12 Sep

How To … Become an expert on olive oil

Olive oil is different from other cooking oils in many ways. The most important differences to consumers and cooks are its heart-healthful properties and its taste. Unlike vegetable oils, it has one. It can be evaluated like wine, especially extra-virgin olive oil that comes from the first pressing of olives grown in one grove or region.


Olive oil is really a fruit juice that should be consumed within two years of pressing and within 90 days of opening. Don’t buy more than you can use in about three months. If it is cloudy, pass it by or throw it away. It is past its prime and could be rancid.

  • Read the label. Italica oil ($5.99 for 17 ounces) states on its label that the olives are from the hills surrounding the city of Italica in southern Spain. (Even though the hurried shopper might assume Italica is from Italy.) If the company goes so far as to pinpoint the source of the olives, it’s likely true, says Bob Bauer, president of the North American Olive Oil Association. The manufacturers don’t want to harm their reputation and hurt sales of other products by making false claims, he says.
  • Smell and taste olive oil as you would wine. Pour a tablespoon into a clear glass and sniff. It should smell like olives, among other things.
  • Last, taste the oil, sucking in a bit of air to oxygenate the flavors. Is it mild, or is there an intense kick? Can you detect flavors that remind you of artichokes or bananas? Don’t be surprised to feel a slight burn in the back of your throat from generic olive oils. You don’t find that as much with high-end artisan brands.

Most important, do you like the taste? This is the oil you’ll be using to make salad dressings and saute vegetables.

If it doesn’t pass your taste tests, buy another brand next time you’re at the store. Or better, host an olive oil tasting and have each taster bring a bottle to sample. That’s a quick and economical way to find an olive oil you like.

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