Healthy eating experts may disagree on the merits of carbs, coconut oil, and butter, but extra-virgin olive oil is about as controversial as leafy greens; virtually everyone feels pretty darn good about it.

But here’s the thing: Not all olive oils are created equal. It turns out that there’s a lot of shade being thrown around in the olive oil industry, and many brands include weird additives in the production process—like other oils that aren’t olive oil, for example. According to Aishwarya Iyer, founder of olive-oil company Brightland—known for their high-quality standards—a lot of oils out there are actually rancid or laced with cheaper, refined oils and the companies don’t even have to label it on the bottle.

In fact, Iyer founded Brightland after discovering what she thought was a gluten sensitivity, was actually a reaction to the poor-quality olive oil she was consuming on the reg.  “According to the UC Davis Olive Center, nearly 70 percent of imported olive oil samples failed to meet the standards for extra-virgin olive oil and had defects that range from rancidity to adulteration with cheaper and more refined oils,” she says. “The cheaper oils can contain a blend of inferior quality vegetable oils like soybean oils, sunflower oil, palm oil, canola oil and they don’t have to indicate that.” Not exactly what you had in mind when you reached for that EVOO on the shelf, right?

To start, it’s a good idea to understand what the “extra-virgin” term often attached to olive oil actually stands for. And, is extra-virgin really the best type of olive oil for your health? According to health coach and The Real Food Grocery Guide author Maria Marlowe, it is. “Extra-virgin is a term unique to olive oil and signifies the oil was cold pressed from the first pressing of olives, which results in the most pure, least acidic oil as well as the best-tasting oil,” she explains.

Fortunately, there’s a few simple tips and tricks for figuring out if the olive oil you’re eying is good quality. Keep reading for five things to look for.

olive oil guide
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

1. Type of bottle

“The first thing to look for is the type of bottle it’s in,” Iyer says. “Numerous studies have shown that a glass or a stainless steel or tin is the best, so plastic is not as preferable as glass.” Beyond that, Iyer says it should also be opaque—and not clear—since light can affect the quality of what’s in the bottle.

That also means it’s best to store your olive oil in your pantry and not sitting out in the kitchen where the sun can shine on it. Otherwise, Iver says, it could go rancid.

2. Taste

If you have an opportunity to test out an olive oil before buying it, do it. Here’s how to be an EVOO sommelier, according to Iver: “Open it up and, like wine, pour it into a little glass. Sip it and really think about when it kind of hits your tongue.” If it’s legit, it should taste grassy, green, and floral. If it’s rancid, adulterated, or heavily processed, you’re more likely to taste notes of metallic or plastic. (Um, yum…)

“When you swallow it, if it’s authentic, you’ll feel a very peppery almost like sharp sensation in the back of your throat,” she adds. “That’s basically the indicator that there are a lot of polyphenols present. That gets lost if the olive oil is rancid or not up to grade.”

And if it tastes bitter, it’s actually a good thing. “The bitter or astringent olive oil taste of some EVOO is actually good,” says Daniel Angerer, a chef at Paleo cult-fave Hu Kitchen. “It pairs exceptionally well with foods, and you may realize some fruity, peppery notes, too. If your EVOO has a sour off-taste, smells stinky, or has a bad-nutty scent, it may have turned rancid. It can happen when the EVOO has been exposed too long to air or was stored at warm temperatures too long,” he explains.

3. Harvest date

Like everything else on the shelves, olive oil comes with a “best buy” date, but Iver says it’s actually more beneficial to look for a harvest date, which tells you when the olive oil was actually made. “With a best buy date, it could be [two or three years in the future], but olive oil’s shelf life from harvest is really about 16 to 18 months.” After that, the taste starts to go downhill.

“If it has a ‘pressed on’ or ‘harvest date’, it’s likely to be a higher quality oil, and if you see the name of the producer or estate, or the variety of olive used, it’s likely legit. The more specifics, the better,” adds Marlowe.

4. Check out where it’s from

You know how wine lovers tend to go for wines where the grapes are all from the same place and not blended together from a bunch of different places? Angerer says the same applies to olive oil. “Many cheaper brands have olives from many different countries, which devalues the quality in my opinion,” he says.

But while you’re doing your research, checking out where the olives are from, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be Italy or bust—even though the country is known for the oil. “If it’s coming from California, for example, that means it didn’t have to travel as far and there’s less room for error, so that’s great too,” Iver says.

Marlowe gives the tip to look for seals, indicating a quality standard has been met. (BTW, she says Australia has the strictest standards when it comes to quality.) She also adds that—just like with everything else—it’s best to buy organic, when possible.

5. Look into the polyphenol levels

The whole point of choosing a quality olive oil is to get one that packs the healthiest punch, right? So when you’re looking at the bottle, see if the amount of polyphenols are listed. “Usually in the olive oil world, anything over 250-300 is considered really fantastic,” says Iyer, of the magic number to look for. “The higher the polyphenols the higher the heart-healthy benefits, and higher antioxidants,” explains Iyer.

Bottom line, if you want to reap all of the body-loving benefits of EVOO, be sure to check out that label (and bottle). After all, just like wine, it may take you a bit longer to find the right bottle–but once you do it’s well worth it.

Olive oil is just one type of healthy fat out there. Find out everything you need to know about healthy fats, and here’s how to use 8 different types of oils.


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