Olive Oil 101

November 06, 2011

Confused about the different selections in the olive oil section. Well this quick reference 101 will cut through the clutter and help you shop smarter

Olive oil is extracted from the crop of olives found on olive trees. Therefore, the factors that go into producing a great wine are similar to those for producing great oil: tree variety, climate, soil ripeness at harvest and age all help to determine the qualities of an olive oil. So, cooking with olive oil is akin to cooking with wine. The best-quality product and an enjoyable flavor profile are essential.

How to Buy: Quality olive oils are highly aromatic with a fruity to delicate fresh flavor. The lower the acidity, the less tangy and smoother the oil will taste. Buy small quantities, in dark bottles or tins, and use within 3 months after opening. Remember, a high price does not guarantee quality; be sure to read the labels when selecting olive oils, and sampling (whenever possible) is the best way to discover an oil you’ll enjoy.

What to look for on the Label: All olive oils have the same amount of calories and fat regardless of variety or source. Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil and 95% of all olive oil comes from the Mediterranean region. International Olive Oil Institute (IOOI) sets standards for varieties: imports from Spanish, French, Greek, Italian and domestically produced California olive oils brands meet IOOI standards.

Choices: There are many varieties of olive oil. Some are best eaten dipped in bread, on a salad or in for sautéing. Olive oils flavor, color and fragrance can vary depending on where the crop is grown. The best olive oils are cold pressed, which results in low acidity of less than one percent. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is cold pressed and therefore the least processed. It is high quality, fruity, and the most expensive. Virgin olive oil is higher in acidity at 1-3 percent.

Pure olive oils: blends of refined and unrefined oils; lower quality.

Light olive oils are filtered which gives them a lighter color, milder flavor and a higher smoke point. Light olive oils can be used with higher heat and are perfect for frying.

How to Use: extra virgin olive oil is best used for dressings and vinaigrettes; drizzled on baked potatoes, pasta or cooked vegetables; brushed before serving onto fish or meat; or as a replacement for butter when making mashed potatoes. Enjoy the subtleties of the flavors drizzled over a hearty soup just before serving or over toast rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with herbs.

How to Store: Away from light or heat. Unopened bottles are good for 1 year if kept in a cool dark place.

Health Benefits: Mono and poly-unsaturated fats, antioxidants, Vitamins E, and no cholesterol – extra virgin olive oil boast the highest nutrient content of all the types of olive oil.

Smarter Shopping: Read label carefully, some labels may say “packed in” vs. “product of” which indicates where the product was bottled and not the regional source of the olives.

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