Navigating your way through the bevy of olive oils on the market

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Are you confused by the shelves upon shelves of olive oils staring back at you in the supermarket? The myriad brands and grades are overwhelming, and the range in prices makes things even more confusing. Which one should you buy? Stress no more! We’ve got your back. Read on for help navigating your way through the bevy of olive oils on the market.

Know The Basics
There are two different kinds of olive oil you should have in your kitchen: one you cook with and one you use as a condiment or a finishing component. Choose olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil when cooking. And make a dish sing with a healthy drizzle of the good stuff right before serving.

Cooking Olive Oils are intended for cooking and are typically less expensive than the full-bodied oils that you want to use on a dish right before serving. Filippo Berio and Bertolli both make good cooking oil versions. Their mild flavor means they won’t overpower a dish, so if you have other flavors you want to shine through, you can rest assured that they will.

Condiment Olive Oils are generally more expensive than the cooking variety and typically provide a lot more flavor. These oils should be used to make dressings, dips, in place of butter on toast, or drizzled on top of finished dishes like pasta, vegetables, pizza, and grilled food.

Virgin, Extra-Virgin & Light
Olive oil is distributed and graded based on three things: flavor, acidity, and processing method. These grades are ultimately what will help you understand which olive oil to use and when. Check out the below for a quick primer on ranking.

Consider this the haute couture of olive oil. There are a lot of ins and outs to getting the “extra-virgin” certification, but suffice it to say that olive oil manufacturers must fit a set of standards as dictated by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC). The test is rated on a nine-point scale and only oils receiving a 6.5 or higher can claim the extra-virgin grade.

Extra-virgin olive oil must also be bitter, featuring a pleasant but sharp sensation on the tongue. Finally, it should exhibit pungent characteristics, meaning it should provide an aromatic and peppery taste in the mouth.

This oil, like extra-virgin, is pressed rather than refined — but it may have an acidity of 1 or 2%. Virgin olive oils must rank at least a 5.5 on the IOOC’s 9-point scale. In short, if this were the Academy Awards, Extra Virgin Olive Oil would receive Best Actor, and Virgin Olive Oil would receive Best Actor In A Supporting Role.

Though the term “light” when it comes to food typically means it is lower in fat, light olive oil simply means that the oil has been refined. This oil is more similar to canola, corn, and peanut oils and is thus perfect for cooking. Don’t use this as a dip or dressing on a salad, as it lacks almost any flavor.
What To Look For
The most important thing to remember when buying and tasting olive oil is that you are never going to drink it like a glass of wine. Olive oil is first and foremost an ingredient, and you should therefore consider how you are going to use it.

Breathe it in. While aromas vary depending on region, all good olive oil should exhibit a sense of freshness. If you’re getting notes of pepper, fresh cut grass, rosemary, or artichoke, you’re on the right track to buying good oil. If it doesn’t smell fresh or exhibits a smell of vinegar, crayons, or rotten apples, then chances are, the oil is rancid.

Many dispensers will forge the color of their oil to trick their consumers, so we don’t recommend choosing an olive oil simply based on color. However, in general, darker-green oil tends to be fruitier and grassy, while brighter, yellow-green oils are spicier and more peppery.

Take a sip of the oil and allow it to coat your mouth before you swallow. It should taste like olives and can also have hints of apples, herbs, grass, and pepper. Anything tangy or metallic-tasting means that the oil could be rancid. Rancid oil is a result of overexposure to light, heat, and oxygen.

Good oils should feel silky or creamy in your mouth. They should make their presence known by filling your senses with their aromas, but they should never coat or block your palate. Bottom line: If your mouth feels or tastes greasy afterwards, then the oil is bad.

While olive oil bottles look nice displayed on the kitchen counter, the oil is affected by direct exposure to sunlight and heat. Try to keep your oil in a cool, dark place and preferably in a darker bottle. If stored correctly, your oil should keep for several years.

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