An Olive Oil Sommelier Spills: How to Spot the Difference Between Authentic EVOO and Imposter Brands
Never end up with a dull dipping oil again.
Olive oil is undoubtedly one of the most popular ingredients you’ll find in kitchens across the world. I personally keep a bottle within arms reach of the stove for searing, drizzling, or dipping any ingredient that comes across my counter. Though up until a few weeks ago I had no idea how fraudulent the olive oil industry was. To begin debunking the issues within the olive oil aisle of the store, I should start by noting that the FDA does not regulate labeling on olive oil. Meaning, products labeled as olive oil could actually be a combination of oils like canola or vegetable even though the label says extra virgin olive oil in big bold letters on the front. Some brands even go as far as to add artificial color and scents to make a product appear more like olive oil when it’s just a dressed up blend. The lack of FDA interference leaves authentic olive oil producers to compete with less expensive products that are not nearly as legit or high quality.
To get to the bottom of the issue with olive oil, I chatted with level two olive oil Sommelier and master blender from Pasolivo, Marisa Bloch Gaytan. While she educated me on the process of making olive oil here in California, she also gave me some expert tips and tricks to pick out better oils at the market, sticking to authentic varieties, and how to store your oil so it maintains its unique and bold flavor.
How to Tell if Your Olive Oil is Actually What it Claims
So now that I’ve unfortunately had to burst your EVOO bubble, let’s help steer you and your cart in the right direction on your next grocery trip. Checking to see if your olive oil is certified is the easiest way to tell if it’s legitimate. There are only two councils that certify if olive oil is actually extra virgin grade, one is in California and the other is International. On their websites, you’ll find a list of all of the brands and blends they’ve approved as a genuine extra virgin; there are also listings for kosher and organic brands.
The next tip is so simple I was surprised I hadn’t ever considered doing it before Marisa told me, look at the ingredients. While the front of the oil bottle can lie, the back cannot. The listed ingredients on the back or edge of the bottle will say what’s actually inside. Often here it will tell you what variety of olives were used, and if there are any added ingredients. The infused olive oils from Pasolivo are a good example of what you want to see on the label of pure olive oil. It lists on the side of the label “Tuscan olives, and basil”, the olives are pressed with fresh basil to create a depth of flavor, while still only using two ingredients.
A study done at UC Davis showed that 86% of olive oil labeled as extra virgin and sold at retail locations in California did not meet international or US standards for extra virgin. That seems like pretty much most of the oil options on the shelf, right? While these might seem like pretty lengthy measures to go to for oil, you can do all of this research at home (like right now after reading this article) and choose a great bottle based on an age-old tip we were told to throw out as kids, judge it by its cover. Yep, judge your olive oil by the choice of bottle used, material, and look.
What to Look Out For When Buying Olive Oil
Ready to judge some oils? Just kidding, we aren’t here to hurt any oil’s feelings, but there are some packaging suggestions that high-quality producers use to maintain the freshness and flavor of their oil.
The biggest enemies of olive oil are air, heat, and light; these degrade oil over time. At the store, you want to look for dark bottles, and try to buy a quantity you can use up in a few months. Once you get home, keep your oil in a dark, cool cupboard.
Oils that are in dark bottles, like the Pasolivo oil pictured above or bottles, as to not allow light in will always have a fresher flavor. Marisa tells me “Even the florescent and artificial light in the grocery store can start to degrade your oil if it’s packaged in plastic or clear glass.” At this moment in our Zoom call I glanced at the bottle of olive oil I had in clear glass, sitting next to my stove in direct golden hour sunlight.
Similarly to how you don’t want to expose oil to sunlight, you want to avoid heat. So I have been making two errors with my oil; clear glass and storage next to the burners. Every time I had turned the stove on I was singlehandedly destroying the quality of my olive oil, “how could I?” I wondered to myself. Never again would I do wrong by my oils! After the Zoom call I rather quickly scurried to my kitchen and moved all of my oils into their own section of my cupboard. The more you know, right?
Certified California Olive Oil Brands
Now that you know what to look for, here are a few olive oils that follow the best practices I’ve laid out above. I’ve even searched through the California Olive Oil Councils’ list of members to ensure each of these bottles are certified extra virgin. One more perk of high-quality olive oil is that you can actually cook and bake with it. Even though common myth claims it’s bad to cook with olive oil, most olive oils that are actually what they claim have a heat point of up to 420 degrees Fahrenheit; though that temperature goes down over time so keep a close eye on the harvest date of your oil (which should always be printed on the bottle).
Pasolivo Cucina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This buttery extra virgin olive oil is made from milder olive varietals to create an oil that is softer on the palate. Perfect for every day cooking and has the light fruitiness of traditional extra virgin olive oil with a smooth finish.
Brightland Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Brightland extra virgin olive oils have a smoke point of 410 degrees at the time of harvest (November 2020). It’s ideal to use your olive oil within 18 months of harvest to maintain flavor and freshness.
Wonder Valley Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The olives are hand-picked young for this special bottle of EVOO, yielding a greener oil, longer shelf life, and higher concentration of polyphenols. The matte black UV coated bottle protects the integrity of the oil and extends the shelf life. This 375 mL bottle is 100% plastic free – made of glass, cork, wood and paper.
Olive Oil Recipes
While partaking in my olive oil tasting with Marisa, she told me many people sip their oil like wine when tasting. I had a sliced loaf of Tartine bread at the ready for my oils, though I did take a sip here and there to fully dive into the grassy flavors of the delicious California-made oils. If sipping olive oil isn’t your go-to drizzle, dip, and dredge all of the things in oil with these recipes that highlight EVOO.