Buying a quality olive oil can be harder than you think. There are books on the subject, but here are a few tips.
The most important question to ask yourself is what are you going to use it for? If you will be using it for the health benefits or as a finishing drizzle over foods like cheese, vegetables, meat or fish, where taste matters, you will want to look for higher quality oil. Taste test olive oil straight up. Better quality oils will have distinguishable flavor notes like tomato, grassy, or fruity (referring to the olive flavor). The quality of the oil is determined by several things, including the olive variety, the time, length and method of harvest, the condition of the olive at the time it was pressed or processed and, lastly, if it was pressed from a full olive or the remaining pulp after the first mechanical pressing. Up to 8% of the oil is left over after the first press and the remaining pulp is further processed with solvents to extract the remaining oil. Be cautious what you buy and from where you buy. Ask yourself if you really want to put the “bottom of the barrel” in your diet. All olive oil comes from olives and reputable brands do not cut the olive oil with cheaper oils, but there has been a long history dating back to 2500 years ago, on clay tablets, that detail the problem to the more recent mention of the practice in Mark Twain’s memoir, Life on the Mississippi. There are vast differences between quality and one of the measurements is oleic acid content which determines how much deterioration has occurred in processing and bottling. Look for oil with low oleic acid. Better quality oils either have it on the bottle or accessible through their web site.
The second important question to ask yourself is: are you buying it for health reasons? Just like all apple juice pressed from the wide variety of apples and apple quality would not be expected to be the same, neither should olive oil juice from the wide variety of olives and olive quality be expected to be the same. The two main health benefits of olive oil are the heart healthy monounsaturated fats and the cancer fighting polyphenols. There are differences in fat and polyphenol levels resulting from the olive variety, time of harvest, environmental factors, and extraction and storage methods. Oils that are higher in polyphenols have a slight bitter taste and peppery astringency usually noticed on the back of the throat 3 to 5 seconds after a nice gulp.
The term “extra virgin” is defined by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) as “oil that has a free acidity of less than .8%, has 0 defects and greater than 0 positive attributes.” The best way to get great extra virgin olive oil is to look for reputable brands that have had a history of producing excellent quality. The cheapest will definitely not be the best and is likely low grade oil. You get what you pay for! Most of the brands Straub’s carries have been hand selected and taste tested and has acidity levels of .2% and less. If you are going to spend the extra money for olive oil instead of other oils, make sure you are getting the qualities that matter most.