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Olive Oil

Sunday, 16 November 2008 | Tags: ,

Enriching the flavour of countless foods, olive oil goes with many things, including tossed in salad, drizzled over fish, or "as is" with bread. olive oil. With such a huge variety available, we find out what you need to know to pick the right olive oil for your gastronomic needs.

The Basics

  • Top producers of olive oil are (in order): Italy, Spain, Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia, and the Napa Valley region of California.

  • “Virgin” on the label means the oil has not been through a refining process, which can alter natural flavours and aromas.

  • There are various grades of olive oil:

    • Extra virgin is considered the best. Its taste is perfectly-balanced with an acidity level of less than 1%. It has the highest concentration of antioxidants of all the olive oil types.

    • Virgin olive oil is less expensive, has a slightly stronger smell, and more acidity than extra virgin oils. It’s still a high-quality, widely-available oil.

    • Regular olive oil (also known as “pure”) is a blend of virgin olive oil and lower quality refined olive oil. Proportions and prices vary.

    • Olive-pomace oil, extracted and refined from the olive residue that remains after pressing, is the lowest grade of oil available – and the cheapest. Our experts don’t recommend it for cooking.

  • Look for olive oil that comes in a tinted jar or dark container. As with beer, the dark glass protects it from light and keeps it from going rancid.

  • Look for a best before date. Quality olive oil will last between 12 and 18 months.

  • Color is not an indicator of quality. Excellent oils can range from light gold to dark green.

  • Reading the label is important if you are particular about where the oil and olives originate from.

    • If it says “imported from Italy” then it likely means it was bottled there, and the olives used may be a blend from around the world.

    • If it says “made in Italy” then the olives are from Italy.

  • Bottles that specify the type of olive tell you exactly what flavour to expect:

    • Picual olives are strong and spicy.

    • Barnea olives are buttery with a peppery finish (perfect for lamb and meat).

Other Considerations

  • Olive oil isn’t typically good for cooking, and many connoisseurs consider cooking with it a waste.

  • If you cook with olive oil, a good rule is to use a cheaper, regular olive oil and save the more flavourful virgin or extra virgin for everything else.

  • Heating the oil only affects its flavour, not its health aspects.

Be Aware

  • Don’t be fooled by the words “cold pressed” or “first pressed” on the label. They’re not reliable, regulated descriptions.

TEST CRITERIA

We sampled a wide range of extra virgin olive oils from around the world:

  • Filippo Berio (Italy/Greece/Spain/Tunisia): $9.99 per 500 ml
  • Mas Portell (Spanish Arbequina Olives): $17.99 per 500 ml
  • A L’Olivier (France): $20.79 per 250 ml
  • Golden Olive Eleni (Greece): $25.99 per 500 ml
  • Colonna (Italy): $25.99 per 250 ml

Taste Test

  • Some oils were too complex and strong for the average North American palette.

  • Most of our testers preferred the Berio.

  • The fruitier flavour of France’s A L’Olivier was also popular.

  • The Colonna Italian olive oil had a peppery richness, perfect for drizzling over a Caprese salad.

OUR TOP PICK

If you’re new to the flavour of olive oil, try the Berio, which has a mild, smooth taste. For a little more flavour (and a higher price), try the A L’olivier or the Colonna.

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