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The Best Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
There have been lots of changes in the olive oil world since we last tested supermarket olive oil—our previous winner swapped its source due to shortages, some brands have addressed quality in a new way, and a new trend of robust oils has hit the shelves. We’ll help you navigate the supermarket aisles.
Published Aug. 19, 2019. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: Rustic Italian Fare
Our co-winning extra-virgin olive oil by California Olive Ranch was recently rebranded. The product remains the same, but its name has changed. It is now called the California Olive Ranch Global Blend Medium Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
What You Need To Know
Faced with supermarket shelves teeming with choices, how do you decide which is the best extra-virgin olive oil to buy? Don’t give up and grab the cheapest bottle. We’ll help you do better than that without breaking the bank.
Great extra-virgin olive oil tastes fresh, fruity, and lively, whether its flavor is mild and buttery or grassy and peppery. When we recently tasted premium extra-virgin olive oils, we couldn’t rank them from best to worst—they were all excellent and as unique as fingerprints. Instead we provided descriptions of their flavors so you could pick the one that most appeals to you. By contrast, our experience with supermarket offerings has been a mixed bag. Often, these products are made of a blend of bulk-purchased commodity oils, so their flavors are not particularly fresh or distinctive. In other words, when low price is the goal, flavor takes a back seat. In our previous tasting of supermarket olive oils, we did find one that tasted fresher and fruitier than the others, but recently its manufacturer, California Olive Ranch, changed the way it sources and produces its oil (more on that later), so we went back to the drawing board.
We bought 11 of the top-selling extra-virgin olive oils that are nationally available in supermarkets, including four labeled “robust”—these are recent introductions from some olive oil producers that are purportedly heartier in flavor than their supermarket extra-virgin options. We sampled all 11 oils in random order in three randomized tastings: plain, in a simple vinaigrette on lettuce, and drizzled over warm white beans. We also sent a set of the oils in unmarked, randomly numbered bottles to a group of independent expert tasters trained in olive oil analysis to get their impressions, but we did not take their comments into account when determining our rankings.
Experts Gave Low Marks to the Supermarket Oils
Olive oil quality is judged in two ways: lab testing and expert tasting. Even if an oil passes lab tests for quality standards that were set by the International Olive Council, expert tasters must detect no flavor defects and some fruitiness for it to be classified as extra-virgin grade. The tasters are trained to recognize typical flavor flaws that indicate problems. These problems could include the olives not being in peak condition when they were picked and starting to ferment before they were pressed or the oil itself turning rancid. The tasters also note each oil’s “olive-fruitiness,” bitterness, and pungency; these are positive flavor characteristics that are present to varying degrees in fresh olive oil.
In general, the expert olive oil tasters were not...
Everything We Tested
Tied for first place, this oil was described as “very green, very grassy” and brought a “nice balance and presence in the dressing,” offering a “contrast of fruity, bitter oil with tangy vinegar.” “This is one worth buying,” one taster wrote. “The oil truly enhances beans and makes a simple dish feel special. It’s flavorful immediately and finishes strong.”
The reformulated international version of our previous supermarket favorite earned praise in vinaigrette for being “rich and fruity, so delicious," and "very olive-forward,” with “good balance.” “Tastes fresher and brighter” than other samples, one taster noted. Drizzled over beans, it was “superyummy. Now I get what this dish is supposed to be like: rich and complex and beyond either ingredient on its own.”
Recommended with reservations
Reviews you can trust
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.