How to Choose a Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Are you looking to elevate your cooking game with high-quality extra virgin olive oil? With so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. In this article, we’ll walk you through the key factors to consider when selecting an extra virgin olive oil.

How to Choose a Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil
How to Choose a Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Before we dive into the specifics of choosing a good extra virgin olive oil, let’s first understand what sets it apart from other types of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is made from pure, cold-pressed olives, without the use of any chemical solvents or refinement processes. This results in an oil that retains its natural flavor, aroma, and nutritional properties.

Here are just a few reasons to incorporate this superfood into your diet:

1. Heart Health

One of the most well-known benefits of extra virgin olive oil is its ability to support heart health. The high content of monounsaturated fatty acids, particularly oleic acid. It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.

Additionally, the antioxidants in EVOO, such as polyphenols and vitamin E, help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation. These are key factors in the development of cardiovascular disease.

2. Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor to many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Extra virgin olive oil contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds, such as oleocanthal. It has been shown to have similar effects to ibuprofen. By reducing inflammation in the body, EVOO may help lower the risk of developing chronic diseases.

3. Antioxidant Content

Extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. The main antioxidants found in EVOO include vitamin E, polyphenols, and oleocanthal. These compounds have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.

4. Brain Health

The Mediterranean diet, which is high in extra virgin olive oil, can reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in EVOO may help protect brain cells from damage and improve cognitive function.

5. Cancer Prevention

Some studies suggest that the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in extra virgin olive oil may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, particularly breast cancer. While more research is needed to fully understand, the evidence suggests that incorporating this healthy fat into your diet may offer some protective benefits.

6. Bone Health

Extra virgin olive oil has been linked to improved bone health and a reduced risk of osteoporosis. The polyphenols in EVOO can increase bone formation and mineralization while reducing bone loss. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory properties of EVOO may help protect against age-related bone loss and fractures.

7. Digestive Health

Extra virgin olive oil may also benefit digestive health by reducing inflammation in the gut and promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. The monounsaturated fatty acids in EVOO can improve gut barrier function and reduce the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Factors to Consider When Choosing Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. Freshness

One of the most important factors in determining the quality of extra virgin olive oil is its freshness. Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age. In fact, it begins to deteriorate as soon as it’s bottled, losing its flavor and nutritional value over time.

To ensure you’re getting the freshest oil possible, look for bottles that display the harvest date or a “best by” date. Ideally, you want to consume the oil within 12-18 months of its harvest date for optimal flavor and health benefits.

2. Origin

The origin of the olives used to make the oil can greatly impact its flavor profile and quality. Different regions have unique climates, soil conditions, and olive varieties that contribute to the distinct characteristics of their oils.

Some of the most renowned regions for producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil include:

  • Tuscany, Italy
  • Andalusia, Spain
  • Kalamata, Greece
  • California, United States

When selecting an oil, consider trying varieties from different regions to discover the flavors that best suit your taste preferences.

3. Variety

Just as the origin of the olives influences the oil’s flavor, so does the specific variety of olives used. There are hundreds of olive varieties grown around the world, each with its own unique flavor profile.

Some popular olive varieties used for extra virgin olive oil include:

  • Arbequina: Mild, fruity, and slightly sweet
  • Koroneiki: Robust, peppery, and slightly bitter
  • Picual: Strong, pungent, and slightly spicy
  • Frantoio: Fruity, peppery, and slightly bitter

Many high-quality extra virgin olive oils are made from a blend of different olive varieties, creating a complex and well-balanced flavor profile.

4. Packaging

The packaging of the olive oil can also provide clues about its quality. Light, heat, and air are the enemies of extra virgin olive oil, as they can cause it to oxidize and become rancid.

To protect the oil from these elements, look for bottles that are:

  • Dark in color (usually green or brown) to prevent light exposure
  • Made of glass or tin, rather than plastic which can leach chemicals into the oil
  • Sealed with a cork or screw top to minimize air exposure

Additionally, be cautious of oils sold in clear glass bottles or plastic containers, as they may have been exposed to light and heat during storage and transport.

5. Price

While it’s true that high-quality extra virgin olive oil comes at a premium price, the most expensive option isn’t always the best. Many factors contribute to the price of olive oil, including the cost of production, packaging, and marketing.

When evaluating the price of extra virgin olive oil, consider the following:

  • Is it from a reputable producer or brand?
  • Does it meet the quality standards for extra virgin classification?
  • Is it fresh, with a clearly labeled harvest or “best by” date?
  • Is it packaged in a dark glass or tin container?

A good rule of thumb is to look for oils in the mid-to-high price range, typically between $20-$40 per liter. While you may find some quality oils at lower price points, be wary of extremely cheap options, as they may be lower quality or even fraudulent.

6. Certifications and Awards

Another way to identify high-quality extra virgin olive oils is to look for certifications and awards from reputable organizations. Some common certifications to look for include:

  • International Olive Council (IOC) Certification
  • California Olive Oil Council (COOC) Certification
  • North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) Quality Seal
  • European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) labels

These certifications ensure that the oil has been tested and meets strict quality standards for extra virgin classification.

Additionally, many high-quality extra virgin olive oils have won awards at international competitions such as the New York International Olive Oil Competition or the Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition. These awards can be a good indicator of an oil’s exceptional flavor and quality.

How to Taste and Evaluate Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Once you’ve selected a few extra virgin olive oils to try, it’s time to put them to the taste test. Here’s how to properly taste and evaluate the quality of an olive oil:

  • Pour a small amount of oil into a clean glass or cup.
  • Hold the glass in one hand and cover it with the other to trap the aroma.
  • Swirl the glass to release the oil’s aroma, then uncover it and take a deep sniff.
  • Take a small sip of the oil, allowing it to coat your tongue and the inside of your mouth.
  • Breathe in through your mouth to aerate the oil and release its flavors.
  • Look for positive attributes such as fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency, as well as any off-flavors or defects.

A high-quality extra virgin olive oil should have a complex aroma and flavor, with a balance of fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency. It should not taste rancid, musty, or have any other off-flavors.

Common Positive Attributes of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

When tasting extra virgin olive oil, here are some common positive attributes to look for:

  • Fruitiness: Aromas and flavors of fresh, ripe olives, which can range from mild to intense.
  • Bitterness: A pleasant bitterness that is felt on the back of the tongue and throat. This is a sign of the oil’s polyphenol content.
  • Pungency: A peppery or spicy sensation in the throat. This is another indicator of the oil’s polyphenol content.
  • Grassiness: Aromas and flavors of freshly cut grass or herbs, which can be a sign of the oil’s freshness.
  • Nuttiness: Subtle nutty flavors such as almond or hazelnut. This can be a characteristic of certain olive varieties.

Common Defects in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

On the other hand, here are some common defects to watch out for when tasting extra virgin olive oil:

  • Rancidity: A stale, oxidized flavor that can taste like crayons, putty, or old nuts.
  • Mustiness: A moldy or musty flavor that can indicate the olives were stored improperly before processing.
  • Fustiness: A fermented or winey flavor that can indicate the olives were stored in piles for too long before processing.
  • Muddy Sediment: A muddy or earthy flavor that can indicate the olives were harvested from the ground rather than the tree.

If you detect any of these defects in extra virgin olive oil, it’s a sign that the oil is of lower quality and may not be suitable for consumption.

How to Store Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Once you’ve found a high-quality extra virgin olive oil that you love, it’s important to store it properly to maintain its flavor and nutritional properties. Here are some tips for storing extra virgin olive oil:

  • Store the oil in a cool, dark place away from heat and light, such as a pantry or cupboard.
  • Keep the oil in its original container, which should be dark glass or tin to protect it from light exposure.
  • If you transfer the oil to another container, make sure it’s also made of dark glass or tin and has a tight-fitting lid to minimize air exposure.
  • Avoid storing the oil in the refrigerator, as this can cause it to solidify and lose its flavor.
  • Use the oil within 12-18 months of its harvest date for optimal flavor and health benefits.

By following these storage guidelines, you can ensure that your extra virgin olive oil stays fresh and flavorful for as long as possible.

How to Incorporate Extra Virgin Olive Oil into Your Diet?

Now that you know how to choose a good extra virgin olive oil, it’s time to start incorporating it into your diet. Here are a few simple ways to enjoy the flavors and health benefits of this versatile ingredient:

  • Drizzle it over salads, roasted vegetables, or grilled meats
  • Use it as a dipping sauce for bread or crudités
  • Add a splash to soups, stews, or pasta dishes for a boost of flavor
  • Brush it onto bread before toasting for a delicious garlic bread
  • Use it in place of butter or other oils in baking recipes for a healthier twist

Remember, extra virgin olive oil is best used raw or at low cooking temperatures to preserve its flavor and nutritional properties. For high-heat cooking, consider using refined olive oil or another heat-stable oil such as avocado or grapeseed oil.


Choosing a good extra virgin olive oil is an investment in your health and culinary enjoyment. By understanding the factors that contribute to its quality, such as freshness, origin, variety, packaging, price, and certifications, you can select an oil that will elevate your dishes and provide numerous health benefits.

So go ahead and explore the wide world of extra virgin olive oils, and discover the many ways this superfood can enrich your life. Your taste buds (and your body) will thank you.

Happy cooking and bon appétit!