Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is one of our favorite healthy fats. Since it is best used raw or at very low temperatures, we love making salad dressings with EVOO, dipping bread or veggies in it, or drizzling it over a plate of pasta. It’s one of those ingredients that I savor and always try to buy the best quality I can find. But how can you know if your olive oil is real or fake?
Extra virgin olive oil has many excellent health benefits including healthy fats and antioxidants, but these benefits depend on the quality of the oil. With so many different brands and labels out there, it can be hard to know if your olive oil is real.
We want an olive oil that is fresh, minimally processed, and properly stored. All these characteristics ensure that the oil has lots of nutrients and will help you know that your olive oil is real and high quality. One of the most important things to remember is that olive oil is perishable. That means it degrades with time and exposure to light, air, and moisture. Much of the olive oil in the US is rancid or on its way to rancid, and it’s not uncommon to find olive oil cut with highly processed seed oils. Simply put, a lot of olive oil you’ll find on grocery store shelves is fake.
So how do you know if an olive oil is real or not? Well, there are many signs you can look for that will help you distinguish between a fresh, nutrient dense olive oil and a rancid, highly refined, or blended oil.
Here are our top 8 ways to know if your olive oil is real:
Know If Your Olive Oil is Real: Read the Label and Packaging
There is lots of information on the label and packaging of products. Some of it is just marketing or aesthetics, but some things will tell you a lot about the oil inside. Knowing what to pay attention to is key. The label is where you will find the information to know if your olive oil is fake or of good quality. Look for “extra virgin” or “cold pressed,” a single source of olives, usually a higher price, and a dark glass or metal bottle.
1. Your Olive Oil is Extra Virgin and/or Cold Pressed
Both of these terms mean that the oil is less processed. Olives are pressed for their oil, and this can be done at varying temperatures. In order to get the most out of the olives, lower quality oil is produced with heat. This heat impacts the nutrients that are available in the oil as well as the flavor. Refining processes then take lower quality olive oil and chemically wash and filter it until it’s nearly flavorless and odorless. This refining process also impacts the available nutrients in the oil.
Cold pressed or extra virgin olive oil is not heated or refined with any additional chemicals, so the nutrients are still intact. Oils graded as extra virgin are also the best tasting.
2. Your Olive Oil is Single Source
The source of the olives should be written clearly on the label. If it isn’t, you can assume the oil is a blend. Single source oil is best because it is easier to track the quality of one source of olives than it is to keep track of ten. Plus, most olive oils from blended sources are blended to fix poor flavor. Single source olive oil will taste better.
3. Your Olive Oil Has a Higher Price
The plain fact is: better quality olive oil costs more. There is a lot of poor quality olive oil in the world and much less fresh, tasty, high quality olive oil, so they charge a higher price for the good stuff. This is one reason why we choose to use olive oil raw for dipping, dressings, and drizzling rather than cooking with it.
4. Your Olive Oil is in a Dark Green Glass or Metal Container
Light exposure leads to oxidation in oils, which breaks down oils over time, causing rancidity and loss of nutrients. A dark container helps to minimize this. Avoid olive oil in clear bottles. Good quality olive oil will always be packed in dark containers that protect it from going rancid.
Know If Your Olive Oil is Real: From the Oil Itself
Your senses are an excellent gauge of whether an oil is quality or not. Just like you can smell and taste and look at a cup of juice, a piece of meat, or a head of lettuce to tell whether it’s good or not, you can use your senses to determine the quality of an olive oil. Pay attention to the color, the smell, and the taste of the oil.
It’s worth noting that if you grew up eating rancid or musty olive oil, you may not be familiar with what good olive oil tastes and smells like. A study done in 2011 found that many consumers preferred the taste of rancid olive oil, most likely because that is what they were used to. If you have been consuming cheaper, refined olive oil for a long time, you may be surprised by the depth of flavor in high quality extra virgin olive oil.
5. Your Olive Oil Has a Dark Green Color
High quality olive oil looks like it came from olives! It has a deep green color. If an oil is yellow or clear that means it is highly refined. The refining process removes the rich green color of the oil.
6. Your Olive Oil Has a Clean, Vibrant Smell
Olive oil smells good. Or at least it should! Highly refined olive oil has been deodorized with chemicals to smell and taste neutral. The fresh stuff, on the other hand, should have a distinct, pleasant smell of olives. The notes will depend on the oil itself but may be fruity, grassy, or peppery.
If it smells musty, waxy like crayons, like old peanuts, or like swampy vegetation, toss it.
7. Your Olive Oil Has a Fruity, Peppery Flavor with a Little Burn
Good quality olive oil has flavor notes like wine. Fruity, peppery, bitter, and pungent are positive signs. In fact, if you take a small sip of the oil, it should burn in the back of your throat for a moment and may make you cough a bit.
Highly refined olive oil or olive oil blended with seed oils will be tasteless or have a musty, rancid, or vinegary taste.
8. Your Olive Oil is Made By a Trusted Brand
Make sure the oil you’re buying is from a brand that can be trusted and has a proven track record of producing high quality products with minimal processing. Some of our favorite brands include
- Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Lucini Italia Everyday Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Kasandrinos International Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil isn’t just an excellent source of healthy fats, it’s a rich and flavorful addition to dipping sauces, salad dressing, and so many more recipes. Different brands are produced in vastly different ways, even though marketing and labels may look similar. So when you are choosing olive oil, make sure to keep in mind our 8 easy ways to know if your olive oil is real.