What is the Best Olive Oil to Buy?
I follow your blog and am passionate health foodie who recently discovered Real Food and WAPF this year (well, last year). I have been devouring books and everything I can find. However I am still stumped on one issue. What type of olive oil do you think is best to buy? I know that we should look for one in a dark bottle, organic, with very little refining, cold pressed, from Italy, etc.. but I am having trouble discerning from all the brands! I currently have a Carapelli olive oil, but the taste is very strong (which I assume means it’s not very refined) but I just want to find a good olive oil (or two- a lighter and stronger tasting one) that has the most health benefits and as close to the real thing as possible (also without paying an arm and a leg). I would appreciate any info you can lend on the subject!
Thanks, Meagan from Mutritious Nuffin blog
Hi Meagan, welcome to Hartke is Online! I am so glad you are following the blog! Not being an olive oil expert myself, I have turned to two gentlemen who may have some insight for you, Stanley Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat cookbook, and Chris Kerston, owner of Chaffin Family Orchards. One is an expert in the culinary arts, the other an olive grower and seller of olives and olive oils. I hope you and the other readers will benefit from their ideas! I have been wondering about this myself, so I am really glad you asked!–Kimberly
Stanley Fishman responds:
The best olive oils are organic, unfiltered, extra virgin and handcrafted. This is as close to the original as you can get. Spain and Italy , in my opinion produce the best olive oil, though the Greeks, Portuguese, and French would disagree. I’ve also had an excellent olive oil from Argentina, but I can’t find it anymore.
Unfortunately, the best olive oils can be very expensive, especially the ones from Italy.
My favorite olive oil, which does not cost an arm and a leg, is Nunez De Prado from Spain.
It is organic, unfiltered, extra virgin and handcrafted. It contains all the lipids, enzymes, and nutrients that are lost when olive oil is filtered. The company started in 1795, and continues to use traditional methods to make its oil. The oil has a nice but not overpowering flavor, and is perfect for salad dressings and marinades. You can also use it for cooking, but many of the health benefits are lost when the oil gets hot. This oil is available at Whole Foods and the price is quite moderate for the quality.
For cooking, which destroys the lipids and enzymes, I use organic extra virgin olive oil from Spain or Italy. There are a number of brands available at various prices. It is crucial to check with the seller to make sure they test the oil though, because many of the less expensive olive oils are adulterated with Soy oil or Canola oil, which ruins them. I would also recommend visiting the producers website, so you can be satisfied that the oil is really organic and 100% olive oil.
My cookbook has many references to olive oil and recipes for its use, visit my website, Tender Grassfed Meat.
Chris Kerston responds:
Kimberly has suggested I shed some light on this issue. I love that you are committed to finding a high quality, trustworthy, nutrient dense olive oil. I want to address a couple of your questions here but I will start with what you should look for and cover some of the more specifics in a second.
First start with nothing less than an Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The U.S. has less stringent requirements for this claim than Europe does. In the U.S. though it does at least mean that it is supposed to be a cold pressed oil which is the best place to start. Of course make sure to find an oil that is grown to organic standards. The olive market has been in a slump the last few years and can’t support a lot of inputs so this might be easier to find now, but make sure to ask about potential artificial chemical applications every year you buy. A lot of growers will say the trees aren’t sprayed but won’t tell you if they are using fertilizer or herbicide on the orchard floor. Next I’d look for an unfiltered oil. Unfiltered oils will contain more sediment at the bottom of each bottle but it leaves more of the nutrient density intact for the eater. On some of the sharper or more robust oils this might be a little too intense but we have definitely been able to pull it off with our mild oil.
I try to suggest people stick with domestic oils. I think most of our domestic producers are doing a good job in maintaining integrity of the oil. The further you remove yourself from the grower the less you know about what is happening in the processing of that product. You want to find out as much about the orchards as you can before purchasing an oil. If you can find out how old the trees are. Older trees tend to produce better oils with a smoother more consistent flavor. Also you might ask about the conditions of the farm. The more the trees struggle the higher the polyphenol levels should be. A lot of oil now is coming from high density olives. These are olives trellised like grapes and then harvested mechanically. All of their nutrients are brought to them artificially. The olives do much less work to ward off disease or pests and then therefore produce less polyphenols. You can also ask if the farm tests their oil in a lab which will sometimes have a total phenol count as well as some other pertinent info.
I also recommend people only shop with oil producers who are specifically producing oil from their own olives that they grew themselves. I think a farm that is only using their own olives can be so much more sure about what happened to them during their life and speak directly of their integrity. If you can’t find this be sure you only buy a certified organic oil.
In terms of your comments about taste, flavor and level of refinement are not usually related (so long as you’re talking apples to apples and comparing an extra virgin to another extra virgin). Think more along the lines of wine. Olive variety, harvest time, management, locale, age of trees, and pressing style will all drastically change the flavor. There are as many olive oil flavors as there are colors of the rainbow and again like wine the flavor, though fairly consistent, of each variety will change a bit from year to year for every producer. As a rule of thumb early harvest (Oct-mid Dec) oils are much sharper than late harvest oils (mid-Dec on). Most places can’t harvest much past the end of January.
That brings up another good point. Olives are a once a year crop. People are always asking for “fresh” oil all year round. Any olive oil worth it’s weight ought to be able to keep well for at least a year so long as it is stored properly. Good olive oils should last 2+ years. The flavors will change a bit as the oil changes, usually in a positive way, but you should not taste rancidity within that time frame. Understand though that like most food products heat, light, and oxygen are your biggest enemies. Oxygen probably being the worst of those three. Most producers including ourselves ship gallons of EVOO in plastic containers. This is because they are affordable and it’s very scary trying to ship larger containers of olive oil in glass or anything breakable. I recommend people transfer the olive oil to dark glass containers upon arrival. Five clean sterilized wine bottles will hold a gallon. Just be sure you have a way to seal them well. Remember that oxygen exposure will drastically decrease shelf life. Also store away from light and heat so don’t put the oil in a cupboard above or near the stove.
I like your point about having at least two different styles of olive oil. Each oil has its own place in the kitchen. Don’t get hung up too much on color or flavor from a health standpoint. There are healthy nutrient dense mild oils out there. That’s the market we have tried to master and I think we have done a good job. A lot of people buy our oil specifically for making mayonnaise. You cannot make mayo with a grassy oil. We use Mission Olives from our 100yr old organically farmed trees. Mission’s are an heirloom variety notorious for their buttery mild flavors. On that same end of the spectrum I have had some oils that are even sweet; so much so that I would consider putting it on pancakes. Sweet oil is not something I go for!
But, it shows how wide the flavor spectrum is. I like a good “California style” smooth mild oil. It’s very sexy right now to produce Spanish or European style olive oils. Most Americans don’t have a palate developed to such sharp flavors. European literature often states that a good oil should cause an involuntary cough. That doesn’t go over well with the average American buyer.
As a last tip try to buy a small quantity of oil before buying in bulk. You will pay more in shipping and price per unit on the smaller bottle but it’s worth it to try before stocking up. Once you have a few oils you like ask about purchasing by the gallon or 5 gallon container depending on how much quantity you use in a year.
We have more information about our oil and how we farm it differently in our webstore at Chaffin Family Orchards.
Readers, What Do You Think?
Hartke is Online! readers, what is your two cents worth on this issue? Do you have a favorite Olive Oil? If so, tell us about it in the comments, below. By the way, here is a blog contest for the best olive oil recipe, go and vote for your favorite finalist on Nourished Kitchen blog, plus a special promo for Chaffin Family olive oil.Paid Endorsement Disclosure: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of renumeration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.