Too many extra virgin olive oils to choose from at your local supermarket or big box store? How in the world can you know which is best? Or what the difference is? Well, we have some tips.
Have you ever tasted olive oil directly from a spoon? By the time most people really taste the olive oil, it’s already in a hot sauté pan or mixed with spices. Try an extra virgin olive oil just like you would sample a wine or cheese. This is the best way to learn the differences, you could even do a wine, cheese, olive oil and vinegar tasting party and make it fun.
Six tips for selecting an olive oil –
- Make sure the olives are local within the country of origin. In other words, you don’t want the olives transported far even if the olives are from within the same country. Olives do not transport well and excessive storing can affect the taste. Look for the Denomination of Origin on the bottle or tin to find out if it’s local. This is ideal, but you can still get real olive oil without a ‘DO’ on the bottle, the cost of getting one can be expensive.
- Even though it’s an oil, fresh is very important. We spoke with an olive oil producer from Andalucia, Spain who said that if you want the real extra virgin olive oil taste, olives must be pressed within hours of picking the olives. This producer won’t use any olives even if they have fallen to the ground naturally. The producer must shake the branches so he knows that the fruit had just fallen onto their nets below the tree. So, imagine if the olive is transported or stored for any time at all!
Check for a ‘best before’ date. Be wary of oils that do not have a production or ‘best before’ date, many do not. Remember, olives are a fruit. When picked fresh and centrifuged, they have a limited shelf life. (Olives that are picked at the optimum time in November make the best tasting olive oil.) In fact, some olives will taste more bitter and some will taste less fruity towards the end of the year. This is just the nature of olives. As a general rule of thumb, the Spanish government says EVOO is good for 24 months.
- ‘Extra virgin first cold pressed’ doesn’t necessarily mean it was pressed within hours of picking the olive. It might be transported and stored and then, first pressed or centrifuged. Cold pressed is meaningless if the pressing takes place much later. These days, most olive oil is not pressed anyway. A centrifuge spins the olives, separating the oil from the olive meat. This is much more sanitary and no oxygen touches the olive oil (oxygen breaks down olive oil).
- Natural flavors are important, like in wine. The extra virgin olive oil should have identifiable flavors of vegetables, fruits, or grass and these tastes must not be infused. These are natural tastes that already exist in the olive oil. This chart might help (credit: aromadictionary.com).
- Price matters. If you love real extra virgin olive oil, make room in your budget. Good oil costs more but has a better taste, quality and even health benefits. If you are spending less than $18 on a retail size (16.9 oz) olive oil (given current exchange rates) you may not be getting the best quality oil. Especially if you’re buying those 2-3 liter bottles at big box stores. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. However, if you do find a good EVOO, you can get a cheaper price per liter if the store offers a larger size.
Kevin Connors is the Owner of A Taste for Life.