Smell, taste and look before buying Olive Oil

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Whether you’re using it to saute vegetables or you’re drizzling it on bread sprinkled with sea salt, olive oil should enhance a dish or a snack. Yet many olive oils aren’t particularly good. That’s because bottles on store shelves that aren’t marked with a time stamp can be a blend of old and new oils that taste muddy, waxy or mouldy – signs that they’re past their peak, or even rancid.

In a 2012 report on olive oil sold to restaurants and food service sectors, the UC Davis Olive Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute in California found that some extra-virgin olive oils showed adulteration with canola oil. When tested, some were low on polyphenols, an antioxidant that factors into their health benefits. It’s a sign that the oils were old.

But despite the mysterious origins of some on the market, flavourful and interesting olive oils are returning to specialty stores, especially the new-crop olive oils produced in the fall. Whether they come from Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy or California, they offer a range of characteristics from very mild to surprisingly complex that are tied to blends more than terroir.

How to shop for olive oils

Steven Jenkins, the olive oil and cheese specialist for New York’s Fairway Markets says consumers should look for where an olive oil comes from, the types of olives, the blend and evidence of freshness – either a press date, which should be within the year, or the sell-by date, although most of those are for two years after the olives have been harvested.

Olive oil is safe to eat more than a year after it’s harvested, but it’s probably not at its best.

“We should be thinking of olive oil as a food, not as something processed with shelf stabilizers, like Crisco,” says David Lagnese, proprietor of the California Olive Oil Connection at the Farmers’ Market Cooperative of East Liberty.

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