Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Extra virgin olive oil is having a moment. While home cooks have long been squirting it into pans or using it to make dressings, nowadays, the options go beyond what you can find on supermarket shelves. “I think we’re having an olive oil Renaissance, which is so wonderful,” says Kathryn Tomajan, founder of Fat Gold olive oil. Brands like Graza and Brightland, among others, have combined gorgeous bottle designs with sleek marketing to really bring the world of “good” olive oil to the forefront of consumers’ minds. But while these two brands are often front and center, there are a slew of other olive oils worth adding to your pantry. We tasted 14 extra virgin olive oils and got expert advice on what to look for when buying a bottle of liquid gold.

(We should note that there’s a dizzying amount of olive oils out there. Use this guide as a starting point for olive oil exploration.)

Some of Our Favorite Olive Oils, at a Glance

A Lovely, Balanced Finishing Oil: Cobram Estate California Select Extra Virgin Olive OilA Wonderful Small Batch California Olive Oil: Fat Gold Extra Virgin Olive OilAn Ultra-Fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil Worth the Splurge: Manni Extra Virgin Olive OilA Fresh All-Rounder: Frankies 457 Spuntino Extra Virgin Olive OilA Spicy, Floral Olive Oil: Bono Sicilian Certified PDO Val Di Mazara Extra Virgin Olive OilA Sumptuous Portuguese Olive Oil: Herdade do Esporao Extra Virgin Olive OilA Versatile Olive Oil Set: Graza Drizzle and SizzleA Balanced Olive Oil Set: Brightland The DuoA Buttery, Rich Olive Oil: Iliada Extra Virgin Olive OilAnother Buttery, Rich Olive Oil: Yiaya Extra Virgin Olive OilA Mellow but Flavorful Option: Pineapple Collaborative The Olive OilA Few Great Cooking Olive Oils that Still Stand Up To Raw Applications: La Tourangelle, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil; Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Rich Taste

The Tests

Serious Eats / Grace KellyPlain Taste Test: We had two people taste each extra virgin olive oil plain per the California Olive Oil Council’s guidelines, noting the aroma, viscosity, and flavor. Daily Use Test: We used a few of our top picks in our daily cooking and food preparation. 

What We Learned

What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Extra virgin olive oil is partially defined by a high percentage of polyphenols (usually at least 220 milligrams per kilogram), the amino acids that coat the fat molecules and give olive oil its bitterness and fiery kick. Flavorwise, high-quality, ultra-fresh extra virgin olive oils are floral, fruity, and have a bitter edge and a peppery burn at the back of the throat. “It has vegetable and fruit and grassiness, or it smells like fresh leaves or fresh herbs,” Tomajan says. Alberto Manni, founder of Manni Olive Oil, adds that a very good extra virgin olive oil should only be greasy on the lips and actually leave your mouth feeling dry. “Your mouth will be very dry, and if it’s a very good extra virgin olive oil, it should be spicy and bitter at the beginning, and then it will start to extract a lot of saliva from your mouth, cleaning the mouth, and the mouth will become, in two to three minutes, sweet.” 

How Do You Know If The Oil You’re Buying is Really Extra Virgin?

While you can go to the grocery store and find shelves and shelves of bottles labeled “extra virgin,” according to Manni, it’s hard to know if what you’re getting is really what it claims to be. “Extra virgin olive oil is the biggest fraud on the food market,” he says. 

He notes that, as the oil ages, the polyphenols quickly degrade and with them goes the characteristics—spicy, floral, fruity, bitter—that make extra virgin olive oil, well, extra. “Day by day it loses the polyphenols that are responsible for the smell and the taste, but that also protect the fat cells from the oxidation,” he says. Basically, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil that’s been shipped across the globe, stored in warehouses, and then sat under the fluorescent grocery store lights for weeks isn’t exactly the fresh extra virgin olive oil it claims to be. But if you can buy extra virgin olive oil from a reputable producer directly, you have a better chance of getting a fresher bottle.

Extra virgin olive oil also can’t have any chemical or sensory defects, and while chemical testing is often optional, it’s required for olive oil made in California. “There’s a lot of fraud, adulteration, mislabeling of olive oil, but California producers are required to pass a chemistry test,” Tomajan says. “So that’s a nice assurance.” Designations—like Organic or Protected Designation of Origin—are also usually a good sign, too. (You can read more about how to find a good quality extra-virgin olive oil in our criteria section further along in this article.)

How Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Made?

It all starts on an olive orchard, and not just any olive orchard. While we may enjoy Cerignola or Castelvetrano olives for eating, some olives have more oil than others, which makes them prime candidates for pressing. “There are over 800 different olive varieties,” says Tomajan. “The difference typically between table olives versus oil olives is the oil content. You don’t want to spend a lot of effort, energy, money, time, etc., crushing an olive and trying to extract the oil if there’s hardly any in there to begin with.” Common varietals that lend themselves to the olive oil process are Arbequina, Picual, Frantoio, and even Kalamata olives, which can also be enjoyed cured and brined. Farms begin to harvest olives towards the end of September (at least, in the northern hemisphere) and finish up by December. And when it comes to extra virgin olive oil, timing is everything. “We’re trying to make extra virgin oil exclusively, so we shortened that harvest window so we get the perfect ripeness of the olive,” Tomajan says. “We don’t let them hang on the trees for very long, we like to harvest them somewhat green so we get a lot of aromatic volatiles and good tasty oil and really great health benefits. So greener olives, less ripe olives are best for that.” Once the olives are picked, they’re sent to be crushed as quickly as possible. Tomajan explains this is done “ideally within 24 hours. It’s a very speedy process since olives do not hold. If you hold your olives and try to store them you’ll end up with defects that will make your oil not extra virgin, so crushing them really quickly after they’re picked is essential for quality.” 

Once the olives are crushed, they’re spun in a stainless steel centrifuge which wicks away the oil from the crushed fruit, then the resultant oil is filtered further, and any remaining water or olive pulp is removed. “The whole process takes about an hour and a half, which is amazing,” says Tomajan. 

How to Taste Olive Oil 

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

We followed the California Olive Oil Council’s guidelines in our tasting (minus the blue glasses, because we had trouble sourcing them), which feature a few steps: 

Sniff: Pour a little olive oil into a small glass. Cover the top of the glass with your hand and swirl the glass. This helps aerate the olive oil and release the aromas. Take your hand off the top and sniff to gauge the aroma. Slurp: Slurping the olive oil helps aerate it more, letting you experience more aromas and flavors. This is where you typically detect the bitterness in a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Swallow: Finally, swallow the olive oil and take note of any residual flavors; you might also get a burn at the back of the throat. 

In between tasting oils, COOC recommends cleansing your palate with a bite of Granny Smith apple and/or sparkling water. Tomajan also recommends tasting olive oil with food, so you can see how it would perform in the kitchen. “I think what’s really great is like a little spinach leaf, or you can just dip a cherry tomato or a piece of chocolate or whatever.” As we mentioned, extra virgin olive oil should have some bitterness, peppery bite, and fresh, fruity flavors. 

Rancid olive oil will taste plasticky or even smell like crayons, while fermented olive oil (also undesirable) will have a yeasty and sometimes barnyard-stink flavor. 

The Criteria: What to Look for When Buying Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Tomajan has a few things to look for when eyeing a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, the first being the harvest date. “My number one suggestion is to look for a harvest date,” she says. “Fresh olive oil is better. As soon as olive oil is made, it begins to degrade—fast. All oil, including extra virgin olive oil, will eventually oxidize and go rancid. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age.” Conversely, best buy dates won’t tell you much and should be taken with a grain of salt. “It doesn’t give you any information about the oil whatsoever. It could be five years old and you won’t know it,” Tomajan says. 

She also notes that price point is often an indicator of quality. “You just cannot make extremely cheap extra virgin olive oil. It’s just too expensive to produce,” she says. “To make such a careful, special healthful product is expensive and so if you’re seeing $3.99 bottles of extra virgin olive oil at the supermarket, well, it’s just too good to be true.” 

Another thing to consider when buying olive oil is the vessel—darker vessels will do a better job of protecting the oil from light, which can cause spoilage. “Please don’t buy olive oil in clear glass bottles,” says Tomajan. “The light will degrade it. Buy it in opaque containers or tinted glass or a tin, preferably one that’s airtight. The enemies of olive oil are oxygen and light.” Manni agrees and adds that you should also buy smaller bottles (around 350 to 500 ml, or 12 to 17 ounces) since it is difficult to use up a large amount of extra virgin olive oil before it starts to degrade. “A big bottle is a big mistake,” he says. “People buy oil in big bottles and leave the bottle for months, and even the best olive oil in the world will be destroyed.” 

And, while a good extra virgin olive oil should be bright, fruity, and have some burn and bitterness (courtesy of a high amount of naturally occurring antioxidants), both Tomajan and Manni recommend being judicious with spicy, fresh extra virgin olive oil since it can easily overwhelm a dish. 

“You definitely don’t want to put the really spicy pungent, intense olive oil on a very delicate fish dish or something. It’s going to overpower it,” says Tomajan. “You want to be thoughtful about how you’re using it, especially if it’s a really excellent quality, flavorful olive oil.” 

Once you’ve found an extra virgin olive oil you can get behind, store it with care. Tomajan says that an unopened bottle of fresh olive oil (within a year of the harvest date) should stay good for at least 18 months. But, once opened, she recommends using it up within three months.

Our Favorite Extra Virgin Olive Oils 

What we liked: While the aroma of this oil was saline and olive-forward, the flavor was quite bright. We found it grassy and fresh, with an almost grape-like tannic texture, and a nice round, buttery finish with a hint of pepperiness. Complex and fruity, we’d recommend showing this one off as a finishing oil. The harvest date is provided, which is a nice indicator of freshness. We also liked the little pop-up dispenser tip, which made drizzling nice and easy.

What we didn’t like: This is a somewhat pricey olive oil for the amount you get, but we think it’s worth it. 

Price at time of publish: $23.

Key Specs

Olive varietals: Mission, Ascolano, Manzanillo, Sevillano, FrantoioSize: 370 mlHarvest date listed: YesOrigins: Sacramento Valley, California Vessel: Dark glass Certifications: Certified by the California Olive Oil Council and the Olive Oil Commission of CaliforniaSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: We tried two olive oils from this small batch producer: Fat Gold Standard—a bolder option—and Fat Gold Blue, a milder one. Standard was grassy, fresh, and bitter up front with a meaty, lingering olive-y flavor on the tongue. Fat Gold Blue was fruity and floral, with an almost melon-like taste and bitter, spicy finish. Both were nuanced, fresh, and lively.

What we didn’t like: These are more of an investment, but you’re in for a treat. 

Key Specs

Olive varietals: Frantoio (Blue) and Arbequina (Standard)Size: 500 ml eachHarvest date listed: YesOrigins: San Joaquin Valley, California Vessel: TinCertifications: Certified by the California Olive Oil Council and the Olive Oil Commission of California; Chemistry and sensory evaluations done by Modern Olives to ensure extra virgin standards are metSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: Made in Mount Amiata in Tuscany, this is one of the freshest, high-quality extra virgin olive oils money can buy. And money you will spend! At $60 for an 8.5 fluid-ounce bottle, it sure isn’t cheap, but you truly get for what you pay for, and in this case, it’s an incredibly complex and bold olive oil. The Love bottle we tried was grassy and zesty on the nose, bitter and spicy on the tongue, then bloomed with fresh, fruity, and floral notes. 

What we didn’t like: This is a pricey bottle, and Armando Manni says it’s best used strategically and sparingly when it comes to cooking. “My suggestion is to use the oil in the same way you use the salt when you cook,” he says. “Start with a small quantity because you can always add. So, our oil is expensive but at the same time our suggestion is to use, per serving, one-third of the the size you would normally put in your dishes.” 

Key Specs

Olive varietals: A variety, including Frantoio and LecciSize: 250 ml /8.5 fl ozHarvest date listed: YesOrigins: Mt. Amiata, Tuscany, ItalyVessel: Dark glass Certifications: Certified organic, Certified Protected Geographical Indication, Kosher, HalalSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: We’ve loved cooking with this olive oil for a while now, and tasting it plain was a revelation. We found it buttery but with a nice bitterness that rounds out the edges. It was mellow and mild, with a savory and spicy kick at the finish. This is both a great cooking oil and a lovely finishing oil. It’s also certified organic and single origin, with the olives coming from Sicily. 

What we didn’t like: There is no harvest date on the bottle to indicate freshness. 

Price at time of publish: $29.

Key Specs

Olive varietal: Nocellara del BelliceSize: 750 mlHarvest date listed: NoOrigins: Sicily, ItalyVessel: TinCertifications: Certified organic, Non-GMO, BPA FreeSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: This olive oil had a light floral note and buttery roundness that helped mellow out its punchy bitterness. It did sport a cough-inducing burn when swallowed, but unless you’re drinking the stuff it probably won’t be as bold. It has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) which ensures all the olives are from one area. 

What we didn’t like: No harvest date was listed on the bottle.

Price at time of publish: $18.

Key Specs

Olive varietal: Biancolilla, Cerasuola, Nocellara del Belice Size: 500 mlHarvest date listed: NoOrigins: Val Di Mazara region, Sicily, ItalyVessel: Dark glass bottle Certifications: Non-GMO verified, protected designation of origin (PDO), Clean Label Purity Award, certified gluten-free, USDA OrganicSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: Though it sported a grassy, crisp scent, the flavor of this olive oil was complex and layered. We got floral, fruity notes, an almost apple-skin-like flavor, and even the aroma of autumn leaves (in a good way!). It was balanced, fresh, and flavorful without being overbearing. This is a beautiful olive oil at a great price. 

What we didn’t like: There is no harvest date listed. 

Price at time of publish: $20.

Key Specs

Olive varietal: Several varietiesSize: 500 mlHarvest date listed: NoOrigins: PortugalVessel: Dark glass bottle Certifications: European Vegetarian Union, Vegan Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: This set from Graza (which, let’s be real, you’ve probably seen on Instagram or in your local boutique food store) comes with cooking oil (Sizzle) and finishing oil (Drizzle), though we found both to be quite zesty, bitter, and with a fiery finish. The squeeze bottles they come in are also quite handy when you’re cooking or drizzling oil. 

What we didn’t like: If you’re looking for a mild extra virgin olive oil, these ain’t it. That said, when we used Sizzle in our cooking, it didn’t overpower our food at all. We were a little disappointed to find Drizzle was a little one-note, though it did have a faint fruitiness to brighten it up. There are also no certifications listed, though the harvest dates are on the label. 

Price at time of publish: $35.

Key Specs

Olive varietal: PicualSizes: Drizzle 500 ml, Sizzle 750 mlHarvest date listed: YesOrigins: SpainVessels: Dark plastic squeeze bottlesCertifications: None (claims to be single origin but no certifications) Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: This set of California extra virgin olive oils—Awake (“for cozy days and slow nights”) and Alive (“for verve and vibrancy”)—were quite different from each other. We actually found Awake a bit bolder than Alive, with a potent peppery burn and strong bitter edge; a little will go a long way. Alive was a bit more mellow, fruity, and round, though it still had that back of the throat burn. 

What we didn’t like: Awake is quite bold and brassy, so if you’re looking for a more mellow option, we’d recommend Alive instead. This is also a pricey set at $74. 

Price at time of publish: $74.

Key Specs

Olive varietals: Awake: Arbequina; Alive: Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki olivesSize: Each bottle is 375 mlHarvest date listed: YesOrigins: CaliforniaVessel: Opaque glass bottleCertifications: NoneSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: We loved this buttery olive oil that was rich without being cloying or greasy. It was grassy and fresh on the nose, with a slight bitterness that offset the meaty, olive-forward flavor. We think it’s great for both cooking and drizzling on salads, crudo, and other raw applications. 

What we didn’t like: A downside to this oil is that there is no harvest date listed, at least, we couldn’t find one on the tin we bought. It’s also not as bright and vibrant as other extra virgin olive oils. 

Price at time of publish: $40.

Key Specs

Olive varietal: Koroneiki Size: 2 liters (you can buy smaller amounts, which we would recommend)Harvest date listed: NoOrigins: GreeceVessel: Metal tinCertifications: Kosher, North American Olive Oil Association Certified Quality, Kalamata PDOSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: This Greek olive oil had a bright, grassy, olive and green apple skin aroma that gave way to a buttery, rich mouthfeel, and cleansing bitterness. It’s a very well-rounded, balanced olive oil that we think would be great used in a variety of dishes. 

What we didn’t like: There isn’t much information on the bottle, and the harvest date is unknown. 

Price at time of publish: $28.

Key Specs

Olive varietal: NASize: 500mlHarvest date listed: NoOrigins: Crete, GreeceVessel: Opaque bottle Certifications: NASerious Eats / Grace Kelly

What we liked: This was a pleasant and wholly innocuous olive oil. The flavor was quite mellow, maybe even a little floral on the finish, with a very round, buttery note. There was a slight burn on the swallow, but overall, it was quite mild. This would be a nice oil for both cooking and finishing. 

What we didn’t like: It’s a bit pricey for the amount.

Price at time of publish: $38.

Key Specs

Olive varietals: Koroneiki and ArbosanaSize: 500 mlHarvest date listed: YesOrigins: Enzo Olive Oil Co., California Vessel: TinCertifications: USDA organic, California Olive Oil Council Certified Extra VirginSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

A Few Great Cooking Olive Oils That Still Stand up to Raw Applications

While these oils weren’t necessarily as nuanced or bright as the above list, they still were quite good and if you’re looking for a more affordable, everyday option, they will do nicely. 

This olive oil had a meaty savory smell and mild flavor with a slight fruitiness. There was also a mild bitterness and burn on the finish. 

Price at time of publish: $22

Key Specs

Olive varietals: PicaulSize: 750 mlHarvest date listed: NoOrigins: Andalusia, SpainVessel: TinCertifications: USDA Organic, Non GMO verified, Vegan, NAOO Certified QualitySerious Eats / Grace Kelly

Very mild at first, but a little bit of bitterness comes through with a peppery finish. It was saline and olive-forward, if a bit one-note. It’s also made of a blend of olive oils from different locations, which isn’t as ideal in terms of freshness and flavor. 

Price at time of publish: $11

Key Specs

Olive varietals: NASize: 750 mlHarvest date listed: YesOrigins: Spain, Greece, Portugal, TunisiaVessel: Green plastic bottle Certifications: Non-GMO certifiedSerious Eats / Grace Kelly

FAQs

How long does olive oil last?

Tomajan says an unopened bottle of fresh olive oil (within a year of the harvest date) should stay good for at least 18 months; once opened, she recommends using it up within three months.

What is extra virgin olive oil?

Extra virgin olive oil has to be free of any defects in order to be truly extra virgin. 

“It can’t have any flavor flaws, it can’t be rancid, it can’t be fermented, and it also has to have a very particular chemical profile,” says Tomajan. “So as a producer, every batch of olive oil I make, I send a sample to a laboratory and it gets tested. They test things like the free fatty acids, the peroxide values, all these other things that basically check that the quality is good and that it’s actually what it says it is.” 

What’s the best way to store olive oil?

We recommend storing olive oil in a cool, dark place to prevent heat or light damage. Keeping the olive oil in a tightly sealed container free from oxygen is also important to keep it fresh. 

What is refined or light olive oil?

Any olive oil labeled “refined” or “light” has had its polyphenols stripped away. This means that you’re not getting any of the antioxidant benefits of extra virgin olive oil.

Is extra virgin olive oil good for you?

While olive oil has been touted as a superfood, folks often tout it for the wrong reasons. While it’s true that it contains monounsaturated fats, which are healthier than fats in butter, the true benefit of olive oil is in the polyphenols—antioxidants. The peppery burn and bitterness of fresh extra virgin olive comes from these compounds, which have some health benefits, though their long-term effects are still being studied. 

Why We’re the Experts

Grace Kelly is the associate commerce editor at Serious Eats. Prior to this, she tested equipment and ingredients for America’s Test Kitchen. She’s worked as a journalist and has done stints as a cook and bartender. She has written dozens of reviews for Serious Eats, including petty knives, tinned fish, fish spatulas, and tortilla presses, among others. For this story, we interviewed Kathryn Tomajan, the founder of Fat Gold Olive Oil in California, and Alberto Manni, founder of Manni Olive Oil in Tuscany, Italy.We tasted 14 olive oils, tasting them per the California Olive Oil Council’s guidelines and using them over the course of a month in our daily cooking.

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