7 Important Tips When Buying Olive Oil

Crisco Olive Oil

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.

Kroger Olive Oil

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.

Dellalo Olive Oil

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?

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  • Emily

    My husband’s family is Syrian, so we drizzle olive oil on pretty much everything. :) My favorite is on top of a plate of labneh, sprinkled with Penzey’s Black & Red, pita bread in hand. Yummy!

  • peggy

    Thank you for this. I use extra light (light-tasting it says sometimes) olive oil in place of butter in my baking. I realized now my choice was made by name recognition, color and price = not very informed.

    • Ciaran Saoirse

      How in the world can olive oil replace butter in baking? Wouldn’t it make your batter or dough runny? Besides, there’s nothing wrong with butter, but people have hysterics over it because of some made-up story about butter and saturated fat ‘causing’ heart disease, which has become ‘common knowledge’ because we accept it as true. It’s false. It’s really the trans-fats that are to blame. Heart disease was almost unheard-of until the shortening and vegetable oil and margarine companies starting pushing their products on the unsuspecting public. They also implicated coconut oil in their lies, so they could sell more product. it’s always about money money money. Anyone who knows anything about the subject knows butter and coconut oil are not to blame for heart disease. At least the body knows how to handle the fat in these foods, unlike the mangled molecules present in trans-fat artificial products.

      • Peggy

        Whoa! I said nothing about butter being bad.I LOVE butter but know it should be limited. Butter is much higher in saturated fat and cholesterol than olive oil plus, it’s expensive. I do my best to make all our baked goods from scratch-cookies, bread and such. I do lots of tweaking to my recipes to make them healthier. Most of the time I replace half of the butter with olive oil. It really depends on what I’m making.You should try it before making assumptions. I use 1/4cup +2Tbsp of olive oil to replace 1/2 cup of butter. It works great. The whole grain and whole grain flour I use probably helps keep the dough structure but I’ve noticed not much difference at all in the finished product.

        • Karen D

          There are some of us who cannot have any form of dairy due to food sensitivity. Thanks Peggy, it is nice to know about alternatives.

          • Ciaran Saoirse

            Why limit butter, if you can tolerate dairy? I come from a people who used cows for currency back in the day, so dairy sits quite well with me but I concede not everyone can manage it.

            But please be aware saturated fat and cholesterol aren’t the enemy folk make them out to be, especially not greedy oil manufacturers.

            OTOH I’ve heard talk that olive oil makes you fat, in direct contradiction about this so-called Mediterranean Diet. Frankly, things have got to the point where I don’t know up from down anymore.

          • peggy

            You keep asking questions so I keep having to answer! Saturated fat and cholesterol are unhealthy in anything but small amounts. High cholesterol can be genetic. I cook and bake for many who have heart disease and related issues. As I stated above another reason I limit butter because it’s expensive. I’m not sure where you live, but our options for butter come 1) from large factory operations motivated by money with no concern for the animal source or the environment 2) organic smaller operations that produce butter for sale at $5.00/lb. I think we are all trying to educate ourselves and make our own choices.

        • peggy

          Important point is to use extra light olive oil! :)

      • Tyler

        “Heart disease was almost unheard-of…” – I think besides other factors, it also had something to do with an active lifestyle. The activity level of today’s office workers who sit in front of a computer all day is nowhere comparable to that of the farmers, the ironsmiths, the hunters and the seamen of the old days. I’d guess that maybe the saturated fat in the butter/coconut milk didn’t affect those guys who had high metabolism; I don’t know for sure.

  • Ashley

    If you live in the South Bay in CA, check out Cloud 9 Olive Oil and Frontio Grove Olive Oil. They are both locally produced and not mixed with lower quality oil and certified by COOF. They are also family farmers!

  • MilaXX

    I gave up premade salad dressings, so my olive oil must have goof flavor

  • lena

    Also, I have read that different rules apply to imported oils from ex Italy and as a customer you should ne aware of that. tests showed that extra virgin olive oil from lots of Italian companies were not what it stated on the label. oils were impure and of less quality s well. It’s better to buy olive oil from ex California because American rules apply.

  • Michael

    What is the shelf life of good quality olive oil?

  • Kate

    While these are all good bits of advice for picking olive oil, the best by far is to choose an oil that lists both a harvest date and an expiration date on the label. The closer the harvest date, the fresher the oil. And if you’re looking for pure Italian olive oil, check for the DOP insignia on the bottle, guaranteeing a truly Italian oil. Without that, you can’t be sure what you’re buying.

  • Amy Keating

    Consumer Reports tested olive oil (published 9/12) and found some excellent and very good olive oils that are well priced and available in the grocery stores. There are other big names that did not fair as well. You should check out the story because the chemical analysis (%ffa) does not always tell the whole story. To be a EVOO, the oil must be free of flavor flaws – - we had experts judge the oils.

  • basily

    I would disagree with point #7. It really depends on where you live and how much cost is added to the oil due to tariffs, etc. In Greece (and I imagine other olive producing countries) recent years have seen a glut of oil and if you’re paying more than €2 a litre, you’re either getting ripped off, or it’s some sort of specialty oil – certified organic, infused, etc. Let me tell you some of that cheap, no-label, locally produced oil (every town and village has their oil) is diverse in flavour, rich and delicious.

  • OAllieG67

    Bought Bragg’s EVOO. The BEST I have EVER tasted! It’s unfiltered and unprocessed. 100% organic, GMO-free, and kosher-certified by the KAS. Has a light peppery finish that’s fabulous. Imported from Greece where the company owns its own trees! Truly, truly fabulous.