There are so many extra-virgin olive oils out there these days. How do you recognize a good one without tasting every brand? Learn to read their labels properly, and you’ll soon know which ones you’ll want on our own shelves.
Origin: Extra-virgin olive oil should be grown, pressed, and bottled in a single country. Read carefully: “Product of Italy” indicates only that it was packaged there, not necessarily that the olives were grown or pressed there.
Cold-pressed: Applying heat above 80.6˚F to olives allows producers to extract more oil from them. However, the process simultaneously destroys the prized, delicate flavors and aromas of a fine extra-virgin olive oil. Cold-pressing eliminates this problem.
Age: Unlike wine, olive oil does not age well. A good bottle of extra-virgin olive oil will have a “pressing” date or sell-by date on the label. Always store it properly, away from light and heat (never on the back of the stove!).
Color: The actual color of olive oil isn’t an accurate judge of its quality. In fact, extra-virgin olive oils can range in color from deep grassy green to golden yellow, depending on the level of ripeness when the olives are pressed.
“Pure” and “light” olive oils: These are heat-treated, resulting in a neutral-flavored oil with a higher smoking point that is popular for baking and deep-frying. These oils have the same “good fats” as extra-virgin olive oil, but not the antioxidant benefits.
Tasting notes: After reading the labels, though, try for a taste test. Top-quality extra-virgin olive oils come in a variety of flavor profiles, with subtle or assertive flavors, but will always taste clean and fresh. They should never leave a waxy residue when swallowed.
The finishing touch: The Italian word “amato” is used to describe the desired effect of swallowing a top-quality extra-virgin olive oil: a peppery finish that begins on your tongue then migrates to back of your mouth. Enjoy!