How to obtain authentic olive oil?
August 25, 2010 11:23 AM   Subscribe

In light of the widespread adulteration of olive oil, how does one find authentic extra-virgin olive oil? Do protected designation of origin, organic, or fair trade certifications help? (Previously.)
posted by parudox to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Its not really adulterated so much as it is rancid/oxidized - so no certifications won't help. You want to buy it from reputible stores with high turnover. Also learn what extra-virgin oil is supposed to taste like.
posted by JPD at 11:35 AM on August 25, 2010

Seconding learning what it tastes like, read up on it or take a one time class.
Try ethnic grocery stores too, they have more of the real deal and they are cheaper than the stuff you find in regular stores.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 11:38 AM on August 25, 2010

#1 rule: when was the oil made, and under what conditions has it been stored. Olive oil lasts about a year from pressing. Light is the enemy, even artificial store light. Look for dark bottles. Look for places that have a high turnover - so, f.ex., TJ's is great, especially their California estate organic olive oil - surprisingly not that expensive. Avoid: expensive exotic brands - these usually sit on the shelf, and Whole Foods is a good example of how not to do it - avoid WF (this also goes for their more exotic cheeses and things like duck pates etc.). Also, avoid small ethnic stores - they carry a lot of trash/old/adulterated off brand oils (caveat: exceptions always exist etc.). Generally: avoid Italian, be careful with Greek, you're OK with Spanish. Ultimately however, see #1.
posted by VikingSword at 11:49 AM on August 25, 2010

I generally buy the second cheapest non-generic brand which comes in a tin and have been very happy with my olive oil over several years. They tend to be Spanish, if it matters. Zoe has been my go-to for several years now.

BTW, it should be immediately apparent as to whether your olive oil is rancid or not. Just like any other fat.

I have had no problems with specialty goods from Whole Foods, btw. Maybe it's because I live in a huge cosmopolitan city where people tend to have broader tastes?
posted by Sara C. at 12:45 PM on August 25, 2010

I get mine from these guys. It helps that I can buy from them at the local farmers market, but my parents get it shipped to them cross-country. It's good stuff, and you can buy by varietal or get the most recent pressing if you're concerned about freshness.
posted by pombe at 1:01 PM on August 25, 2010

California has a certification for in-state growers that's pretty reputable (IMO). But, as people say, the best way is to just know what it tastes like. I'd been buying pretty low-end oil (house brands usually at WF or TJs) when I was living outside SF and decided to splurge on a small bottle from a California (Marin county) grower. I then poured a bit of each into two shot glasses. The appearance, smell, taste were all incredibly different. I should have tasted some canola oil as well just for fun.

Also, if you have a co-op or health food store that sells in bulk, you can usually bring your own bottle and get pretty good oil that way too.
posted by R343L at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2010

Seconding what R343L wrote - I just recently read a good description of California's standards, but I'm sorry to say I can't cite my source. The gist of it was that if you're buying California produced olive oil, you're better off.
posted by chez shoes at 1:56 PM on August 25, 2010

I don't worry about it if I'm cooking something in which I won't taste the olive oil. I.e., if I'm frying up some onions, carrots and celery for some soup, I use olive oil from Trader Joe's or Whole Food's. Colavita's higher priced stuff seems OK.

If I want to taste the olive oil, then it's diferent matter. I've had varying luck there, with cost seeming to be no guarantee of good oil.

You might consider buying online. I've purchased from Bariani in California. The oil they sent me was new, fresh, and taste-wise, a lightyear away from the stuff in the stores.
posted by justcorbly at 3:52 PM on August 25, 2010

In Chicago, there's an olive oil store which has tastings and pairings. I've used them as presents for family several times. Unless you're swinging through, you won't get to taste before you buy, but they ship and would probably be happy to talk to you on the phone. They are a bit expensive, so I only use it for things where I really will be able to taste it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:18 PM on August 25, 2010

Do protected designation of origin, organic, or fair trade certifications help?

None of these things matter all that much if the oil is of low quality, rancid, or both.

I can't give KW-specific suggestions (although perhaps you'd have some luck at Vincenzo's), but there are quite a few specialty stores in Toronto that will have a good selection of Greek and Spanish oils. The Olive Pit on Queen West and either location of Pusateri's come to mind, and both offer tastings. I've never gone looking for California olive oils myself, but I'd imagine that the former would be the most likely to have a good selection in stock.

My personal strategy, much like Sara C's, is to buy a can of Spanish olive oil (usually Goya) from a large grocery store. Unlike with (Italian) supermarket standbys like Bertolli and the President's Choice oil, I've yet to have a problem with Goya.
posted by thisjax at 8:16 PM on August 25, 2010

If you are looking to spend a little more you might try olive oil from this olive farm. I have not tasted it personally but I know the guy who runs it and I am told the product is excellent (by other people, not just him).
posted by bq at 10:06 AM on August 26, 2010

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