Last updated: September 5, 2021

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The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest you can follow. Based on consuming products from this area of the world, it has been for many years the most popular in countries bordered by this sea. One of the essential ingredients of this type of diet is without a doubt olive oil, dubbed 'liquid gold' by Greek author Homer.

You can, for instance, use it to fry, season or simply as a condiment on toasts. Many different varieties and qualities are available. This product should always be in your kitchen and on your table. We've designed the following shopping guide to help you find the best possible olive oil out there.




Key Facts

  • Olive oil shares some common properties with all vegetable oils. In addition, a few of its characteristics are specific to olives. The distinctive traits of each oil depend on the variety of olive used, the way in which it is processed and how it is stored.
  • As we said, Olive oil has many properties, one of which being that it is rich in vitamin E. This vitamin offers many benefits for our body: it can, for instance, help lowering cholesterol levels.
  • Olive oil is obtained from olives. Each of them features quite a high percentage of this liquid, generally between 25 and 30%. This will depend on the variety.
  • You'll find different types of olive oils on the market. In order to choose the right one, you need to know their specific characteristics — both in terms of quality and your personal use of it.

The best olive oils on the U.S. market

And what better way to really get into this guide than by having a look at some of the best olive oils available out there? In this section, you'll discover high-quality products, as well as key characteristics of this type of oil that you may not be aware of. If you pay attention to our selection of products, we're confident you'll find the one that's just right for you.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about olive oil

Now that you've read about the best olive oils on the market, you should be more familiar with some essential aspects of this product. Now's the time to delve deeper into olive oils so you can make the best possible choice. In the section below, we'll tell you all there is to know about the different properties of olive oil.

Olives harvest

The characteristics of olive oil depend on the variety of olive used to make it.
(Source: nikkiphoto: 22249567/ 123rf.com)

What is olive oil exactly?

Olive oil is a type of vegetable oil used in cooking. Dating back thousands of years already, it owes its name to the use of olives in its production. The three main producers worldwide of this typical Mediterranean product are Spain, Greece and Italy.

The olives have to ripen for approximately eight months before the oil can be extracted from them. The harvesting season is at the end of fall. Once harvested, the olives are pressed to obtain a sort of juice. This is where the whole production process truly begins, and the quality of the oil will largely depend on it.

Olive oil or sunflower oil: which is better?

The debate about which of these two vegetable oils is better is a very common one. While we don't want to fully jettison sunflower oil, olive oil really is better — both in the way it is manufactured and in the properties it offers. This is why you are always encouraged to opt for extra virgin olive oil if you can.

What types of olive oil are there?

The various categories are one of the most interesting aspects of the world of olive oils. Although you're probably used to hearing about some of them, you may not know in which ways they are different. For this reason, we've listed those types and their main characteristics.

Type of oil Main characteristics
Virgin olive oil Only cold-pressed and no heat is used to increase production. It is always manufactured with the first pressing of the olives.
Extra virgin olive oil It is the best oil and the one that has the most appealing flavor. Its degree of acidity is below 1%, and it is known for its characteristic green color.
Extra fine virgin olive oil While this type of oil isn't bad at all, it cannot be compared with extra virgin oil. Its color is more golden and its acidity reaches 2%.
Ordinary virgin olive oil This lower quality oil is still suitable for human consumption. Its acidity is above 3% and it offers little properties.
Lampante virgin olive oil This oil is not suitable for human consumption. Its acidity is above 3.3% and it is only used in oil lamps.
Refined olive oil This oil is not good, as you can notice from its flavor. However, its acidity allows it to be consumed by people. The heat applied to it makes it lose its properties.
Olive oil This type of oil is a blend of refined oil and virgin olive oil. It will have a specific flavor depending on the blend.
Olive pomace oil The stone of the olives is used to make this oil. Some properties of the oil are sacrificed to increase production.
Raw olive pomace oil The process mentioned earlier is used to manufacture this type of oil. However, it is not mixed with any other kind of oil.
Refined olive pomace oil The olive stone is used to create this oil, which is then refined. It can be suitable for human consumption if its acidity doesn't exceed 0.5 degrees.

What varieties of olive oil are there?

You've learned about the different types of oils in the table above. We'll now have a look at the main varieties of this product — note that there are more than 250 in Spain alone, for example. You should know that there are two types of oil, based on how they are made: coupage, which is created from the blending of different olives, and monovarietal, which only uses one.

The three most important varieties of olive oils are found in the latter group, the monovarietal oils. We refer to Hojiblanca, Arbequina and Picual. In order to always have the right olive oil, you should know what these different names refer to, and for what each type is used. This is detailed for you in the following table:

Variety of oil Characteristics
Hojiblanca It has a hint of fresh grass and almonds and presents a slight spiciness when tasted. It is perfect for blue fish, creams, pastas, meats or sauces.
Arbequina Its fruity aroma is reminiscent of apples and bananas. It is ideal to prepare desserts, but also for seafood, fish, creams or salads.
Picual Its intense flavor offers hints of tomato and fig tree. Somewhat bitter and spicy, this oil is perfect for meat stews, salads or to be used raw.

How should I read olive oil labels?

Many consumers tend to omit reading the information available on the label of the products they buy. This is unfortunate because they often offer valuable information that can help you choose the right product. For this reason, we've listed below some information common to most olive oil bottles, and what they mean:

  • Recommended use. Certain labels will feature the recommended use for the oil you're considering buying. It gives suggestions for the types of food that best suit the chosen product.
  • Olive varieties. We've already discussed the main varieties of olives used, and you know that this will influence the flavor of the oil. This is why you shouldn't neglect this factor.
  • Harvest. It indicates the year of harvest of the olives. Some may be from a single year, while others may come from various harvests.
  • Cold extraction. If the bottle indicates this characteristic, it means that the oil has been extracted at less than 27 degrees. In that case, it will present a tastier flavor.
  • Designation of origin. Virgin or extra virgin olive oils are required to show this label.
  • Grade. It shows the acidity grade of the oil in question.
  • Type of oil. This is perhaps the most important aspect, as it tells you what kind of oil the product uses. As we explained earlier, you should always go for extra virgin olive oil.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of olive oil?

This type of oil is found in virtually all households. You can use it to cook or to dress your salads, and much more still. Now that you've discovered some of the key features of olive oils, let's have a look at their main advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages
  • It is a healthy product
  • It improves the taste of food
  • You can easily find this product
  • There are multiple ways you can use it
Disadvantages
  • Some varieties are quite expensive
  • The price is very fluctuating
  • You have to know how to use this product

Shopping Criteria

We're nearing the end of our shopping guide, and we can't possibly let you go without having a look at some of the key aspects that you should consider when making your purchase. You likely buy olive oil quite frequently, which is why it's so important for you to get it right. In the following section, we'll look at five fundamental criteria:

Type of oil

We've discussed above the different types of olive oil available on the market. This means you also know that not all products offer the same properties and health benefits. In that regard, you are advised to always try and opt for extra virgin olive oil, or virgin olive oil if the former isn't available. These two types will most contribute to your health while giving great flavor to all your foods.

Olive oil can be used both for cooking and for dressing all your salads.
(Source: Marian Vejcik: 41977009/ 123rf.com)

Variety

Remember to consider the variety of the oil and its recommended uses when choosing your next bottle of olive oil. Your best option would be to have different varieties at home so you can always use the most suitable one. However, we encourage you to consume the oil within a reasonable period of time. This is due to the fact that it can lose some of its properties over time.

Package size

In the same vein, you'll need to pay attention to find the right package size for your household. Saving a few bucks by buying a five-liter container is pointless if you'll take years to consume it all. In addition, the minimum container must be half a litre so that the product is kept in perfect condition.

Acidity

The acidity measures how many free fatty acids are present in the oil. In fact, this value also determines the quality of virgin olive oils: the lower the acidity, the higher the quality. Virgin olive oils have an acidity equal or inferior to 2 degrees. Extra virgin oils, on the other hand, cannot exceed 0.8 degrees of acidity.

Authenticity

You are strongly encouraged to purchase your olive oil in a store that can guarantee its origin. Ideally, you should also be able to prove the origin of the product you want to buy, and check that it corresponds to the information found on its label. Keep in mind that some companies mislead consumers regarding their products.

Summary

Olive oil is a product that offers a multitude of properties. It is essential in your kitchen and will help you prepare almost all dishes, giving them a particular flavor. It is important for you to choose an olive oil that is suitable for the ingredients you most frequently use if you want to get the best cooking results.

There is a great variety of olive oils on the market. However, not all have the same quality nor present the same health benefits. We encourage you to consider the different aspects we've discussed throughout our article in order to make the right purchase. That being said, our general recommendation is that you opt for extra virgin olive oil.

We hope that you found our guide interesting and that the information has been useful to you. If that's the case, feel free to leave us a comment in the section below. You can also share our article on your social media!

(Source of featured image: subbotina: 39033415/ 123rf.com)

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