So You're at the Store...An Olive Oil Buyer's Guide

Try these buying tips for reading labels and ensuring you get the best extra virgin olive oil for your money.

  • Olive Oil with Herbs
    Check the label carefully before purchasing extra virgin olive oil.
    Photo by iStock

  • Olive Oil with Herbs

While you can find many of the best olive oils by purchasing them directly from a supplier, you will inevitably find yourself staring at a row of bottles at your local grocery store at some point. Although a label can never guarantee an excellent olive oil made at the highest standards, a tipoff to lower-quality bottles would certainly be the absence of the following information. Check the label!

What: At the very least, the label should read “extra virgin” rather than “pure,” “light,” “olive oil” or “olive pomace oil,” all of which indicate the oil has been refined chemically.

Where: Quality olive oil should include on the label the exact mill where it was produced. Note that this is not the same as being “packed in” or “bottled in” some location other than where the olives were actually grown and harvested.

When: Freshness is the biggest determinant of both nutrition and flavor. If possible, choose bottles with a date of harvest within the previous year. If the precise harvest date is not listed, your next best bet is to look for a “best by” date as far out as possible. “Best by” dates should be about two years after the oil was bottled (though, unfortunately, not necessarily when the olives were harvested).

How Acidic? Oxidized? Polyphenolic?

If the bottle includes a free fatty acidity (FFA) rating, look for a number as close to zero as possible. Levels above 0.5 are likely to be inferior. A peroxide value, which reveals how much an oil has been oxidized, should also be as low as possible, and ideally below 10 meq/kg (milliequivalents per kilo). If an oil’s polyphenol levels are high, this indicates healthfulness and flavor. Below 300 is low; above 500 is high, and also carries more bitterness and pepperiness.

More Buying Tips

• Avoid bottles with sediment on the bottom, which can spoil the oil and make it taste muddy.
• If you want strong-flavored oils, look for “robust” or “early harvest” on the label. For milder flavors, look for  “delicate” or “late harvest.”
• Though high cost never guarantees quality, if you’re paying less than $10 for a liter of olive oil, it is probably inferior quality.

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