How to Pick Out the Best Olive Oil
Tips and tricks from a Mediterranean master
From warm, homemade bread to soft vanilla ice cream, olive oil can make almost any food more delicious. But with hundreds of brands lining the shelves, how can you find the best variety?
Giuseppe Taibi is here to help. The award-winning, fourth-generation olive oil producer recently poured out his knowledge on the benefits of olive oil and how to find a primo bottle.
Q: Why should olive oil be a kitchen staple?
A: Olive oil is one of the few foods in the world that tastes great and has been linked to health benefits. Let me repeat that: How many foods can you name that taste great, make anything you pour them on taste even better and are also healthy?
All your food will taste better—and your friends and family will notice a difference.
Q: What’s the difference between extra virgin and regular olive oil?
A: There’s a big distinction between “extra virgin olive oil” and what’s just “olive oil.” “Olive oil” and other things like “light olive oil” are actually refined oil. At some point, some fruit was involved—but it’s a chemical extraction process, which often involves deodorization and coloring.
If you really want the good stuff, the kind that has potential health benefits and actually has taste, then you want to go with “extra virgin.” Because it’s made exclusively through mechanical means and the crushing of the olives, it makes a huge difference.
Q: What about cold-pressed? Is that something that matters?
A: It’s important that olive oil is cold-pressed, as opposed to coming from a press where the olive paste is worked at a higher temperature. If the paste is heated, more olive oil can be produced—but the quality is lower. The highest-quality olive oil is made by producers who prioritize quality over quantity. And cold press is one of the ways you maximize quality.
Q: So what does great olive oil taste like?
A: Great olive oil actually has a taste! And there are hundreds of different varietals. Some are more bitter, some are more fruity, some are more balanced.
The more bitter, the more the antioxidants. So bitterness is actually a positive attribute—and depending on what you’re eating, it might actually be a great complement. The other thing is the pungency—the thing that kind of burns the back of your throat. That’s also an expression of the antioxidants, and it’s considered a positive attribute.
Q: How can you judge an olive oil by its label?
A: A very important distinction is whether the olive oil comes from the same region, as opposed to multiple regions. The picture on the bottle may look like an Italian countryside, but if you look—usually on the back of the label, under the bottle or on the cap—you’ll find that the olive oil comes from olives from Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Morocco. The logistics of this alone are pretty crazy and potentially problematic—because olive oil doesn’t have any preservatives.
The bottom line is this: The more integrated, and less globalized, the supply chain or production system, the higher quality the olive oil.
Q: Anything else people should look for on the label?
A: You want to find an olive oil that’s made fresh from a recent harvest. There’s only 1 harvest per year, and unfortunately most producers don’t put that on the front of their label. You don’t want to buy an olive oil from a harvest that’s 3 to 4 years old—because the flavor, for sure, is completely gone. And a lot of the health benefits have gone as well.
From the moment it’s produced and comes out of the press, olive oil doesn’t get any fresher. It only gets a little worse every day because there are no additives. So you want to use the freshest olive oil you can.
Q: What’s the best way to enjoy the different varieties of olive oil?
A: Depending on what food you’re preparing, you want to learn the right pairing. If you’re making a delicate salad or a fresh cheese, you want to use an oil with a delicate profile. If you’re grilling a steak or making some kind of a red sauce, you want something more robust.
Try different types—maybe two or three—from time to time so you can learn how to do the pairings. It’s fun, you’ll have a lot of great meals, and your heart will be even happier.
When Giuseppe Taibi isn’t creating ultra-premium olive oil for the world to enjoy, he’s working as a tech executive in Boston. Yep, this amazing guy’s got a PhD in artificial intelligence. Watch his two passions collide here.
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