When shopping for olive oil, consumers are faced with a wide range of options. Multiple brands vie for attention through bottle and label design, brand building, and marketing claims. Here is what you need to know.
1. Choosing the right type of olive oil depends on how much flavor is needed, what the cooking usage will be, and the available budget. It also helps to understand the classifications and common marketing terms used on olive oil labels.
2. “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” (EVOO) is the most flavorful and the healthiest olive oil, because it is naturally produced without heat or chemicals. It retains healthy antioxidants from the olives. The range of flavors is very broad, similar to wines. The oil may be strong and peppery, mild and buttery, or anywhere in between. The natural variations result in a wide smoke point range, from about 350 degrees Fahrenheit to about 410 degrees Fahrenheit. This range is high enough for most at-home cooking.
3. “First Press,” “Cold Pressed” or “Cold Extracted” – Extra Virgin Olive Oils may use these marketing terms. Extra virgin olive oil is produced by crushing the olives without adding any heat or using any chemicals and in fact, all extra virgin olive oil is produced this way even if the label doesn’t call it out.
4. “Refined Olive Oil” – During production, oil with high acidity or flavor or aroma defects will be refined to remove the defects, resulting in Refined Olive Oil. Refining removes odors and flavors using heat and physical or chemical processes.
5. “Olive Oil” is a blend of refined olive oil with some virgin or extra virgin olive oil added back for flavor. Olive oil has a mild olive flavor, making it a great oil to substitute for other common cooking oils like vegetable oil and canola oil without changing the taste of the recipe. Because it is mostly refined, olive oil has a higher and more consistent smoke point range from about 390 degrees to about 470 degrees Fahrenheit.
6. “Classic” or “Pure” Olive Oil is the same as Olive Oil and always refers to a blend of refined oil with some EVOO or Virgin Olive Oil added for flavor.
7. “Light Flavor” or “Light Tasting” Olive Oil – These labels indicate there is very little virgin olive oil in the blend and therefore a very subtle flavor. It’s important to note that the fat and calories are actually the same in ALL grades of olive oil.
8. “Imported From” or “Packed In” – These labels indicate the country the oil was bottled in or exported from. The “Product Of” terminology indicates where the olives were grown.
9. “Harvest Date”, “Packed on Date”, or “Best by Date” – These dates are important because unlike wine, olive oil does NOT get better with age. When choosing a bottle at the store, check for a best by date that is further out and make sure the bottle doesn’t show signs of mishandling or age, such as oil drips or leaks.
10. Ultimately, experimenting with different olive oils for different types of cooking will help you find the brands that best match your needs.