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10 Tips When Buying Olive Oil

When shopping for olive oil, consumers are faced with a wide range of options. Multiple brands vie for attention through bottle and label design, brand building, and marketing claims. Here is what you need to know.

1. Choosing the right type of olive oil depends on how much flavor is needed, what the cooking usage will be, and the available budget. It also helps to understand the classifications and common marketing terms used on olive oil labels.

2. “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” (EVOO) is the most flavorful and the healthiest olive oil, because it is naturally produced without heat or chemicals. It retains healthy antioxidants from the olives. The range of flavors is very broad, similar to wines. The oil may be strong and peppery, mild and buttery, or anywhere in between. The natural variations result in a wide smoke point range, from about 350 degrees Fahrenheit to about 410 degrees Fahrenheit. This range is high enough for most at-home cooking. Extra virgin olive oil can be used for sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying. To highlight the many flavor profiles, extra virgin olive oil does best in cold applications like drizzling, dipping, dressings and marinades.

3. “First Press,” “Cold Pressed” or “Cold Extracted” – Extra Virgin Olive Oils may use these marketing terms. Extra virgin olive oil is produced by crushing the olives without adding any heat or using any chemicals and in fact, all extra virgin olive oil is produced this way even if the label doesn’t call it out. Extra virgin olive oils might list the type of olive or olives the oil was made from, as well as the country or region the olives were grown. Like wine, these indicators help suggest the typical flavors consumers might expect from that oil. Some manufacturers blend different extra virgin olive oils together in order to offer a consistent flavor profile all the time. Also like wine, the best way to determine which ones to buy is through trying different oils with different foods.

4. “Refined Olive Oil” – During production, oil with high acidity or flavor or aroma defects will be refined to remove the defects, resulting in Refined Olive Oil. Refining removes odors and flavors using heat and physical or chemical processes. Most seed and nut oils are solvent-extracted and then refined; refined olive oil begins with the natural extraction from the olives and the following refining process for olive oil does not involve solvents such as hexane.

5. “Olive Oil” is a blend of refined olive oil with some virgin or extra virgin olive oil added back for flavor. Olive oil has a mild olive flavor, making it a great oil to substitute for other common cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil without changing the taste of the recipe. Because it is mostly refined, olive oil has a higher and more consistent smoke point range from about 390 degrees to about 470 degrees Fahrenheit. Baked goods made with olive oil have a light texture and stay moist longer than those made with other common cooking oils. Olive oil’s subtle flavor and heat resistance make it well-suited for dressings, marinades, sautéing, grilling, roasting, baking and pan-frying.

6. “Classic” or “Pure” Olive Oil is the same as Olive Oil and always refers to a blend of refined oil with some EVOO or Virgin Olive Oil added for flavor.

7. “Light Flavor” or “Light Tasting” Olive Oil – These labels indicate there is very little virgin olive oil in the blend and therefore a very subtle flavor. It’s important to note that the fat and calories are actually the same in ALL grades of olive oil.

8. “Imported From” or “Packed In” – These labels indicate the country the oil was bottled in or exported from. The “Product Of” terminology indicates where the olives were grown.

9. “Harvest Date”, “Packed on Date”, or “Best by Date” – These dates are important because unlike wine, olive oil does NOT get better with age. When choosing a bottle at the store, check for a best by date that is further out and make sure the bottle doesn’t show signs of mishandling or age, such as oil drips or leaks. Avoid buying oils with an orange-y color if in a clear bottle, or dust on the bottle suggesting it has been on the shelf a long time. When oil is properly stored in a cool, dark place, it should keep in the original sealed packaging for about 18 months to 2 years.

10. Ultimately, experimenting with different olive oils for different types of cooking will help you find the brands that best match your needs.

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