June 9th, 2010

On Buying Olive Oil


So the Spanish olive oils I tasted in Toronto were great, but as far as I know, the specific ones I tasted are not sold here (though I did see a Pagos de Baldio olive oil listed on the Delicias de EspaƱa website). That’s fine; there are plenty of good olive oils from major producing countries like Spain, Italy and Greece (in order of production) and some newer producing regions like South Africa, California and Argentina.

But what if you’re buying olive oil at the grocery store? Unless you know one you already like and don’t think of changing olive oils each time you visit (like I often do usually because I don’t love my supermarket choices), what should you be looking for? Especially when you can’t taste it.

Smith offered the following tips via email:

  • Look for a best before date and dark bottles. Olive oil degrades under lighting of grocery stores or light coming through a store window. I’ve seen oils with greenish tones that have become golden yellow just under direct lighting in a store.
  • Avoid “light” olive oil. This is refined olive oil that had very high acidity and too many taste defects. “Olive oil” is a mix of refined and extra virgin, “pure olive oil” is not refined but can have some taste defects and higher acidity (broken down fatty acids due to quality of fruit and elaboration). Extra virgin is the best quality.
  • Don’t be influenced by marketing terms on the front label that are meaningless; for example, I’ve seen “superior quality olive oil,” “extraction only by mechanical means.” Terms of “cold pressed” and “first pressed” are tricky because any good producer is now automatically pressing only once and at lower temperatures. These terms are remnants of years ago when technology was not as advanced. Yet, they can confirm the producer’s interest in good elaboration as long as the producer also adds best before dates and a darker bottle. Also, some producers use the color of their oil for marketing purposes and show it off in clear bottles (e.g., a green oil). However, if I had a good quality product that I knew degrades under light and could not be sure of the conditions/how long would be in the store, I would bottle it in a dark bottle.

Still, the very best way to discover quality olive oils is, well, to taste them. Smith suggests you taste olive oil on its own and then with bread particularly if it’s and intense oil that your palate may not be accustomed to.

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6 Responses to “On Buying Olive Oil”

  1. Good tips! THanks!

  2. Very informative, thnx Paula. I now understand a little more what the difference is in olive oil. I’ve noticed they started putting the temp. the oil can tolerate used on high, medium temp. for cooking, very handy.

  3. Good information. Are there any brands carried at Publix you could recommend?

  4. Speaking of olive oil, there are new regulations going into effect on October 25, 2010 defining specific grades and “Labels such as “virgin” and “extra virgin” must now be scientifically verifiable, and mostly meaningless terms like “light” will be done away with.”


  5. This might be of interest. Many of the oilve oils sold by Italian brands are actually of Spanish, Greek or Turkish origin. Note the bottle label: When it says “Imported from Italy” that indicates it may well not be Italian in origin. Olive oils from Spain say ‘Product of Spain’. The Italian companies, mostly the larger ones, are playing a sleight of hand.

  6. This makes sense – great tips!

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