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Taste Test: The Best Everyday Olive Oils

Taste Test: The Best Everyday Olive Oils


Our picks for the best everyday olive oils show that "all-purpose" shouldn't mean no-flavor.

While this pantry staple can (and should) be found in most any kitchen, there are a few lesser known facts that should be considered:

• Regular olive oil is considered less flavorful and more all-purpose than extra-virgin, but these brands show they can do more than sweat onions and moisten a cake.
• Air, heat, and light are the enemies of oil. Store it in a cool, dark place to prolong its shelf life; replace every 6 months.
• Olive oil is high in fat (14 grams per tablespoon) but contains mostly the heart-healthy monounsaturated variety.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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BEST ALL-AROUND: Crisco Pure Olive Oil, $5.62 (16.9 ounces)
Surprise! The shortening folks produced the olive oil that tasted most like extra-virgin. Its earthy flavor and nutty aftertaste make it well suited for a vinaigrette or a stand-alone dressing.

BEST ON A BUDGET: Great Value Pure Olive Oil, $4.68 (17 ounces)
This oil's clean, fresh taste is the perfect backdrop for sautéing veggies like mushrooms and onions, but its grassy finish was something we savored with a simple slice of crusty bread.

WORTH A SPLURGE: Colavita Olive Oil, $10.29 (17 ounces)
Although pricier than others, this oil's subtle oaky aroma, buttery flavor, and light body make it ideal for accenting soups, sauces, or marinades.


How to Buy Olive Oil: Our Test Kitchen's Guide

A cheat sheet to shopping for olive oil, plus our food editors' favorites.

Outside of salt and pepper, olive oil is probably the most ubiquitous ingredient in the American kitchen (a whopping 7,780 recipes call for it on our site alone!). Yet it&aposs often the least understood-with the sheer number of options available at the market these days, plus all the marketing jargon on the bottles, choosing an oil can be tricky business. Here&aposs what you need to know when buying olive oil, plus our test kitchen&aposs top picks.


“Most expensive is best” is a myth—Phil Meldrum of FOODMatch

Phil Meldrum is CEO of FOODMatch, a producer and importer of Mediterranean specialty foods with a focus on olives, antipasti, and ingredients. FoodMatch partners with growers and now supports communities throughout the Mediterranean, preserving the way of life of generations past for generations to come, as well as protecting the biodiversity and ecological integrity of the environment in these regions.

Among many other Mediterranean products, FOODMatch sells extra-virgin olive oils from Greece, Spain and the US. In addition to years of business and personal traveling and tasting, buying and selling, Phil is also a great cook. No surprise that he has some great advice about buying olive oil.

Phil believes the biggest myth is that the most expensive is the best. People ask him “what is the best olive oil?” There isn’t one. Once you reach a certain level of quality extra-virgin olive oil, and if it is fresh and if it has been stored properly, it’s about personal preference. He enjoys many different oils from earlier harvests that tend to be more pungent to later-harvest, sweeter oils.

The key is to explore. Have an everyday extra-virgin olive oil for dressings and cooking, and then explore other oils for dipping bread or a punch of flavor drizzled to finish a dish. His everyday oil is a sweet, fruity oil from Crete, and he also enjoys Nocellara Del Belice varietal from Sicily, and sometimes a pungent Picual oil from Spain, or a milder oil from California. Tunisia is also producing some nice extra-virgin olive oils. They are all enjoyable. There is no best. It’s fun to experience the different taste profile every time you open a new bottle. There is no need to break the bank for an excellent extra-virgin olive oil.

Finally, be sure to store your extra-virgin olive oil properly—in a cool, dry, dark cupboard, away from heat.


Photo: Andy Kruse

I blind tasted six California olive oils that are part of the California Olive Oil Council 2015 Seal Certification Program. Managing Producer Sally Swift poured each into a clear plastic cup and labeled it with a number. I smelled and tasted each oil, then selected my favorite.

Olive oil 1: Bozzano Olive Ranch A2 Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($18.95, 375 mL)

This olive oil almost smells a little bit like tomatoes it has a little bit of a flowery, fruity overtone. The aftertaste makes me cough because it's so peppery and aggressive. [Hear Lynne taste this olive oil at 1:50 in the audio.] This would be great on bitter greens.

Olive oil 2: Seka Hills Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($18, 500 mL)

This smells like fresh-cut grass. It's very gentle and very buttery. The aftertaste -- you have to wait a few moments -- is still catching in my throat. There is a suggestion of pepper, but it's very mellow.

Olive oil 3: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($12.59, 500 mL)

This olive oil has a very subtle fragrance. It tastes like walnuts or hazelnuts, but definitely nuts. It's very subtle. The aftertaste is oily.

Olive oil 4: ENZO Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Medium ($17.99, 500 mL)

This olive oil tastes like grass with a suggestion of artichoke. This one is a little flat. It's so subtle, it's almost not there. With the aftertaste there is none of the catch in the throat. I would say this is in the buttery category, but a little on the dull side.

Olive oil 5: Bondolio Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($30, 500 mL)

This olive oil looks a little cloudy. It tastes like fresh-cut hay. It's an oil you can eat.

Olive oil 6: Katz Chef's Pick Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($26, 500 mL)

The aroma has a sweetness to it, then you get this bitter overtone of artichoke. It's really a nice oil.


How I Tested

These are Instagram olive oils, so I left the formal tasting process at work and tried out these bottles in their natural habitat: an impromptu dinner party in Brooklyn apartment, along with a few glasses of good wine.

First, I gathered olive oils most fit for an Instagram flat-lay post: Brightland, Oracle Oil, Mr. Pete’s, and Wonder Valley. Then, I assembled a group of people I know to be especially adept at voicing their opinions, including my boyfriend and his business partner (both of whom are chefs), and her girlfriend. We sampled each oil blind, and they gave me feedback as we tasted.


I Started Using Good Olive Oil — and I'm Never Going Back

I have a confession that would make Ina Garten cringe.

Ever since I started grocery shopping for myself, I've aimed to cut costs where I can. One of those spots? Olive oil. Since I use olive oil pretty frequently when I cook, I would always reach for the cheapest version at the supermarket as an attempt to keep my grocery bill down.

And it worked. Well, for a while.

A few years ago, I was introduced to a company called California Olive Ranch (psst … it’s actually a FN editor favorite!) and, let's just say, my view on things changed.

“Olive oil is a healthy fat and one of the most important ingredients to weave into your daily diet,” says Maia Hirschbein, an oleologist for California Olive Ranch. “Investing in a high-quality extra virgin olive oil helps ensure you’ll truly get the health benefits from the oil and that oil will be flavorful.”

You see, many of the lighter olive oils you find at the grocery store are made with heat or solvents that can ultimately hinder its quality or taste. Many high-quality brands make their extra-virgin oil using only mechanical methods, preserving its vibrant flavor.

Recently, I was at an olive oil tasting (really!) where we compared higher quality oils with cheaper finds. The difference was night and day. The quality oils were smooth and could be consumed on their own, while the cheaper ones tasted like what I imaging biting right into a crayon must be like (not that I've ever tried that). And unfortunately, that unsettling, crayon taste stayed with me for longer than I would’ve liked.

“The reason the average supermarket brand leaves a waxy, greasy texture in your mouth is because either the oxidation process has started impacting the quality of the olive oil, which likely means it wasn’t stored properly, or it was made with overripe or low quality olives to begin with,” Hirschbein explained.

The good news though is you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get your hands on the good stuff. California Olive Ranch’s Everyday Olive Oil, their versatile blend and my favorite flavor, goes for just $11 on Cost Plus World Market and around $17 on Amazon right now. It’s not exactly cheap, but not ridiculously expensive, either.

So how can you tell if you're picking up a quality bottle?

“First, make sure the bottle has a dark hue and it clearly states Extra Virgin Olive Oil,” Hirschbein says. “Take a few moments to explore the back of the label: Make sure there is a harvest date within the last year and a seal certifying it’s truly extra virgin.”


California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil

California Olive Ranch, $13 for 500 mL

When a Redditor asked the community to help them find an affordable, quality olive oil, the responses were varied, but one came out on top. California Olive Ranch seems to have lead the way in the case of the Golden State's olive boom of the early 21st century. The CA-based brand's extra virgin olive oil is available in several varieties (though our favorite is Everyday) and is perfect for roasting vegetables, frying eggs, and replacing butter in baked goods. It's more mild flavor makes it more versatile, but you still get a slight peppery aftertaste courtesy of the high levels of the polyphenol oleocanthal — a mark of quality in olive oils that also reduces inflammation. All that at about $13 for 500 mL.

In 2018, New York Magazine listed California Olive Ranch's product as the "Best oils for everyday use." Author of Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, says California Olive Ranch Everyday is "a good beginner olive oil" that's both "affordable" and "versatile." Likewise, author of Eating Between the Lines: The Supermarket Shopper's Guide to the Truth Behind Food Labels Kimberly Lord Steward also claims she uses California Olive Ranch as they manage to maintain the integrity of the oil while keeping the overall price at an affordable rate.


Extra virgin olive oil – a Yotam Ottolenghi taste test

B ritain is still in love with extra virgin olive oil it seems, but not at any cost. A report this week from market analysts Kantar Worldpanel shows shoppers bought almost 5% more over the year, but sales for brands like Napolina, Don Mario, and Filippo Berio slid, thanks to the premiums' average price rise of 16%. People are turning to own label versions, and, while some of those lack flavour, others are fine.

Cost-wise, it makes sense to have two or three oils on the go at once – a cheaper variety for basic dressings and frying and a more expensive one for that final drizzle. The oil I want to dip my bread in, or use to finish off a dish, is highly aromatic but with the freshness of newly cut grass. The oil I drizzle over a simply cooked bit of fish is, similarly, smooth, velvety, fresh and balanced. The oil I use for everyday dressings, on the other hand, is less grassy and aromatic, and more one-note: punchy flavours can be brought in from garlic, honey, mustard, and salt. Perk up cheaper oils by infusing them – gently heat some oil with a long, shaved strip of lemon or orange rind, and let it sit for a few hours before drizzling over a salad or sweet dish. Chilli flakes, sprigs of rosemary, and sage leaves also work very well. The better performing supermarket oils in my blind taste test will work well for this.

The premium brand
Filippo Berio
500ml, £2.75
Lots of body, good round flavour, heading towards grassy: a nice sweetness
4/5

Supermarket own brands

Sainsburys
500ml, £2.10
Quite pleasant, nice freshness, no grassy notes
3.5/5

Tesco
500ml, £2.25
A bit of unpleasant bitterness, rather one-note
3/5

Waitrose
500ml, £2.50
Nice olivey flavour, lacking acidity, medium-body
3/5

Co-operative
500ml, £2.29
Nice and smooth, with a fresh taste
3/5

Don Mario, Iceland
750ml, £3
Completely inoffensive but with little flavour, not at all grassy
2/5

Primadonna, Lidl
750ml, £1.99
Inoffensive but one-note, a bit too light
2/5

Marks & Spencer
500ml, £5
This one, at almost twice the price of the premium brand above, is totally lacking in character
2/5


Frequently Asked Questions

Why Does Having Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil Matter?

Extra virgin olive oil contains a range of health benefits, in part due to its high monounsaturated fat content (similar to avocados) but also due to its high polyphenol content polyphenols are naturally occurring, plant-based compounds that act as powerful antioxidants in the body.   The polyphenol content in extra virgin oil can range considerably and is not typically labeled on the bottle.

Extra virgin oils that are older, harvested from overripe olives, improperly processed, or poorly-stored and exposed to a lot of heat and light will not have a high level of polyphenols. They are also more likely to taste rancid. While not fool-proof, a good rule of thumb when searching for oil is to look for the harvest date on the bottle and make sure it is at least within the last year. Because olive oil is used by many so frequently and often on a daily basis, it is worth paying attention to where it comes from to get the most out of it for its taste and health benefits.

How Do Olive Oil Subscriptions Differ From What Is Found in the Supermarket?

The olive oils in this list are from reputable companies that pride themselves on proper harvesting, processing, and bottling as well as traceability of its oil from “orchard to bottle.” The companies have made commitments to not only selling good extra virgin olive oil, but educating consumers on the nuances of different oils and how to differentiate a high-quality olive oil from a lesser one. While it may be possible to find high-quality olive oils in your local grocery store from some of these brands or others, be wary of some of the top-selling, mainstream ones. They can either be rancid due to subpar storage conditions, made from damaged and overripe olives, processed improperly, or mixed with cheaper, refined oils.

Who Should Sign Up for an Olive Oil Subscription?

Olive oil subscriptions are great for those who want to stay regularly stocked with high-quality extra virgin olive oil and want to know where it's coming from. Subscriptions are also usually less expensive than buying the same oil off the shelf, since many brands offer discounts to their customers. Certain subscriptions can also be a great opportunity to try new olive oils and learn about their differences.

Can I Cook With Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Absolutely. True, high-quality extra virgin olive oil is actually extremely stable when exposed to heat, contrary to what many people may think. While it isn’t good to heat any oil to the point of smoking, using it in daily cooking preparations including sauteing, roasting, and even shallow-frying is perfectly fine and healthier than using vegetable oils, which are actually more likely to break down when heated and form harmful compounds.


Buying Guide

We asked the tasters in our olive oil review to comment on the appearance, flavor, and aftertaste of five oils: Colavita ($6.59 for 250 ml, or 78 cents per ounce), Bertolli ($8.49 for 500 ml, or 50 cents per ounce), Pompeian ($4.19 for 250 ml, also 50 cents per ounce), Goya ($3.99 for 250 ml, or 47 cents per ounce), and Trader Joe's President's Reserve ($5.99 for 1 liter, or 18 cents per ounce). The tasters did not know which oils they were sampling the contenders were decanted into similar containers and labeled A through E. All were extra virgin, generally considered the best variety for dunking or drizzling.

While it seemed safe to assume that Colavita, the most expensive brand, would sweep the tasting, to our amazement, the winner was relatively cheap Goya. The tasters described it as "lemony" with a "peppery aftertaste" and very little bitterness. What's more, another cheap brand, Pompeian, emerged as our runner-up for best olive oil.


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