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Taste Test: The Best Extra Virgin Olive Oils

Taste Test: The Best Extra Virgin Olive Oils


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We tested 14 well-priced EVOOs that pass the authenticity test of Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity, meaning they are not cut with cheaper oils.

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This oil boasts a strong and slightly aggressive bite, but it's balanced beautifully with a deep, creamy richness. It's bright and buttery—like a firm avocado—and it ends with a faintly floral finish. It's a go-to oil for everything from salad dressings to soup drizzles, even dessert.

BEST OF THE BOLD

This one has loads of character packed into the tiniest of pours. It starts bright, even green-grassy. A stout peppery punch shows up at the end. It was by far the most pungent oil we tasted—it begs to have crusty bread dipped in it—but is balanced enough for a simple pasta or seafood dish.


A Guide To Olive Oil Tasting

Want to instantly make your next dinner party more interactive and memorable? Turn it into an olive oil tasting party!

Like wine, high quality olive oils can range quite a bit in flavor depending on a variety of factors, including the types of olives used, when the olives are picked, how the oil is made and growing conditions such as climate and irrigation—all of which affect levels of polyphenols and other sensory compounds.

Case in point: Olive oil made with green, unripe olives picked early in the growing season often have more intense, vibrant flavors described as peppery, grassy, herbaceous and vegetal while ripe olives picked later in the season yield a smoother, ripe fruity olive oil. Some olive oils even have notes of green tea, tomato leaf, green apple, and artichoke!

Consider throwing an olive oil tasting as…

  • A precursor to an olive oil-themed dinner
  • An activity for a Mediterranean-themed party
  • A fun, booze-free date night idea
  • Part of a happy hour or cocktail party (gotta balance out those Aperol Spritzes!)

In addition to being just plain fun (and, you know, making you seem cultured), an olive oil tasting can help you figure out what kind of olive oil you really like. Spoiler: Once you taste test some high quality olive oils, you may want to toss your generic supermarket EVOO.

How To Prepare For Your Olive Oil Tasting

There are a few basics every good olive oil tasting should include to feel extra legit. So be sure to grab these items before you get to sniffing and slurping:

  • 3 to 6 types of high quality olive oil
  • Tasting cups or small wine glasses
  • Palate cleansers—professionals use green apple slices and plain or seltzer water, but bread will be appreciated by most novices
  • Spit cup (optional, but recommended if you’re tasting a lot of oils)
  • Pen and paper for notes, or an olive oil tasting sheet

Best Olive Oils For An Olive Oil Tasting

First and foremost: Don’t bother with anything but extra virgin olive oil—other types of olive oil, like pure olive oil or light olive oil, won't have the flavor nuance you need for an interesting tasting.

Within the EVOO category, there are three main flavor groups to consider: intense or robust, medium, and delicate or mild. Opt for an olive oil from each category, plus a supermarket option, since these tend to be milder and may help you notice additional differences in flavor and quality.

How To Taste Olive Oil

There are several basic steps to get the most out of your olive oil taste test. So gather your pals and follow this formula:

Pour about 1-2 tablespoons of oil into a small wine glass, snifter glass, or official olive oil tasting glass. Ideally, the glass or cup will be tapered so the aroma can waft up to your nose, but it’s not essential. Cover your cup with your hand or a coaster to keep the aroma from dispersing.

Olive oils can look completely different from one another—from vibrant green to pale yellow, often depending on when the olives were harvested. So make a note of its appearance, viscosity, and color. But keep in mind, color is not necessarily indicative of better quality or flavor.

Swirl your cup, while covered, to help release the olive oil’s aromatic compounds.

Remove your hand or coaster, stick your nose in the top of the glass, and deeply inhale through your nose. First, take note of your initial reactions: Does it smell good or bad, strong or mild? Then, take a few more whiffs and note any specific smells you pick up.

Some specific aromatic and flavor descriptors used by olive oil pros include:

  • Fresh-cut grass
  • Green apple
  • Tomato leaf
  • Herbaceous (fresh green leafy)
  • Green or ripe banana
  • Floral
  • Buttery
  • Nutty
  • Green olive
  • Ripe olive

There are also smells that indicate your oil may be low quality, or stale:

  • Rancid: stale nuts, putty or crayons
  • Musty: mildew or mushrooms
  • Fusty: the smell of anaerobic fermentation, similar to decaying vegetation or a mushy brown Kalamata-style olive
  • Winey: wine, vinegar or nail polish aromas from aerobic fermentation

The best way to experience the full flavor of an olive oil is to slurp it—yep, things will get noisy!

  • Take a sip of olive oil, enough to coat your entire tongue and mouth. Hold it in your mouth to warm it a little and notice the flavors. Then suck some air through the oil to make a slurping sound. This releases volatiles and helps you pick up more aromas. Then, exhale through your nose.
  • While doing this, notice the “retronasal aroma” of the oil, or the aroma that enters the back of your nose from your throat while the oil is in your mouth. Additional aromatic compounds are released once the oil is in your mouth, so this aroma includes many more odors than when you simply sniff.
  • Notice how the taste of the oil compares to the smell, and write down some of the main flavors and additional aromas you notice. Use the descriptors listed above as a guide.
  • Swallow at least a small amount of the oil in order to assess the pungency (detected in the back of the throat). There’s no harm in swallowing all of it (olive oil is chock full of health benefits), but if you’re trying a bunch of oils, you may want to spit some of the sample. It's better to take a decent mouthful and spit most of it than to take a tiny sip and only wet the tip of your tongue.

Throughout this whole process, chat with your fellow olive oil tasters! Did someone pick up notes of lemon while you picked up fresh cut grass? Did someone else pick up tomato leaf or artichoke? Take additional sips and sniffs to try and notice flavors and aromas you may have missed. You’ll be amazed at the amount of nuance in just one oil.

This is the fun part, and it’s basically an instant conversation starter if you’re around new people.

Between oils, you want to “reset” your palate so you can fully experience the aromas and flavors of the next oil. Don’t eat anything that will linger in your mouth and impair your ability to taste, like spicy foods. The best palate cleanser is green apple slices followed with a sip of water or plain seltzer. Bread doesn't do much to cleanse the palate, but it will absorb some oil and give the taste buds a break.

Repeat this process with your remaining olive oils, compare their taste, and keep track of your favorites!

Olive Oil Tasting Sheet

Consider creating your own olive oil tasting sheet (or find one online) to fill out for each oil. Consider including a list of different sensory descriptors that you can circle, a rating scale from 1 to 5 to note the intensity of each oil’s aroma and flavor, and space for additional notes.


Olive oil qual­ity has been promi­nent in the news recently, with head­lines telling us that our extra vir­gin olive oil might not really be extra vir­gin.

A pall of sus­pi­cion has been cast over the kitchen cup­board how are we to know if that pretty bot­tle of olive oil has been lying about its extra vir­gin sta­tus? What’s a con­sumer to do?

It is true that there is some seri­ous hanky panky going on in the ranks of extra vir­gin olive oil. The issues of adul­ter­ation, mis­la­bel­ing and reg­u­la­tion are all real, com­plex and very impor­tant.

That does not mean, how­ever, that there is no hope for olive oil con­sumers until all these big issues are resolved. On the con­trary, by learn­ing a lit­tle, con­sumers can ben­e­fit a lot.

The log­i­cal place for an olive oil edu­ca­tion to start is with tast­ing. All the read­ing in the world isn’t going to mean a thing unless you can con­nect it to the sen­sory expe­ri­ence — the aroma and taste of olive oil.

Professional olive oil tasters sip the oil straight from lit­tle blue glasses that look like votive can­dle-hold­ers from your favorite café. Although ulti­mately we must remem­ber that olive oil is an ingre­di­ent in food, tast­ing it straight does have the advan­tage of giv­ing you a com­pletely undis­guised taste of the oil.

Olive Oil Tasting Glass

Don’t be scared. A lit­tle sip of olive oil won’t hurt you — it’s actu­ally very nice once you get used to the idea — and it will help you learn to rec­og­nize char­ac­ter­is­tics with­out the com­pli­ca­tion of other fla­vors.

The aro­mas of olive oil are a crit­i­cal part of its fla­vor. The best way to appre­ci­ate them is to pour a lit­tle bit of olive oil (a table­spoon or two) into a small wine­glass (or nifty blue tast­ing glass if you have it).

Cup the glass in one hand and cover it with the other to trap the aro­mas inside while you warm it up. Hold it, swirl it, warm it for a minute or two. Then stick your nose into the glass and take a good whiff of the aroma or ​ “ nose” of the olive oil.

You may notice the smell of fresh-cut grass, cin­na­mon, trop­i­cal fruits or other aro­mas of ripe or green olive fruit. This is a good time to point out that the word ​ “ fruity” in olive oil can refer to veg­etable notes, i.e. green olive fruit, as well as to ripe fruit notes. So think of arti­chokes, grass and herbs as ​ “ fruit” when you taste olive oils!

Now take a sip of the oil. Don’t be too wimpy about it if you don’t get a decent amount you won’t appre­ci­ate all the qual­i­ties of the oil because it is only get­ting on the tip of your tongue. You ide­ally want to get the impres­sions of the entire mouth and tongue.

Suck air through the oil to coax more aro­mas out of it, and then — this is impor­tant — close your mouth and breathe out through your nose. This ​ “ retronasal” per­cep­tion will give you a whole bunch of other fla­vor notes. Retronasal per­cep­tion is pos­si­ble because your mouth con­nects to your nose in the back. Now swal­low some or all of the oil.

Pungency is a pep­pery sen­sa­tion, detected in the throat, so swal­low­ing some oil is impor­tant. Pungency is a pos­i­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic of olive oil. It is a chem­i­cal irri­ta­tion, like the hot­ness of chilies, and equally appeal­ing once you get used to it.

Once you start to get into that spicy kick, it is hard to imag­ine life with­out it. Pungency can be very mild — just the tini­est tin­gle — or it can be intense enough to make you cough. Olive oil afi­ciona­dos will some­times refer to a one, two, or look out, a three-cough oil.

The third of the three pos­i­tive attrib­utes of olive oil, in addi­tion to fruity and pun­gent, is bit­ter. Bitterness, like pun­gency, is also an acquired taste. As any­one who has ever tasted an olive right off the tree can attest, bit­ter is a promi­nent taste in fresh olives.

Curing olives for the table, in fact, has to start with a deb­it­ter­ing process. Since olive oil is made from uncured olives, vary­ing degrees of bit­ter­ness can be found oil made from riper fruit will have lit­tle to no bit­ter­ness, oil made from greener fruit can be dis­tinctly bit­ter.

American taste hori­zons are broad­en­ing we are explor­ing bit­ter­ness with foods like dark choco­late, bit­ter salad greens and now, robust olive oils.

The fruity char­ac­ter­is­tics you may notice in the mouth include nutty, but­tery and other ripe fla­vors and a fuller spec­trum of green fruity notes. Another char­ac­ter­is­tic that is most pro­nounced in this retronasal per­cep­tion, is ran­cid­ity — we will explore that when we look at the com­mon defects of olive oil in another arti­cle. The tra­di­tional palate cleanser between olive oils is water, plain or sparkling, and slices of Granny Smith apple.

NYIOOC Taster Lina Smith

Once you have tasted an olive oil plain, the next step is to taste it in com­bi­na­tion with food. This is where olive oil comes to life, as one of the fla­vors in a dish.

Wine presents a good anal­ogy: a wine that is great with food might not be appro­pri­ate as an aper­i­tif. Olive oil is the same: some­times an olive oil that seems over-the-top pun­gent and bit­ter by itself or with bread, is per­fec­tion itself when used to top a hearty bean soup.

Pairing olive oils and foods is an entire dis­cus­sion of its own, but for a great learn­ing expe­ri­ence, try three dif­fer­ent olive oils — one del­i­cate, one medium, one robust — with a vari­ety of items. Good choices are warm boiled pota­toes, fresh moz­zarella, ripe toma­toes, bread, warm cooked white beans, salad greens, sea­sonal cooked veg­eta­bles, grilled steak, poached or grilled chicken pretty much what­ever is for din­ner. Cook things sim­ply, with­out a lot of added sea­son­ings, but be sure you have some sea salt on hand.

Now taste pieces of the same food dipped in each of the oils. Notice how the fla­vors inter­act. Is it a har­mo­nious mix? A con­trast? Does one fla­vor over­whelm the other, or do they bal­ance well?

This is a fun thing to do with a group of friends: you can taste together and com­pare impres­sions. Add a cou­ple of wines — a red and a white — to com­plete the pair­ings, and you have your­self a din­ner party.


Extra virgin olive oil – a Yotam Ottolenghi taste test

B ritain is still in love with extra virgin olive oil it seems, but not at any cost. A report this week from market analysts Kantar Worldpanel shows shoppers bought almost 5% more over the year, but sales for brands like Napolina, Don Mario, and Filippo Berio slid, thanks to the premiums' average price rise of 16%. People are turning to own label versions, and, while some of those lack flavour, others are fine.

Cost-wise, it makes sense to have two or three oils on the go at once – a cheaper variety for basic dressings and frying and a more expensive one for that final drizzle. The oil I want to dip my bread in, or use to finish off a dish, is highly aromatic but with the freshness of newly cut grass. The oil I drizzle over a simply cooked bit of fish is, similarly, smooth, velvety, fresh and balanced. The oil I use for everyday dressings, on the other hand, is less grassy and aromatic, and more one-note: punchy flavours can be brought in from garlic, honey, mustard, and salt. Perk up cheaper oils by infusing them – gently heat some oil with a long, shaved strip of lemon or orange rind, and let it sit for a few hours before drizzling over a salad or sweet dish. Chilli flakes, sprigs of rosemary, and sage leaves also work very well. The better performing supermarket oils in my blind taste test will work well for this.

The premium brand
Filippo Berio
500ml, £2.75
Lots of body, good round flavour, heading towards grassy: a nice sweetness
4/5

Supermarket own brands

Sainsburys
500ml, £2.10
Quite pleasant, nice freshness, no grassy notes
3.5/5

Tesco
500ml, £2.25
A bit of unpleasant bitterness, rather one-note
3/5

Waitrose
500ml, £2.50
Nice olivey flavour, lacking acidity, medium-body
3/5

Co-operative
500ml, £2.29
Nice and smooth, with a fresh taste
3/5

Don Mario, Iceland
750ml, £3
Completely inoffensive but with little flavour, not at all grassy
2/5

Primadonna, Lidl
750ml, £1.99
Inoffensive but one-note, a bit too light
2/5

Marks & Spencer
500ml, £5
This one, at almost twice the price of the premium brand above, is totally lacking in character
2/5


Why Does My Olive Oil Taste Peppery?

I have purchased some very expensive olive oil, first pressed, extra virgin, etc . . . and yet sometimes there is a peppery taste to it and it even burns the throat. I&rsquove had to toss it out. Can you explain what has happened to the oil or what I should look for in the future to avoid this? Thanks, M.L.

Actually, the peppery or bitter taste is a sign of a desirable olive oil – one that is newly pressed with strong flavors, low acidity, and a high degree of antioxidants. As olive oil matures, the peppery flavor becomes milder. Many prefer olive oil with notes of black pepper. Connoisseurs actually consider coughing when the olive oil hits the back of the throat a good sign, which would explain why what you purchased was more expensive. Olive oil is distinctive, and prized, for its flavors – black pepper, fruitiness, etc.

Since you don&rsquot care for that flavor, you may want to avoid the Mediterranean oils and look for the milder oils. Avoid any that say ‘first pressed.’ I would aslo recommend that you go with a less acidic &ldquoVirgin&rdquo olive oil rather than &ldquoExtra-Virgin&rdquo olive oil. For your tastes, look for Ligurian oils over Tuscan oils – the Ligurian are more fruity and less peppery. Blended olive oils that are labeled ‘light’ or &ldquopure&rdquo may also be more palatable to you, and have a very mild olive oil flavor. You can experiment with different manufacturers to find the flavors that work best for you.


Supermarket Standoff

We have embarked on a taste test tour of supermarket foods. We nibble, we score, and we share the results to help you avoid the paralysis of Brand Choice Overload. Today's topic: extra virgin olive oil.

High-quality olive oil is not cheap. But you don't always need to use the good stuff: In the Test Kitchen we use less-expensive brands (like Fairway's, Trader Joe's, or Del Papa, which we buy in bulk) for sauteing, roasting, marinades, and other everyday tasks. For finishing dishes or dunking bread as a snack, we turn to the pricier, artisanal bottles. (Some of our favorites include Capezzana, Ceppo Antico, Olio Verde, and Vittorio Cassini.)

But not everyone wants to own two bottles of olive oil, maybe because of a small pantry or a tight budget. So we decided to find out which inexpensive olive oils could play double duty.

Yesterday the BA staff spent nearly an hour walking between bowls of supermarket olive oils, armed with cubes of ciabatta, dipping and scoring. See our three favorite brands after the jump. (We didn't rope in nutritionist Marissa Lippert this time around. These oils are all made of the same stuff: pressed olives. That's it.)

#1 Trader Joe's Spanish
Nutrition: One serving (1 Tbsp) = 120 calories, 14g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 0g carbs, 0g protein
Ingredients: 100% extra-virgin olive oil
Cost: $5.99 for a 33.8 fl. oz. bottle at Trader Joe's in New York, NY
Blind Tasting Notes: "Can really taste the olive" "Earthy" "Olive-y" "Mild and a little spicy" "Actually tastes like olives"

#2 Bertolli
Nutrition: One serving (1 Tbsp) = 120 calories, 14g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 0g carbs, 0g protein
Ingredients: 100% extra-virgin olive oil
Cost: $9.39 for a 25.5 fl. oz. bottle at Target in Brooklyn, NY
Blind Tasting Notes: "Smooth, flavorful--delicious" "Clean" "A little lemon-y" "Light and sweet on the tongue" "Saltier" "Subtle"

#3 Archer Farms
Nutrition: One serving (1 Tbsp) = 120 calories, 14g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 0g carbs, 0g protein
Ingredients: 100% extra-virgin olive oil
Cost: $10.99 for a 16.9 fl. oz. bottle at Target in Brooklyn, NY
Blind Tasting Notes: "I could see using this as an everyday cooking oil" "Mildly grassy" "Slightly bitter" "Pepper on throat"

Please note: Lucini actually won our taste test for flavor, but it's fairly expensive at around $17 a bottle. We revised our list to feature the top three olive oil brands under $12, but here's the Lucini breakdown for those of you who are interested--or flush with cash:

Lucini
Nutrition: One serving (1 Tbsp) = 120 calories, 14g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 0g carbs, 0g protein
Ingredients: 100% extra-virgin olive oil
Cost: $16.99 for a 1 pt. 1 fl. oz. bottle at Whole Foods in New York, NY
Blind Tasting Notes: "Well balanced: fruity, nutty, and pepper-y on the finish" "Good mouthfeel" "Very green--vegetal" "Lemon-y. Nice"


How to Taste Olive Oil

This season we partnered with the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) to offer a collection of the best extra-virgin olive oils on the market . COOC Education Coordinator Nancy Ash explained that like wine, oils should be tasted using a specific four-step method to best showcase and appreciate their flavors.

There are dozens of words tasters use to describe the flavors and characteristics of olive oils, but in general, extra-virgin oils fall into three categories: mild, medium and robust. Mild oils may be nutty, buttery, floral or fruity, with notes of ripe or tropical fruits. Medium oils may also have a fruity profile, but their aromas and flavors are reminiscent of underripe, green fruits. Many are herbal, grassy or vegetal. Finally, robust oils are strong in flavor, often described as woody, peppery or astringent, with a strong grassy flavor that lingers on the palate.

A couple of notes: Sip each oil “neat,” without bread or other food, in an odor-free environment. Professional tasters use blue glasses so they aren’t influenced by an oil’s color, which doesn’t indicate quality or flavor. To taste, follow the four S’s:

Cover the glass and allow it to gently warm in your hand, then swirl to release the oil’s aroma molecules. Keep the oil covered until you’re ready to sniff.

Uncover the oil and quickly inhale from the rim of the glass. Take note of the intensity and the description of the aroma.

Take a small sip of the oil while also “sipping” some air — this will emulsify the oil and spread it throughout your mouth. Note the retro-nasal aroma and the intensity of bitterness.

Since an oil’s pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat, you need to swallow at least a small amount to evaluate it properly. If the oil makes your throat scratchy or makes you want to cough, it is pungent.


Key considerations

Olive types and quality

There are three main grades of olive oil: pure olive oil, virgin olive oil, and extra-virgin olive oil.

If you’re interested in purchasing high-quality olive oil, opt for a bottle labeled extra-virgin — the time between picking and processing does not exceed 24 hours for this type of olive oil. Both virgin and extra-virgin oils are cold-pressed. Pure olive oil, however, is the lowest-quality form of the oil and is highly processed. It’s the lightest tasting product and lacks many of the healthy attributes of virgin and extra-virgin olive oils.

Labels that describe olive oils as light or lite do not refer to calorie content. The monikers are typically used to describe the mild taste of olive oils. Olive oils produced using single-source olives are often the priciest and have a distinct flavor profile. Check for labels that designate a product’s quality such as Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (DOP), California Olive Oil Council (COOC), and Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).

Health benefits of olive oil

Fat has gone in and out of fashion as an ingredient and is now back in vogue thanks to research that proves its value as a health food. The Mediterranean diet, long regarded as one of the healthiest diets on the planet, relies heavily on this type of fat. The healthiest olive oil form is extra-virgin. Because light or pure olive oils are so heavily processed, many of the healthful components are removed during the extraction process. Certain brands even dilute their olive oils with other neutral-tasting oils.

Extra-virgin olive oil is high in vitamin E and K. It also contains plenty of antioxidants, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. There’s also evidence that consuming extra-virgin olive oil protects against high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.


Last updated: 13 December 2017

'Extra virgin' is considered to be the highest grade of olive oil, produced from the pressing of good quality olives. But can you trust the label?

We put 23 extra virgin olive oils to the test to see if they meet international standards, and find out which oils taste best.

What you need to know

  • To be 'extra virgin' standard, olive oil needs to meet certain chemical and sensory criteria.
  • We tested 23 extra virgin olive oils bought from Australian retailers and found five didn't meet the criteria.
  • The oil may meet the criteria when it leaves the manufacturer, but poor storage and handling along the supply chain can cause it to degrade earlier than it should.
  • Labelling extra virgin olive oil with a "harvested on" date would give consumers a better idea of freshness than a "best before" date.
  • Store your olive oil in a cool, dark place and use within six months.

What does the 'extra virgin' label mean?

For an olive oil to be labelled extra virgin, the International Olive Council (IOC) says it must meet certain chemical criteria and be free from taste defects as determined by a sensory panel trained to IOC standards.

We carried out sensory analysis and three different chemical tests of the 23 oils using IOC-approved methods &ndash tests that are designed to check for signs of:

  • fruit damage
  • poor harvesting operations
  • poor storage of fruit or oil before processing or bottling
  • refining (such as bleaching or deodorising)
  • deterioration due to ageing
  • deterioration due to poor storage of the bottled oil.

Any of these issues could mean the oil isn't of extra virgin quality when you buy it &ndash even if it's within its best-before date.

The 18 oils that passed the chemical and sensory tests went on to be assessed in a show judging-style blind tasting. Trained tasters rated the oils out of 100, looking for well-balanced oils with good taste, aromas and fruity flavours.

Top tasting oils

The top five oils in our show judging were all produced in Australia, with Cobram Estate Classic Flavour scoring 85%, a result worthy of gold medal status. Tasters commented on its "intense fruity nose", "long pepper pungency" and notes of "citrus, artichoke, green corn, green banana and herbs".

Fellow Australian oils Red Island (79%), Maggie Beer (77%), Rosto Mellow and Woolworths Select Australian (both 76%), and Spanish oil Always Fresh (75%) all achieved silver medal status (75&ndash84%).

A further four oils, also from Spain &ndash Macro Organic Spanish and Moro El Primero (both 67%), La Espanola (66%) and Woolworths Select Spanish (65%) &ndash achieved bronze medal status (65&ndash74%).

See the table for details of all oils tested.

Top tasting oils

Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil Classic Flavour
Show judging score: 85%
Price per 100mL: $1.73

Red Island Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Show judging score: 79%
Price per 100mL: $1.29

Maggie Beer Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Show judging score: 77%
Price per 100mL: $2.93

Rosto Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil Mellow
Show judging score: 76%
Price per 100mL: $1.73

Woolworths Select Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Show judging score: 76%
Price per 100mL: $1.00

Always Fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Show judging score: 76%
Price per 100mL: $1.82

Sensory and chemical test failings

Five oils weren't included in the show judging because chemical or sensory test results fell outside the parameters for extra virgin olive oil as specified in the IOC trade standard. To get a better sense of whether the problem was specific to that particular bottle or batch, a new bottle from the same batch and a new bottle from a different batch for each of the five brands were sent to the lab for analysis. We sent the test results to the companies for their review.

Sensory test failings

The IOC-accredited sensory panel detected a "rancid" defect in the Minerva and Minos oil samples. A rancid defect is described by the IOC as the "flavour of oils which have undergone an intense process of oxidation". Subsequent tests found the same defect in a new bottle of the same batch for Minerva, but not in a third bottle (of a different batch) which we'd bought from a different store. The defect was detected in bottles from both batches of the Minos oil.

After conducting its own tests on a retention sample of the same batch of oil, Minerva presented us with evidence that its oil met extra virgin requirements both at the time of production and after having been kept in their cool and dark storage facility, suggesting that less-than-ideal storage conditions had resulted in the deterioration detected in the sample we tested.

A Minerva spokesperson tells us, "The organoleptic parameters of extra virgin olive oil depend largely on the storage conditions and probably the deviation found was due to storage under wrong conditions (e.g. exposure to light or heat)." She says, "We are fully confident that there is nothing wrong with our products which can definitely maintain their high quality till the best-before date when they are kept under the correct storage conditions."

The distributor for Minos similarly suggested the rancid findings in our test "resulted from storage, distribution and handling". A spokesperson says, "It is important to note that given the samples were only months away from best-before date, they have spent longer time in the distribution channel potentially exposed to heat and light." She adds, "Minos is a quality EVOO product that has always passed lab tests to qualify it for EVOO status."

The panel detected a "fusty/muddy sediment" defect in the Squeaky Gate The All Rounder Classic & Fruity oil, a defect which &ndash according to the IOC &ndash is "the characteristic flavour of oil obtained from olives piled or stored in such conditions as to have undergone an advanced stage of anaerobic fermentation, or of oil which has been left in contact with the sediment that settles in underground tanks and vats and which has also undergone a process of anaerobic fermentation".

The panel detected the same defect in a second bottle of the same batch (bought from a different store in case the first bottle had been affected by poor storage conditions at the retail level), while the third bottle tested (from a different batch) was defect-free. Both samples from the first batch also had the highest FFA percentages in our test, indicating potential damage to the fruit at the time of crushing.

Squeaky Gate says our findings aren't consistent with the results of its own testing of a retention sample for the batch in question. A spokesperson tells us, "Squeaky Gate employs a robust quality assurance and self-testing regime on an ongoing basis with all of its product batches. On top of farmers' own quality control at production of the olive oil, Squeaky Gate adds further layers of quality control, accreditations and a program of stringent testing including via IOC-accredited laboratories."

The spokesperson goes on to say, "Unfortunately, Squeaky Gate is not able to control its product through the distribution chain once sold to a wholesaler or retailer, where transport and storage conditions (or even uncontrolled sample transport as in the case of this review) may contribute to a change in the intended taste-profile over time, possibly even degradation of the sample."

Chemical test failings

Results for one of the three components of the UV absorption test done on the Bertolli Organic and Pukara Estate oils were slightly higher than the limit specified in the IOC standard, indicating the oils may have degraded during storage &ndash despite both being well within their best-before dates. Repeating the test on a new bottle of the same batch produced a similar result for Pukara Estate, and a result just under the limit for Bertolli. Samples from a different batch of both oils met the standard.

While oils must meet the specified UV absorbance parameters at the time of production, the IOC standard notes it's up to commercial partners in the country of sale whether or not they require compliance with this particular UV absorbance limit when the oil is made available to the end consumer. This caveat isn't present in the Australian Standard for olive oil.

Responding to our communications, Stuart Maher, managing director of Deoleo Australia and New Zealand, said, "We welcome the results of the CHOICE Extra Virgin Olive Oil Test, which confirm both Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Originale and Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Organic are high-quality, 100% extra virgin olive oils with an enjoyable flavour profile."

Steve Goodchild of Pukara Estate and signatory to the Australian Olive Association (AOA)'s code of practice, told us it's of concern to him that the test results indicate the oil had aged faster than expected when compared to the same oil stored in more suitable conditions.

"The real concern in this case is that the oil wouldn't meet the best-before date indicated on the bottle, which again highlights the negative impact of UV light and higher ambient temperature sensitivity of the product when it is exposed to the harsher conditions out there in the market place," he says. "The link between the producer, transport and the retailer are key to achieving the best-before dates that are forecast by the producer.&rdquo

Date markings and shelf life

Unlike wine, extra virgin olive oil doesn't improve with age. It instead starts to deteriorate from the moment it's pressed from the fruit, affecting both taste and nutritional value, so freshness is essential to oil's quality. The closer to its production you use it, the better. For this reason, local oils often have the edge over imported as they're able to reach the supermarket shelf faster.

'Harvested on' or 'pressed on' dates are the best indication of oil freshness, but few products have them on the label, so we're reliant on the accuracy of the best-before date &ndash a prediction of the length of time a product will retain its quality parameters (a timeframe also known as shelf life).

Different oils degrade at different rates, depending on their chemical composition. Testing of Australian olive oils over five years, for example, found that the true potential shelf life ranges from as low as six months to more than 30 months, with only 40% of oils showing a potential shelf life of more than 18 months. The widely used 'two years from bottling' rule of thumb for best-before labelling is therefore likely to be optimistic.

The importance and benefits of best-before date accuracy is increasingly being acknowledged by industry. The AOA has long recommended a model for predicting shelf life based on a series of quality tests, although it's expensive &ndash perhaps prohibitively so for smaller producers. More recently a prediction based on one test only &ndash less accurate but cheaper &ndash has been proposed.

These models work on the assumption that oils are stored in ideal conditions, which in reality is not often the case. So formulas need to be tweaked accordingly.

We need better labelling

Since the implementation of the Australian Standard for olive oil in 2011, the proportion of oils &ndash both imported and Australian &ndash meeting quality requirements for EVOO has increased, according to Peter McFarlane, whose business monitors compliance with the voluntary AOA Code of Practice protocols. And certainly our recent test results are an improvement on those in our 2010 test when half the oils failed. But there's still room for improvement.

We should be able to trust that when we buy an extra virgin olive oil, it's exactly that. As consumers, we have no control over the transport and storage of oils before we buy them &ndash poor handling during this time is an issue for producers to follow up with distributors and retailers.

All we have to go on when selecting a good quality oil &ndash other than the brand &ndash is the date marking on the label. And unfortunately current labelling requirements don't help us choose the freshest.

We'd like to see extra virgin olive oil producers provide pressed-on or harvest dates on their labels, in conjunction with realistic best-before dates based on an objective test.

Top 5 tips for choosing and using olive oil

  1. Buy the freshest oil possible. Look for a "harvested on" date, as best-before dates aren't necessarily a good indicator of freshness.
  2. Don't buy oils from stores where they've been displayed near heat sources (such as refrigerator motors) or in a shop window where they're exposed to direct sunlight.
  3. Store in a cool dark place at home (i.e. not next to the stove/oven/window).
  4. Keep your oil tightly stoppered and use it in a timely manner. As a rule of thumb, buy a container size that matches your monthly consumption.
  5. Avoid using olive oil for cooking that requires very high oil temperatures (such as deep frying).

Is olive oil healthier?

Olive oil is rich in 'better for you' monounsaturated fats and contains a wide variety of valuable antioxidants. According to the Dietitian's Association of Australia, extra virgin olive oil is the main source of fat in a Mediterranean style diet, which research has found to be good for weight control and heart health.

It's a healthier substitute for saturated fats such as butter or palm oil, but bear in mind that it still contains the same amount of kilojoules as any other fat.

How we tested

We tested popular brands of olive oil, all labelled 'extra virgin', and excluding flavoured oils.

CHOICE buyers purchased the olive oil samples direct from retailers according to our own guidelines. At the time of testing each oil had a minimum of five months to go before its best-before date indicated on the label.

Our test includes both Australian and European oils, so for this article we've referenced the widely accepted IOC Trade Standard rather than the Australian Standard. For the quality criteria we've tested against, the limits &ndash though not the wording &ndash are the same in both standards. Signatories to the AOA Code of Practice must comply with the Australian Standard, but this is a voluntary standard.

We sent a single, unopened sample of each oil to the IOC-accredited NSW Department of Primary Industries Oil Testing Service at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute for chemical and sensory testing using IOC-approved methods. For any oil that failed a test, a new bottle from the same batch and a new bottle from a different batch was sent for analysis.

Chemical tests

According to the IOC trade standards, extra virgin olive oil must meet established limits for a range of quality criteria including free fatty acid (FFA) level, peroxide value (PV) and UV absorption at different wavelengths.

The FFA level is an indicator of oil quality &ndash the lower the percentage the better the quality. It provides a good indication of the fruit condition before crushing, care taken in producing the oil and oil storage conditions. The level can increase if the fruit is damaged, or due to poor handling and storage of fruit between harvest and processing, however it's fairly stable once the oil is bottled.

The PV is a measure of an oil's oxidation at any given time. High levels can indicate degradation of the oil during processing and storage (primarily through exposure to oxygen, heat or light).

The UV absorption test may also detect degradation of the oil during storage. UV absorption continues to rise as the oil ages. It may also detect the presence of refined oils.

Sensory test

Extra virgin olive oils must have fruity attributes and be free from defects as determined by an IOC-accredited sensory panel of at least eight tasters in order to meet the standard. Defects include fusty/muddy sediment, musty, rancid and winey-vinegary flavours.

Show judging tasting

Each oil that passed the chemical and sensory tests was included in a show judging-style tasting. Three trained tasters from the sensory panel tasted the oils "blind" and gave each oil a score out of 100.

Jargon buster

  • "Virgin" olive oil is extracted from olives by a mechanical process without using chemicals or excessive heat to ensure that it's not altered and that it retains its nutritional value.
  • "Extra virgin" olive oil, in addition to the above, has low acidity (0.8% or less) and should comply with other technical specifications, as well as being free from taste defects.
  • "Light", "lite" or "pure" olive oil has been refined through a combination of physical (heat) and chemical processes, resulting in oil with no distinctive aroma colour or taste. A small percentage of virgin oil may be mixed with this oil to give it flavour. Processing reduces the amount of antioxidants, so these oils aren't as healthy as extra virgin. They aren't lower in fat or kilojoules than regular oils.
  • "Cold pressed" and "first press" are outdated and unhelpful marketing terms. All virgin oils have to be "cold extracted" &ndash extracted from the olive without the use of excessive heat (manufacturers can extract more oil from olives with heat but the quality suffers). Traditional hydraulic presses have been almost entirely replaced by centrifuges, and all virgin oil comes from a single extraction &ndash there's no second press.

Olive oil comparison table

We tested 23 extra virgin olive oils, ranging in price from .80/100mL to $6.40/100mL. We've listed them below in alphabetical order. To order by another criteria, simply click on the column headings.

Product Recommended Price/
100mL ($)
Country
of origin
Bottle
size (mL)
Price
paid $
Meets 'extra virgin'
quality criteria
&ndash chemical
Meets 'extra virgin'
quality criteria
&ndash sensory
Show judging
taste test
score (%)
Taster comments Bottle image
Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil Classic Flavour Yes 1.73 Australia 750 13.00 Yes Yes 85 Intense fruity nose, good transfer and harmony. Citrus (lemon/lime), artichoke, green corn, green banana and herbs. Long pepper pungency.
Red Island Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil Yes
1.29 Australia 500 6.45 Yes Yes 79 Tomatoes, spices, fresh, balanced, mown grass. Rounded. Medium complexity. Green apple, nutmeg.
Maggie Beer Extra Virgin Olive Oil Yes
2.93 Australia 375 10.99 Yes Yes 77 Lemon tea and fresh nuts with late bitterness and pungency.
Rosto Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil Mellow Yes 1.73 Australia 750 12.99 Yes Yes 76 Banana, peaches, flowers. Lacking complex aroma. Cut grass, white pepper in the mouth. Balanced, delicate. Late chilli finish.
Woolworths Select Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil Yes 1.00 Australia 500 5.00 Yes Yes 76 Slight lemon zest-low. Full bodied. A little grass. Spices, good bitterness, low pungency.
Always Fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil Yes 1.82 Spain 500 9.10 Yes Yes 75 Clean, fresh exotic fruits on nose. Green beans. More bitterness than pungency.
Macro Organic Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1.00 Spain 500 5.00 Yes Yes 67 Exotic fruits on nose, little transfer, late warm pungency.
Moro El Primero Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1.60 Spain 500 8.00 Yes Yes 67 Light tropical fruits with robust herbaceous flavours and lingering warmth.
La Espanola Extra Virgin Olive Oil 0.90 Spain 500 4.50 Yes Yes 66 Exotic fruits on nose, herbaceous, olive leaves and a strong lingering bitterness.
Woolworths Select Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1.00 Spain 500 5.00 Yes Yes 65 Tropical fruits with smooth lingering flavours.
Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Originale 1.73 Italy 750 12.99 Yes Yes 60 Lacking freshness and fruity aroma.
Coles Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1.00 Australia 500 5.00 Yes Yes 60 Light grassy aroma with delicate flavours.
Coles Extra Virgin Olive Oil 0.80 Spain 500 4.00 Yes Yes 60 Strong fruity tropical nose but flat, bland, thick in mouth.
Dante Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1.60 Italy 500 7.99 Yes Yes 60 Flat on nose, crushed nuts, building pungency.
Just Organic (Aldi) Extra Virgin Olive Oil 0.94 Spain 500 4.69 Yes Yes 60 Mild fruity nose. Some apple. Some fruit transfer but lacking fruit taste. No harmony.
Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1.80 Italy 500 8.99 Yes Yes 55 Mild fruit aroma.
The Olive Tree (Aldi) Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fruity 0.90 Australia 1000 8.99 Yes Yes 55 Mushroom, earthy aroma. Lacking clarity and freshness. Flat.
Coles Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1.00 Spain 500 5.00 Yes Yes 50 Mild nose of overripe apple.
Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Organic (A) 1.75 Italy 250 4.38 No (A) Yes na na
Minerva Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil (B) 1.56 Greece 500 7.80 Yes No (B) na na
Minos Extra Virgin Olive Oil (B) 1.40 Greece 500 6.99 Yes No (B) na na
Pukara Estate Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil (A) 6.40 Australia 250 15.99 No (A) Yes na na
Squeaky Gate The All Rounder Classic & Fruity Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil (B) 1.07 Australia 750 8.00 Yes No (B) na na

TABLE NOTES

Price The price we paid (not on special) in stores in August 2017. Price per 100mL calculated for comparison. Larger sizes may be more economical.

Extra virgin quality criteria For details of chemical and sensory testing see How we tested.

Score A show judging taste test score of 65&ndash74% is bronze medal standard, 75&ndash84% is silver medal standard, and 85&ndash100% is gold medal standard.

(A) Not entered in show judging tasting &ndash first sample analysed failed one of the three UV absorbance tests.

(B) Not entered in show judging tasting &ndash first sample analysed failed sensory test.


Cheap But Good Olive Oils | Taste Test

A reader emailed us recently with a million-dollar question. Does good-quality, cheapish olive oil exist? She writes:

I was cooking something out of an Ina Garten cookbook and she always calls for 'good quality olive oil.' Since I'm on a college student budget, it's not really practical for me to splurge at a luxury store. I was standing at the supermarket, looking at a whole row of olive oil, wishing someone would tell me what brand to buy.

And so, our olive oil taste-test was born. We tried nine olive oils—nothing over $20 per liter, with most bottles hugging the $10 price point. Some of us chose the bread-dipping technique others believed a spoon was more official. Potentially, there were some olive oil shots taken. But defining "good" was tough.

On one end of the spectrum you have Ed, who willingly admits to being an olive oil wuss. He likes them buttery and calm, while just about everyone else in the office craved the peppery, cough-inspiring, sharper flavors. So we'll refrain from judging Ed and just say, good olive oil is relative. Which oils were mellow? More intense and spicy? The most like water? The results, after the jump.

Best Mellow Oil

Fairway ($8.99 for 1 liter): The New York mini-chain of markets sells this as their in-house brand of straight-forward olive oil both online and in stores. It's smooth, soft, and pretty neutral. If you're in the Ed camp and can't handle the throat-grabbing intensity of peppery oils, this one will make you feel safe. Good for cooking.

Best Bitter, But Not Crazy Bitter Oil

Goya ($3.99 for 250 mL): For those in favor of buttery olive oils (aka Team Ed) but are ready to branch out into the crazier world of bitter, more dramatic flavors, this would be a good place to start. It's not too spicy but still has a grassiness that gets your attention. At first sharp, it eventually mellows out. Good for bread dipping.

Best Bang for Buck

Trader Joe's Spanish ($7.49 for 1 liter): Spanish olive oils are usually a better value since the touted Italian olives can be marketed for more. One of the cheapest oils we tasted, this Trader Joe's Spanish EVOO—they sell a variety but admittedly, we fell for this pretty tree artwork—had a well-rounded flavor. Earthy but not too bitter, it'll leave your mouth slightly puckered—nothing too uncomfortable. Good for salads. Note: it was better than the Whole Foods 365 counterpart of Spanish EVOO.

Most Expensive And Just So-So

Colavita ($5.29 for 250 mL): Buying the adorable mini bottle made this same like a decent bargain, but it was actually the priciest one per-mL we tried. Though it had a nice, olive-rich taste (always a good thing when you're talking olive oils) it wasn't that exciting. Nothing harsh to say here, it's just not the best value.

Best Color

Target Brand Archer Farms ($8.99 for 500 mL): Because you also eat with your eyes, this one wins for best shade of yellowish-green. The less filtered quality makes it darker, hence more intriguing-looking than the other just yellowish oil-colored ones.

Best All-Around

Whole Foods 365 Organic ($6.99 for 500 mL): We all came together in support of this guy. It has a nice sharpness up front with hints of bell pepper, but won't choke you with bitterness. Dunk bread into this and go to town drizzling it over salads—this is a winner.

Least Memorable

Bertolli ($8.99 for 500 mL): As I type this, wait there is nothing to type. Because it was that life-changing! For all the fat in olive oil, you should at least walk away with a memory. Maybe it's fine for cooking, but bread-dipping? Eh. Be skeptical of the actor dude's Italian accent on those Bertolli commercials.

Most Like Water

Filippo Berio Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil ($4.29 for 250 mL): In all fairness, they warned us about the "extra light" part. But why does it have to look so much like water? A pale yellow, slightly contaminated-looking water, but still. Do you really contain olives? Really? C'mon, are you just corn oil playing a little game of pretend? The "tasting" part sounded good, but as one person noted, "it tastes like invisible."

Um, So Nine Bottles of Leftover Olive Oil?

What if, hypothetically speaking, there were still nine bottles of olive oil sitting in the SE headquarters kitchen? We could always go the boring route and stir-fry a boatload of vegetables, but that doesn't sound that exciting. A BYO Something to Deep-Fry party? Olive oil cakes? (This recipe for olive oil cake with orange marmalade looks mighty delicious.) Holler if you have any other suggestions.


Watch the video: Which Country Makes the Best Olive Oil? (November 2022).