You’re standing at the grocery store in front of a million olive-oil choices. So what should you buy and why?
Published Aug. 24, 2023.
Picking up olive oil at the supermarket should be simpler. Most stores have half an aisle dedicated to a dizzying number of brands and bottles. What’s the best choice?
If you care about flavor, we can help. We tasted 10 of the top-selling, most widely available national brands sold at grocery and big-box stores. We hid labels, sampled them in random order, and assigned them code numbers to avoid prejudice. In the end, we found a few favorites—at a reasonable price—and learned how to reliably find the best, most flavorful olive oils.
We focused only on olive oils labeled extra-virgin—the highest grade. By definition, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) must have flavor with some olive fruitiness and zero defects and pass certain lab tests. This is a one-ingredient product, mechanically pressed from olives with no added heat, which maintains its fresh taste. (For more information, see Olive Oil 101: How to Shop.)
Why did we skip supermarket products labeled just “olive oil” or “light-tasting olive oil”? Those are refined oils, which means they’re made from the lowest grade of mechanically extracted oil (called “lampante” for its history as a lamp fuel) and then—just like any other neutral-tasting vegetable oil—they are further processed to strip out defective flavors. Finally, a hint of extra-virgin olive oil is added for an olive-y note. They’re made primarily for cooking, designed to be mostly flavorless. They make a solid economical choice for heated applications, but there’s no real point to tasting them.
Here in the test kitchen, we want a high-quality, flavorful, everyday supermarket extra-virgin olive oil, because we like to keep it simple. We plan to grab it for nearly every application, hot and cold, including for shallow-frying, dipping chunks of bread, dressing salad, and drizzling over a finished dish. (For an extra flavor boost, we also recommend keeping ultraflavorful premium extra-virgin olive oil for cold applications.)
With an average price of $0.67 per ounce, supermarket extra-virgin oils are not overly pricey, and we think the best choices contribute flavor that is worth every penny.
Contrary to rumor, nothing bad happens if you cook with olive oil, except that most of its fruity flavors dissipate with the heat; even extra-virgin olive oil is safe at high temperatures, with a smoke point ranging from 350 to 415 degrees.
Even after focusing just on extra-virgin olive oils, our lineup was hard to narrow down. Most brands offer several, of varying flavor intensities, with hints about how to use them, such as “for frying” or “for d...
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Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.