The most important factor when it comes to quality EVOO is FRESHNESS! Always select an EVOO that has a crush date or a harvest date on the label. Olive oil is perishable and should be consumed within 18 months of being harvested and crushed, so a “best by” or “expiration date” is completely worthless, since it gives no indication as to how old the oil actually is!
Olive oil is ranked in the top 10 fraudulent foods worldwide, so to further guarantee an oil’s freshness and authenticity check the label for the country of origin. A label listing more than one country of origin strongly suggests that the oil is neither fresh nor high quality. For example, an Italian brand of olive oil that lists Turkey, Morocco and Spain as the countries of origin signifies that three oils produced in their respective home countries have then been shipped to Italy to be blended and bottled. This scenario leaves no traceable way to account for quality of production, date of production, length of travel time or date of blending.
Always check the label for the olive varietal(s) used to produce an EVOO. Producers of high quality EVOO take great pride in every aspect of an oil’s production from tree to table. Not listing the varietal(s) on the label demonstrates a total lack of transparency and traceability as to what’s actually in the bottle.
Extra Virgin is an international quality standard for olive oil. To be labeled Extra Virgin an oil must pass internationally accepted chemical analysis standards and also be judged free of taste defects by an internationally accredited tasting panel. At a minimum, a high quality oil should list the 3 most basic chemical standards for EVOO on the label.
Look for oils that list FFA (Free Fatty Acid content/acidity), Oleic Acid Percentage (percentage of heart healthy fatty acid to overall FFA) and Peroxide Value (exposure to oxygen during harvest). To be labeled Extra Virgin, FFA must be ≤ 0.8%, Oleic Acid Percentage must be ≥ 55% and Peroxide Value must be ≤ 20.
If possible, always TASTE an oil before buying it!
Don’t be put off by bitterness, pungency or a slight burning sensation. These characteristics are associated with the presence of Oleocanthal, a high powered polyphenol that has tremendous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Oleocanthal is most cited to be responsible for the low incidence of heart disease and Alzheimer's associated with the Mediterranean diet.
As you would with a wine, choose an EVOO that complements your meal. Pick powerful oils labeled as “robust”, “early harvest” or “full-bodied” to accompany foods with strong or distinctive flavors. Choose milder oils labeled as “mild,” “delicate fruit,” or “late harvest” for foods with light or mellow flavors.
NEVER buy and EVOO that is packaged in a clear bottle or plastic container! UV rays, fluorescent light and heat proliferation cause olive oil to go rancid faster. Clear glass and plastic intensify this process. Always select in an oil packaged in a dark glass (UV protected) bottle or metal container.
Above all, seek out freshness! Choose an EVOO that smells and tastes vibrant and lively. Avoid oils that smell moldy, rancid, greasy or metallic. Pay attention to mouth feel and always pick an oil that feels crisp and clean.
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