality olive oil should smell fresh: like herbs or fresh cut grass. If the smell of the oil reminds you of moldy cheese, bad salami, or stale peanuts, the oil is likely to be rancid.
  • Last but not least, olive oils made in California are often higher in quality than oils from European countries. If the label on the bottle of olive oil from the Golden State says ‘extra virgin’, you can be sure that the manufacturer is on the level.