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.

| Dec. 15, 2008

  • olive oil
    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.

  • olive oil

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.

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!!!!

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.

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