What to Look for When Buying Olive Oil

As long as you prepare your own meals … you always have a bottle of olive oil in your pantry – one of the most versatile ingredients in a chef’s arsenal, suitable for everything from dressings to dipping and braising. But there are several factors to consider when choosing the perfect bottle for your particular kitchen. When you look at the millions of options for olive oil in the grocery store, here are a few things to look out for on the label.

Check the date

You’re probably used to testing dates on chilled foods like milk and eggs, but be sure to do the same with olive oil. According to the University of California-Davis Olive Center , top growers will let you know when the olives have been harvested. Choose the most recent crop, which typically occurs in November and December in the northern hemisphere (for example, growers in California, Italy, and Spain) and in May and June in the southern hemisphere (for example, from growers in Australia or South America).

But don’t be fooled by the expiration date on an olive oil bottle, as this is typically two years from the time the bottle is filled and not from the time the olives are processed. This makes it an unreliable indicator of quality, according to UC Davis. For example, virgin olive oil is best used within 18 months of harvest, so it may disappear before the expiration date.

Look for the seal of quality

If you need olive oil that meets more stringent requirements than USDA minimum standards, you can obtain a quality seal from grower organizations such as the California Olive Oil Board (COOC) and the Australian Olive Oil Association. They require the olive oil to meet higher quality standards. But don’t just grab the first bottle with the gold seal: Other seals may not offer the same quality assurance, according to the University of California-Davis.

You can also see which olive oil has received this seal quality on the COOC and North America Olive Oil Association sites (NAOOA).

Understand the different types

There are different types of olive oil that can confuse the buying process a little. As we explained earlier, you will likely see three different types of olive oil in the store:

  • “Regular” Olive Oil: The bottle will simply say “olive oil” or “pure olive oil” to try to rise above its position. It is usually a mixture of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil, which means that at least some of it has been thermally and / or chemically treated. It has a fairly neutral flavor and can be used for all-purpose cooking.
  • Extra virgin olive oil : “EVOO” if you are a recent food blogger. It is a good unrefined food with the most color, flavor, and antioxidants. You can use this for cooking – just know that it has a fairly low smoke point (325 to 375 ° F) and that frying over high heat will wear away the flavor of the oil , so save the fancy stuff for finishing and (possibly) light frying.
  • “Light” oil: this oil is not high in calories, but has aroma and color. It is refined and has a higher smoke point of 465 ° F, so feel free to use it for frying.

Before you go to the store, consider what you want to use your olive oil for and use that to determine which variety you are buying.

Look for the region of origin

This is where things can get a little unclear. According to NAOOA , federal laws require olive oil producers to indicate their place of origin, but that can mean several different things. In an interview with Serious Eat , Nanny Coleman’s oleologist explains that the important part is that the bottle lists the country and region of origin .

Any good brand of olive oil will tell you where it comes from, which in itself speaks of quality. He notes that simply saying “Italian product” is not enough, because that could mean that it was just bottled and shipped from Italy, rather than manufactured there. Also, as NAOOA notes , blending olive oils from different countries is common to achieve a specific flavor profile, so don’t be alarmed if more than one country or region is listed.

As for the fact that some regions of olive oil production are better than others, it is like apples and oranges. Coleman says that no country or region has a monopoly on “good” olive oil, and that high quality olive oils are produced in Australia, the Americas, North and South Africa, and the Mediterranean.

Pay attention to the container

Keep olive oil away from heat and light, so it is important to store it in a suitable container . According to UC Davis, ideal containers are made from dark glass, tin or even clear glass, heavily labeled or boxed. And don’t ignore the placement on the shelves in the store: if the bottle is on the top shelf and is exposed to a lot of light, it can degrade its quality, notes COOC . The same goes for dusty bottles (which means it has probably sat for a while) or oils with an orange tint (which indicates excessive exposure to fluorescent lighting and / or heat), as recommended by the NAOOA .

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article, originally published in 2013, referenced the results of two UC Davis Olive Oil Center reports published in 2010 and 2011 . In an email to Lifehacker, a spokesperson for the University of California-Davis Olive Center explained that brands listed in these reports as not meeting certain olive oil standards have since made improvements. The spokesperson clarified that the best way for consumers to choose olive oil is through self-education, using resources provided by the University of California at Davis, as well as organizations such as COOC and NAOOA, which are referenced in this article. This story was updated on November 25, 2020 to replace obsolete links and bring content in line with the current Lifehacker style.

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