Some people are under the impression that olive oil matures with age. But that is not the case. Olive oil is a fruit juice, and like other fruit juices, it is at its best straight after pressing.
The health benefits of olive oil are uncontested. There are two aspects to the health benefits, the one relates to the fact that it is an unsaturated fat, and the other to the existence of beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. The pepperiness that stings the back of your throat is evidence of these beneficial compounds.
Over time both aspects of the health benefits degrade, until the oil is of no benefit to your health at all. Extra virgin olive oil will offer the highest health benefits compared to other grades of olive oil. For optimal benefits olive oil should be consumed within 6 months of production, and will have degraded to a great extent 18 months after production.
This is often a problem with imported oils. While they may have been produced as extra virgin oil, they have been travelling and sitting in warehouses for so long the have lost most of their health benefits.
In addition to the effect on the health benefits, the degrading of olive oil affects the smell and flavour of the oil. Fresh oil will have a fresh, green, grassy smell and taste, as well as the burn at the back of the throat, depending on the intensity of the olive oil (read more about olive oil intensity here). As oil degrades it loses the freshness and can even become rancid or musty.
In South Africa, the SA Olive Association has implemented the CTC (Commitment To Compliance) programme, where members of the association label their olive oil with the year of harvest. Olives are harvested in the first half of the year, so calculate the age of the oil from around June of the harvest year until the current month.
For example, if the harvest/production year was 2012, and the current month is August 2013, the oil is at least 14 months old and should be consumed within the next 4 months.
It is also important to store the oil correctly in order to slow down the oxidisation (degrading) of the oil. See our article on how to store your oil properly. It is not a good idea to buy in bulk if you won’t be able to use the oil within a few months. Rather lose out on the bulk discount than lose out on the health benefits.
To ensure you get the maximum benefits from your olive oil, use the following guidelines:
- Buy extra virgin olive oil
- Buy local to ensure freshness
- Look for the SA Olive Association sticker indicating the harvest date
- Store the oil correctly
- Use the oil within 18 months of the harvest date, but the sooner the better