Olive oil is the best oil to use both for cooking and in dressings and marinades. It has the highest percentage of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat of any edible oil. It also contains abundant antioxidants, substances that have been shown to provide cardiovascular benefits and anti-cancer effects.
And of course it tastes great!
But not all olive oils are created equal and the olive oil industry is no saint when it comes to cutting corners for profit. That came to light in 2016 when the Italian authorities confiscated more than 2,000 tons of olive oil and launched an investigation into seven of the country’s leading producers for falsely marketing imported olive oil as Italian.
That in itself is of course bad enough but at least the oil in question was actually olive oil. There have been other instances, however, where extra virgin olive oil was actually found to be a sub standard low grade olive oil sold as extra virgin or was even mixed with other vegetable or seed oils before being sold off as the more expensive extra virgin kind.
So how do you know if an olive oil is the real deal? How do you choose the best olive oil?
First of all, always always always choose extra virgin olive oil. Yes, they cost a bit more than regular olive oil or virgin olive oil but they are also the healthiest of the bunch and the only oil your should cook with. This article will explain why that is the case.
So don’t bother with anything labelled “virgin”, “light”, “pure”, or simply “olive oil”.
Second, you may want to choose an oil which comes in a dark bottle. This is because direct sun light starts an oxidation process in olive oil which will degrade it over time.
However, this is only the case with oils that are not 100% pure. If you are absolutely sure the oil you are buying is 100% extra virgin olive oil then the color of the bottle doesn’t matter since the real deal is self-protecting and a very strong antioxidant. Therefore no tinting of the bottle is necessary. But because it is apparent that we cannot be 100% sure of the purity of olive oils, unless we buy from the actual grower, then opting for a dark bottle might not be so dumb.
Thirdly, if you can afford it go for organic. Buying organic means an extra step of certification the oil has to go through making it less likely to be fake on a basic level.
And last but not least: use you senses. This is actually the best way to spot a potential fake. Unfortunately, having a sniff and a taste is not usually possible before buying a bottle of olive oil. But do yourself the favor and give it a test once you bring it home. An extra virgin olive oil is more green than yellow in color and has a very ‘green’ scent, almost like fresh hay. And if it is really fresh its fruity yet deep peppery flavor will make you cough when you take a swig.
“But what about that first cold pressed label I sometimes see on bottles of olive oil. Isn’t that supposed to be the best of the best?”
Yes and no. It’s actually a bit of a misnomer because extra virgin olive oil is by definition first cold pressed. If it is not first cold pressed it simply cannot be sold as extra virgin olive oil. In other words: if the label says extra virgin olive oil then it is also first cold pressed. So at least that is something you don’t need to worry about when shopping for extra virgin olive oil.
Want to dig deeper?
This article is a good place to start.
And here is a scientific article on the potential health benefits of olive oil consumption.