Olive oil is lauded for its health benefits as often as for its unique flavor. Not all olive oils are alike, however. Where once olive oil aficionados insisted that the only good olive oil came from Italy or France, olive oils from Spain, Greece, and California have gained recognition for their unique flavor profiles.
I use a lot of olive oil in my local foods kitchen and have found wonderful California olive oil producers, some even pressing and bottling varietal olive oils (oils from specific olive varieties). Learn about different types of olive oils and how to buy, store, and use this delicious oil below.
Olive Oil Grades
Olive oil is graded based on how the olives are processed and the acidity level of the final oil. For the maximum flavor and health benefits, buy extra virgin olive oil. Learn more about Types of Olive Oil.
How to Store Olive Oil
Heat, light, and air all affect olive oil in a negative way. Olive oil is best stored in sealable metal tins or dark glass bottles to protect the oil from the light. These darkened containers should then be kept away from light and heat. That glass bottle of olive oil next to the stove? The smart bet says that oil is rancid.
How to Taste Olive Oil
Professionals taste olive oil plain, from a spoon or small cup. They smell it first, noting aromas before tasting it. They then sip the oil and let it coat their mouths, noting levels of acid, pungency, and fruitiness.
At home, feel free to taste olive oil by dipping a piece of plain white bread into the oil (baguette or ciabatta works well) or do as the professionals do and simply slurp it plain. If it's turned rancid, as olive oil left in heat or light does quite quickly, it will have a sharp bite that isn't the desired pungency. It will make your mouth pucker instead of the kick to the back of your throat that more pungent olive oils tend to have. Get more tips from my blog post How to Taste Olive Oil.
Cooking with Olive Oil
When you go to the trouble and expense of buying high quality olive oil, use it where it can shine: to dress salads and drizzle on dishes. Lesser quality olive oil can make a good cooking oil.
While olive oil gets used in scads of recipes, here are a few where the flavor and even the unique texture of olive oil plays an important role:
- Marinated Baby Artichokes are cooked in a vinegar bath before being "cured" in jars of olive oil
- Smoked Paprika Soup and Fava Bean Soup both get a hit of flavor and soothing smoothness from a swirl of olive oil as a garnish
- Skordalia is a mixture of potato, almond, and olive oil used as a dip or a spread and full of olive oil flavor
- Aïoli is a garlicky homemade mayonnaise made primarily from olive oil
- Spanish Gazpacho depends on olive oil to soften the acidic edge of tomatoes
Baked goods made with olive oil (like this Italian Honey Cake) stay fresher longer – just be sure to look for olive oil-specific recipes, since the flavor of olive oil needs to be balanced out more than vegetable oil or butter.
Olive Oil Health Properties
Olive oil is mainly made up of monounsaturated fatty acids and void of cholesterol. It also contains antioxidants and vitamin E. Learn more about the health benefits of olive oil.