Tested, Tasted and Terrific Olive Oils

Olive oil not only tastes great, but is also great for your health. Here’s what makes a good olive oil good at both.
By Heidi Hunt
Dec. 15, 2008
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Good quality extra virgin olive oil, blended from a variety of olives, is a wonderful complement to salads, pastas and is especially good for dipping with bread.
FOTOLIA/RICCARDO BRUNI


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Olive oil has a variety of wonderful flavors — from mild to citrusy to peppery — that complement almost all meats, salads and vegetables. Whereas corn oil just tastes like, well, corn oil, the taste of a specific olive oil varies based on the region (this flavor variation is known as terroir, or the taste of place) where its olives were grown and the growing conditions at that time — much like wine.

But taste is not olive oil’s only virtue; it also contains a fat that is actually good for you. Olive oil is rich in Omega-3 fats and research has found that diets rich in Omega-3 — such as those common in the traditional Greek diet — have a lower risk of heart disease then those who consume the saturated fats of dairy products and red meat — which are common in the typical American diet.

Grades and Uses

The highest-quality olive oils come from the first cold pressing of the olive as soon after harvesting as possible, preferably within 24 hours, to minimize flavor-altering oxidation of the olive. Cold pressing entails no heat or chemicals; therefore, the flavor of the oil is not altered in the pressing process.

The International Olive Council in Madrid, Spain, sets the standards for olive oil grades. To be labeled ‘extra virgin,’ an oil must meet certain flavor standards, as well as have an oleic acid level of less than 0.8 percent. Oleic acid is related to the level of free fatty acids in the oil, which are a product of deterioration. The other two categories for food-quality olive oil are virgin (from the first pressing but with a higher acidity) and pure (a blend of refined and virgin oils). Light olive oil, a U.S. designation, refers to the light olive flavor of the oil and not its fat content.

The color of olive oil, golden to green, is an indication of the type of olive used to make the oil, and how ripe the olives were when they were harvested. Too green and the oil will be bitter, too ripe and the olives will have lost their essential flavors. A blend of a few green and mostly reddish-black olive varieties yields the best flavor.

Extra virgin olive oil is prone to oxidation, which alters the flavor. Plus, too much heat or light can make the oil turn rancid. So purchase smaller containers of this type, and keep them in a dark pantry at room temperature.

For your taste, find a good quality extra virgin oil whose flavor you really like for drizzling over pastas and salads, and dipping with a good crusty artisan bread. Heat alters the flavor of olive oil, so you can use a lower grade for cooking — virgin or pure — which has fewer subtle flavors.

Tastes

Recently the Mother Earth News editors tasted several extra virgin olive oils to see what we liked and didn’t like, and if we could detect their flavor differences. We know, what a tough job!

Many grocery stores carry half a dozen or so affordable brands of extra virgin olive oil, usually for less than $15 for a 17 ounce bottle. Of course, there are gourmet examples out there, such as Campo Corto Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which comes from Tuscany and costs $50 for a 16.9 ounce bottle.

Curious as we were about that one, we wanted to focus our evaluations on brands that are widely available. In the end, we tasted all of these oils, with incredible bread from Wheatfields Bakery of Lawrence, Kan.: Bertolli, Filippo Berio, Pompeian, Carapelli, DaVinci, Colavita and Newman’s Own Organic.

So what did we think? After thorough evaluations, the results came out all over the board! Remember that olive oils have varying tastes? Some folks really loved Pompeian, saying, “more olive flavor than others;” while others did not like that oil, calling it “bitter with an unpleasant aftertaste.”

Newman’s Own received the most consistently positive comments of the seven we tested. There are many more options out there, and we could probably bring ourselves to test olive oils again, but the bottom line seems to be personal preference and terroir.

So, we recommend you use extra virgin olive oil for non-cooked preparations such as pasta, salads and for dipping bread. Try a few small bottles and see which one your family prefers. Keep virgin or pure olive oil on hand for cooking. And remember to feel good about the olive oil you consume, as it is good for you, too.


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Post a comment below.

 

donna.griswold.5
5/2/2013 3:44:14 PM

I use queen creek olive oil made in queen creek az


Dave Goeking
8/1/2009 10:57:24 AM
I read the article and enjoyed it. I'm sorry to say that the oil that you get in the American supermarket isn't that great. My wife is Italian and we just retired in Crete Greece. There are over three million olive trees just on the island of Crete and one thing is for sure, the Greeks know how to press olives. We have the oil from Italy and it's better than the States, but in many peoples opinion here in Crete that Italian oil isn't that great. Good but not Great. There is several rumors that the Greeks sell most of the olive oil to Italy, Spain, France and Portugal. They say that the Italians blend their oil with the Greek oil and that's why there oil is fairly good. That's what the export to the States. Well, we have several Greek friends that always give us a couple liters of oil after they have their first press. Now that's GOOD, no GREAT!!!!

Chris_15
2/2/2009 2:04:36 PM
I really like Chaffin Family Orchards Olive Oil. They produce their olive oil from Mission Olives. Its the mildest most buttery oil I have ever tasted. You can buy it online at https://www.chaffinfamilyorchards.com/store/results.php . I also worry about imitation olive oils. I think the best and maybe only way around this is to buy direct from farmers. Use sites like local harvest to help you locate reputable farmers. If products aren't available local, call the farmer on the phone ask them your questions and tell them your concerns before having them ship you product. I think this is type of buying is best for both the grower and the eater as a dialogue between the two parties creates an understanding that is lost when food is sold through middle-men.

Sarah_1
12/23/2008 1:42:31 PM
I, too, am concerned about the fake olive oils out there. It sounds like not even the bottlers and distributers know if they're receiving the "good" stuff, so there's almost no way of knowing whether you're getting real olive oil or a colored and scented cheaper oil.

Linda_11
12/22/2008 2:01:46 PM
Hi Cathy, hope you are successful in your Olive Oil tree growing and having your own olive oil. we live in the South of Italy (Puglia) and we are in the olive oil season. we hand gather ours and take them to be cold pressed the same day. this is the best way and the percentage of acidity is 0.03 this year. it takes a month for the oil to settle in containr before you can use it. we have 17 olive trees, and 110 on some more land so plenty of oil. this year we hand picked 4 trees and the yield was 20 litres of beautiful oil. This was our first year into picking our own olives, so next year we should have many litres of oil, we hope to find a buyer. i hope Mother Earth can do the article on olive oil, its a fascinating process from tree to oil.

Joe320
12/22/2008 12:10:50 PM
TRIED THEM ALL! THE BEST OLIVE OIL IS FROM PORTUGAL. JUST CHECK FOR YOURSELF AND YOUL'LL AGREE.

Cathy Prescott
12/22/2008 8:14:15 AM
I, too, would appreciate an article on growing your own olive trees, how to harvest olives, and how to make olive oil. I live in Central Texas and there are a few companies in this area who are testing the feasibility of the olive industry. I would like to know more - how many trees one would have to plant to produce enough oil for a family, what kind of trees, etc. Thanks!

Richard_2
12/21/2008 12:29:15 AM
Good extra-virgin olive oils are available for much less than $15 for 17oz(1/2 litre)from many sources including warehouse clubs and markets specializing in imported foods. Supermarket prices are often the highest for even average quality oils. I typically pay about $9 per litre-34oz-at Trader Joe's for their best quality private label EV oil. I use it on and in everything requiring oil and have not used corn, soy or canola oils in years. If you use a lot of olive oil you can often purchase it economically in large tins and keep it cool, but not in the frig as it will solidify below about 40-45 degrees F.

Mon
12/20/2008 11:58:13 AM
I would love to see an article about fake olive oil as this is a huge issue. So many companies are diluting their oils by adding lesser grade oils such as canola. They have been fined (such as Carapelli) but it continues with some companies. It's a huge problem because there isn't enough policing for it. I'll love to know what to look for in classifications or certification. Or a list of oils that are guaranteed pure olive oil.

MARY ANN_2
12/19/2008 8:27:42 PM
HAVE YOU TRIED 'BARIANNIS'.COM IT'S FABULOUS. ORIGINAL ITALIAN OLIVE GROWERS IN CALIFORNIA.

KIMBERLY Smith_2
12/19/2008 1:59:06 PM
How about an article on making your own olive oil? There are varieties that are quite hardy, and can be grown farther north, even. I use a lot of olive oil. Extra virgin is my favorite, as suggested, for salad oil and pasta. I keep a lot of virgin on hand for cooking and for soap making. Kim Blessed Farm, WA

April_1
12/19/2008 12:33:18 PM
A terrific olive oil that is widely available in the US is Red Island from Australia. I've never been a fan of any olive oils, but this one is absolutely fantastic. I buy it at my local grocer, you can check on their website for a grocer near you or you can purchase online. redislandaustralia.com Those who taste-tested for Mother Earth will be amazed if they try this guy - nothing else is close. I pay $12 for 500 mL (16 oz)--it's often on sale for $8.

Mike_5
12/17/2008 4:50:16 PM
If you are from the Napa Valley area in California (or anywhere within a days drive) I suggest you find the Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufactory in St. Helena, CA. I believe They have the best Olive Oil made in the US. I live on the east coast but I make a point of stopping there to get olive oil whenever I'm out in California. They only sell locally or in person so it's a hassle to have to pickup but I think the quality is worth it! Oh - and bring cash or check, they don't take plastic!








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