Tips for Buying

Buying olive oil can be a daunting task when faced with all the choices that are available on the supermarket shelves.  However, with a little knowledge, and a simple checklist, you will be able to throw out more than half of these, leaving you with the better to best quality olive oils.

A dark-tinted glass bottle or a tin. Exposure to light and heat will destroy an oil’s flavour, which is why you should avoid anything sold in a clear container, especially a plastic one.  At home, stow your oil in a cabinet away from the stove.

“Extra virgin” on the label. Purified and refined oils, labelled simply “olive oil” or “pure olive oil,” are often made with lower-quality, processed oils that have little taste. Extra-virgin oils undergo minimal processing, so their flavor and aroma molecules remain intact. Delve deeper in this area in the section “olive oil grades”.

A harvest or best-by date on the label.  Oil does not improve with age.  Look for a date stamp to make sure you are not buying anything more than 18 months old.

An estate name on the label.  Small producers who grow and press their own olives often include the name of their estate on the bottle.  Chances are, you won’t recognize the name, but that doesn’t matter.  Having any name on the label is a sign of quality.

The EU and the country of origin’s organic seal.  This seal means that about 95% of the oil is made from olives grown without the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.  The seal is typically an indicator of a good product.

What about the things you should dismiss as not important information?

Oil color.  Color can vary widely, depending on, among other things, the type of olives used and at what point they were pressed.  

“First cold pressed” on the label.    This term relates to old-fashioned and rarely used methods of oil production.

“Product of” on the label.  If an oil is labelled “product of Italy,” that signifies only that the oil was packed and shipped in Italy.  The olives could have been grown, harvested, and pressed in, say, Tunisia, Greece, or Spain.  To find out where an oil really comes from, look at the estate name.

Color can vary widely, depending on, among other things, the type of olives used and at what point they were pressed.