When cruising down the aisles of your local grocery store, you will be sure to find rows upon rows of different olive oils. Imported olive oils from Mediterranean regions, local olive oils from nearby farms and some from Eastern countries.
With all these choices, the question is, what should you look for when purchasing olive oil, what exactly are you getting for your money?
Extra virgin olive oil is known for its many health benefits, prevention of cardiovascular disease, assists with motor development and can even prevent cancer causing cells, just to name a few.
What some people may not be aware of is that the quality of EVOO dictates the benefits you will get from consuming it. The fresher the better and the method of production are important factors in terms of quality and flavour.
Authentic EVOO is made without the use of chemicals and industrial refining. Therefore, it’s the olive varietals, the terroir where they grow, and the countless decisions and production practices of a dedicated producer that influence the oil’s overall quality and taste. – Tonio Creanza.
Here are some tips that will help you navigate your way around the aisles and choose the best EVOO for your buck:
1. Taste, taste, taste! Although of course it is not always possible to taste olive oils in big supermarkets, many smaller boutique stores and deli’s will allow tasters of the olive oil they stock. The more bland the olive oil the less likely to have the qualities of a good fresh extra virgin olive oil, such as antioxidants which can be recognized by the burning effect on your throat when tasted properly. Any olive oil without defects should taste of things like grass, fruit, and almond.
2. Don’t judge an olive oil by its color. Good oils come in all shades, from vivid green to gold to pale straw, and official tasters actually use colored glasses to avoid prejudicing themselves in favor of greener oils. The taste of the olive oil is really what is telling about the quality. Pepperiness and bitterness are indicators of good quality extra virgin olive oils.
3. Labels can be deceptive. Olive oils come in many descriptions some more vague than others, ‘pure olive oil’, ‘light olive oil’ and ‘first-press olive oil’. According to Creanza most of these are just marketing gimmicks used to make the blander, extremely filtered olive oils look sound appealing. Even labels that say ‘extra virgin olive oil’ are not necessarily made simply by crushing olives and extracting their juice. This is olive oil in its purest form. It’s best to look for the CTC seal.
4. Look for ‘cold pressed’. This meaning that the oil has remained below a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit during processing. This helps ensure that it has retained all of its flavor and nutritional benefits.
5. Fresher is better. Olives are a fruit and like fruit juices, olive oil is perishable. The fresher the olive oil the more flavour and health benefits it will contain. Try to buy oils only from this year’s harvest. “Best by” dates are usually two years from the time an oil was bottled, so if you see a date that is two years away, the oil is more likely to be fresh. That said, many olive oils, particularly in the EU, are stored for years before being bottled, yet their “best by” dates are (wrongly) determined by the date of bottling, not of harvest.
There are many exceptionally good olive oils that are produced locally in South Africa and that have been approved by the South African Olive Association. It all really depends on your taste preferences, but a good way to make sure you are buying exceptional EVOO is to look out for Oils that scored well in recent, reputable olive oil contests, especially when the oil you are buying is from the same harvest as the oil that won the award.