And How to Select a Good Bottle of Olive Oil


Olive oil is a large and complex subject matter. If you don't believe me, pick up a copy of Extra Virginity, by Tom Muller (W W Norton & Company, 2012.) In his book, Tom details the history and internal makings of the modern day Olive Oil business. It's a quick and very worthwhile read if you truely want to know what's actually inside that green-tinted bottle on your kitchen counter.

Like wine, there are many factors that impact the flavor and health qualities of the final bottle of olive juice that ends up on your grocery store shelf. When I ask people why they use olive oil, there are always two main answers: Flavor and health benefits. And I agree, you just can't beat the flavor of a good, fresh olive oil. And the health benefits of a mediterranian diet,usually filled with olive oil's Omega 9 fatty acids and health-boosting polyphenols, is hard to pass up. So it stands to reason that, if you are spending good money on a bottle of olive oil, you want to make sure that the flavor is there, and that you are getting all the health benefits you are looking for, right?

Although everyone’s preferences are different, there are a few things you should look for when selecting a bottle of olive oil to maximize your flavor and health benefits – and, like wine, not all the information you need is contained in the price.

1. The truth about virginity
The term, “Extra Virgin,” actually means something to Italians; it's a quality indicator for olive oils. It not only tells you how the olives where harvested and pressed (picked and pressed within 12 hours, using mechanical methods under slow, low-heat,) but it’s supposed to identify olive oils that have no off flavors, are not old or rancid, and have not been doctored or chemically treated in any way. HOWEVER, although the term, “Extra Virgin,” means something, it's not a regulated term – so, and here's the key - ANYONE can put the words, “Extra Virgin,” on their bottle of oil - whether or not what's in the bottle is actually Extra Virgin. So, you should never buy a bottle of olive oil that does,'t say, “Extra Virgin” on the label, but just because it does say “Extra Virgin”, does not mean it actually is. (Now, that's confusing!)

2. The truth about dates
In the Northern Hemisphere, olives are usually harvest some time in November or December. So, unless you are buying a "novello" or "nuovo" in December, the current harvest will be the prior year. So, for example, in January 2012, the most recent harvest year will be 2011.

3. The truth about origin
We only sell estate olive oils. That's because we want to actually know who grew and pressed the olives into juice. The name (and, in most cases, the address) of the grower and bottler should be the same, and the information should be printed on the bottle. The key is that we either know, or know someone who knows, all the olive oil producers whose olive oils we sell. It's just another way to ensure that what's in the bottle is actually Extra Virgin olive oil. If your bottle only says, "Made in Italy" or "Product of Italy", it's probably not estate olive oil, and there's a highly likelyhood that it's not even 100% olive oil. So why should you care? Because if it's not even 100% olive oil, then you are not getting the maximum flavor and health benefit that you are looking for, no matter how much you wish you were.

4. The truth about price
Although you can't assume that the higher the price the better the quality oil, you can bet that if you are spending less than about $20.00 for a half a liter of olive oil, that what you are buying is either not Extra Virgin, and probably not even 100% olive oil. It costs a certain amount of money to grow, harvest, press, bottle and ship a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. And, although I can't tell you exactly how much it costs, I can guarentee you it's more than $5.00 a bottle! If it flavor and healthy oil you are looking for, it's going to cost you, at least a little.

5. The truth about taste
Like wine, all good olive oils have a flavor that you can taste. So, what does good olive ol taste like? That's hard to say. Flavors can rage from soft and fruity, to green and grassy and peppery. It all depends on what variety of olive were used, where they were grown, and when they were picked (green or black or somewhere in between.) And, everyone's tastes and preferences are different -- which is a good thing! In an ideal world, you should taste an olive oil before you buy it. [That's why we have an olive oil tasting bar in our retail store in Seattle.] Unfortunately, when you're buying online, tasting an oil before you buy is a little difficult. But, at a minimum, you should read the tasting notes, and with time you will get to know what you like and don't like in an olive oil.

6. The truthful retailer
Finally, work with a retailer that knows what they are doing, stays on-top of their inventory, and is trustworthy. Olive oil is a lot like wine, in that since you can't always personally taste or inspect every bottle, you must often rely on someone else to do so for you. So, always buy from someone you trust.

Click here to see our selection of Extra Virgin Olive Oils

See our selection of Extra Virgin Olive Oils

Keywords: olive oil, extra virgin, harvest date, selection