Nectar of the gods (olive oil 101)

Friday, 19 August 2016 | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Reader Donna Gibson wrote last week asking for guidance on buying olive oil. It's a subject I've written about before and one we covered a few times on various Anna & Kristina shows. But in recent years olive oil has been revealed to be an industry riddled with imposters, misleading labeling and confusion. So here's a refresher on how to choose a good one and how to use it properly in your cooking.

In his new book, Real Food Fake Food, author Larry Olmsted writes that most people have probably never tasted real, unadulterated, fresh extra virgin olive oil. Indeed, so much of what’s available for sale is way, way past its prime and may have even been cut with lesser quality oil.

When you taste the real thing, you know it. It stings the back of your throat. It tastes green and it brings food to life. It’s obvious why it has been an integral part of Mediterranean culture since the Roman Empire.

The thing about olive oil is that if you want the good stuff, it’s got to be fresh. That means the fruit is pressed within a few hours of harvest. Just one of the many hurdles for producers is how to bottle it to preserve that freshness. That’s why you should never, ever pay a premium price the stuff in a clear glass bottle. Know for certain if you do, it’s gone bad. Olive oil does not like the light. Dark glass, tin or stainless steel will protect it best.

Even more then light olive oil also doesn’t like heat or air, so don’t store it next to your stove. And buy it in small quantities. Once you crack the seal, use it. It’s not meant to last for many months (or years).

If you decide to buck up for the good stuff, don’t cook with it. Extra virgin olive oil burns at a lower temperature then many other less expensive oils. Premium, fresh extra virgin olive oil is meant to be consumed as a sauce itself. Drizzle it over fish with a squeeze of lemon. Same goes for steak. And salad, cheese and bread of course. I love premium olive oil over grapefruit! Check the bottle for an expiry date and authenticity certifications. (There are different bodies that award this, depending on the country of origin.) If there is no expiry date, you’re not buying the best.

For sauces, use mid priced “light” or “pure” olive oil that, again, comes in dark glass, stainless or tin. Or I use grapeseed oil for a lot of my cooking, which has a higher burn temperature and a very mild flavour. For me olive oil is increasingly saved just for drizzling at the end.

Many people buy olive oil for the health benefits. Indeed, if you’re getting the real thing it has been shown to act as an antioxidant and ward off some cancers. It’s the best of the good fats and may even slow the aging of the heart. But these health benefits don’t apply if you’re consuming rancid or adulterated oil. This is one product where I firmly believe in only buying the best!




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  • ronwhite99

    all very informative of what NOT to do but it would be Extremely helpful to share with us what to look for… maybe a brand name , shelf life ,should it be stored in the fridge, how to tell if it’s gone past it’s beneficial age , Got way more questions then answers and am now more confused then Before your post 🙁

    • Anna Wallner

      Oh I don’t want to confuse you ronwhite99!! Olive oil is indeed a big topic. In addition to the tips in my post (keep away from heat and light and try to buy oil that was processed asap after picking. The very top grade stuff is processed just a few hours after picking) remember to READ THE LABEL. The premium products are easy to spot because they include the most information. I do believe you generally get what you pay for here. As I said above, Domenica Fiore organic extra virgin olive oil continues to win at the biggest competitions in the world and is my favourite brand. While I can vouch for its high quality, you might perhaps prefer the flavours of a a different brand – because they do all taste different. But that’s one to try. Buy in small quantities. It’ll be at its peak for a few weeks after opening and then will begin to lose flavour. Don’t store it in the fridge (it turns solid), but in a dark cupboard away from the stove. The best olive oils in the world come from several different countries….Italy, Spain and Greece all produce fantastic products. And there are some parts of California making high quality oil too. If you’re really into it, I suggest buying a few small bottles of oils at different price points and do a blind taste test. You’ll be amazed. Then do another taste test of just a few premium brands and you’ll start to figure out your personal preferences. Some taste really green and others are more peppery. Any more questions? Fire away!! 🙂

      • ronwhite99

        Thank you Anna. As always You are the go to person for all things culinary 🙂

      • ronwhite99

        thank you and Yes I was wondering if and when and which station you will be on again

  • BrainofMorbius

    I watched a recent expose on the fake olive oil industry (they said up to 80% of EVOO sold in the US is actually not olive oil at all, and that’s about 50% in Italy itself due to organized crime getting into the business big time in recent decades…)> I have switched to grapeseed oil for cooking and actually prefer it in many ways to EVOO, its lighter in taste and has a higher smoke point, is lower in saturated fat, costs less…

    Anna, could you tell us what brand of EVOO you trust? What is the one brand you tend to buy most often? Just looking for your opinion and favorite, not expecting any authoritative statement on how true it is to the name… Thanks!

    Another timely article on a topic many amateur chefs are perplexed by these days.

    • Anna Wallner

      Domenica Fiore organic olive oil from Italy has won many awards around the globe, including “Best Olive Oil In The World”. It is hands down my favourite brand. Full disclosure: it is owned by some friends of mine. I have seen the processing of the fruit and the land it comes from first hand. But its growing list of accolades and awards by independent expert judges speaks for itself. It’s NOT cheap (depending on the size, about $40 a bottle) and a big part of the reason for that is the high tech bottling process – its nitrogen-packed in stainless steel to preserve freshness. It’s available in Canada and US at fine grocery stores and you can probably buy it online. This is the really special stuff and should only be used for drizzling on cooked meats, veg, etc. I know that in the coming months they’re releasing a “classico” version that will have a lower price point and is intended for low temperature cooking (like tomato sauce). More of an “everyday” product. I haven’t tried it yet but it will be available at Whole Foods.

      As I said in my post, I too use a lot of grape seed oil for cooking. I love that it has basically no taste. For so long so many of us home cooks have been mislead to believe anything labeled EVOO is the same as the next and should be used in all cooking. So not true. Whatever brand you choose, read the label!! Look out for other ingredients (palm oil? I saw that recently). Any premium brand worth buying will tell you where its from, when the fruit was harvested and processed and include a best before date.

      If you haven’t already seen it, Google the 60 Minutes (CBS) piece on organized crime and the olive oil business. It’s a fascinating watch!

      Maybe this week I should write about when to use other types of oils.

      Thanks for writing in!

      • BrainofMorbius

        Thanks Anna. I see that Domenica Fiore is sold by the company online so I will buy a small bottle and give it a try. I suspect that I’ve never had a real quality olive oil in my cupboard, so it will be interesting to see how this one differs.

        The 60 Minutes story was the one I made vague reference to. I agree, it was very interesting! Since the segment aired I have been reading the bottle labels very carefully. Spain apparently has far less problems with adulteration than Italy so I tend to look for EVOO from Spain now as a first choice…

        All in all though its good to experiment and try different products.


  • Michele Gilbert-Pessotto

    I have travelled to Italy, shopped NYC, etc. searching for the best olive oil (tasted 100’s) and found it bottled here in Canada (harvested in Greece): Rallis Olive Oil! It is ice-pressed – no heat used during processing – which ensures it is rich in antioxidants and truly is the best I have ever tasted….I have happily stopped the search.