It seems like every other day we hear from nutrition experts about healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet, and how olive oil consumption is growing worldwide. And while most of us have automatically tagged olive oil as the go-to oil for dressing and cooking, very few know how to choose a good quality oil when shopping.
It’s a complex decision, because olive oil is not cheap, yet very easy to adulterate. It’s very hard to sniff out the fakes. Here are some important tips that will help you make a good decision.
1. Olive oil is not like wine. It does not get better with age. The three things that cause olive oil to go rancid are light, heat, and oxygen. If the olive oil you are buying is in a clear glass bottle, that’s not as good as a dark glass bottle. In any case, store your olive oil sealed, in a cool dark location.
2. Buy Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). Make sure the label states this explicitly. Buying oils labeled as “Pure” or “Light” does not guarantee the quality of oil, and most certainly means it is NOT Extra Virgin.
3. “Imported from Italy” and similar phrases mean diddly-squat, same for the nice pastoral images on the bottle. Italy does grow olives, but it is also the world’s largest importer of olive oil from countries such as Greece, Spain and Tunisia. Italian companies mix and bottle the oils, some of which are not the best quality. Some bottles include information about the region and a date that the olives were harvested – try for oil younger than 12 months.
4. If the label mentions FFA of 0.8% or lower (0.5% is really good), that is a plus. FFA stands for free fatty acidity (or just plain acidity). The higher the number, the more rancid the oil. Extra Virgin Olive Oil must be 0.8% or lower. Virgin Olive Oil must be 2.0% or lower.
5. Cold Pressed is a label that means that the extraction process of the oil from the olive took place at 27 degrees or lower. This means you are getting all the beneficial nutrients and antioxidants that may have been stripped out when oil is processed at a higher temperature.
6. The color of the olive oil does not really matter much. Similar to wine, there are hundreds of olive varietals, and their resulting oils each have distinct color, aroma, and flavor characteristics.
7. If an olive oil is cheaper than about $10 per liter (quart), it may have been mixed with lower quality oils. You see, making olive oil is an expensive business, and there’s a certain minimum cost to mauling trees, harvesting, and mechanically squeezing oil out of the fruit. Most other oils are extracted chemically from their respective crop.
Now that you’ve bought good quality olive oil, what do you drizzle it on?