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    The Ultimate Olive Oil Guide

    The various health benefits of extra virgin olive oil are no secret, but many Americans don’t know they are very likely purchasing ‘faux’ olive oil, or olive oil which offers very few of those well-publicized healthful compounds. I absolutely despise nutritional and food rip-offs, consider this the ultimate olive oil guide — or what you can no longer afford to NOT know.

    #1: Buy The Real Thing

    Four years ago, I was dismayed upon learning about the rampant issue of olive oil fraud (for the full story, see this detailed article from The New Yorker), which has fooled millions into falsely believing they were adding a source of healthful fat to their diets.

    Cliffs Notes version: some a disturbingly large percentage of ‘olive oil’ is an adulterated combination of olive and processed soybean or hazelnut oil that is highly refined. In other words — those health benefits you think you’re getting from your olive oil?  Barely any in that bottle in your pantry.

    I’m sorry to say that as recently as this past April, the problem showed no signs of improving, despite the USDA finally adopting — voluntary, natch — olive oil standards (here are further details on what those new standards entail).

    Fortunately, this isn’t a “there’s nothing you can do about it” situation. There are two ways you can guarantee you are getting legitimate olive oil:

    • Look for the California Olive Oil Council logo on a bottle or order directly from their certified producers (the list encompasses producers that have earned a certification over the past five years, so be sure to browse the archives).
    • Barring that, you can look for the Protected Designation of Origin logo, which guarantees that the Italian or Spanish olive oil on the supermarket shelf was indeed produced, processed, and prepared in a specific region of that country (as opposed to containing soybean or hazelnut oil from Northern Africa that was bottled in Italy and therefore technically “made in Italy”).  FYI: French olive oils will communicate this with an “AOC” (Appelation d’origine contrôlée) logo, Italian ones with “DOP” (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) and Spanish ones with “DO” (Denominación de Origen).
    • While a high price does not guarantee a good product, you can be sure that a $6.99 bottle of extra virgin olive oil is most likely a knock-off.

    #2: Know The Four Foes: Air, Heat, Time, and UV Light

    Part of what makes olive oil so healthful (other than its high monounsaturated fat content in the form of oleic acid) are its various antioxidants — mainly flavonoids and polyphenols — which are fragile and susceptible to substantial damage from air (oxygen, really), heat, and UV light. The mere passage of time also takes its toll on these compounds.

    With that in mind, here are must-know takeaways:

    • Only purchase extra virgin olive oil in tin cans or dark glass bottles (guideline: if you can see the oil’s true color through the bottle, that’s a bad sign).
    • Once you use olive oil, put the cork or cap back on immediately.
    • Store olive oil in a cool spot (storing a bottle next to — or on a shelf right over — your stove is not a good idea).
    • Since time is of the essence, purchase the smallest container of olive oil possible, unless you go through large amounts on a weekly basis. The last thing you want is a three-year supply of olive oil sitting in your pantry.
    • The “Best By” date you see on extra virgin olive oil is roughly two years after manufacturing. For example, oil with a “Best By” date of July 2013 was most likely manufactured in July of 2011.  Since time degrades the healthful compounds in the oil, you want as ‘fresh’ a batch as possible. UPDATE/FYI: In California, olives are harvested in October.  Spanish and Italian olive oils are harvested in November, while Australian olive oils are harvested in April/May.
    • High-heat cooking with extra virgin olive oil is a bit of a controversial issue. The International Olive Council — these are the olive oil experts! — reports that genuine extra virgin olive oils actually have a very high smoke point, making them ideal for high-heat cooking (the higher an oil’s smoke point, the more heat it can sustain before its healthful compounds break down).  That said, extra virgin olive oil is only okay to use in high-heat methods that are quick (i.e.: sauteéing leafy greens), since long exposures to heat decrease smoke points.  I personally prefer to use coconut oil for high-heat cooking and leave my extra virgin olive oil for homemade hummus, dips, salad dressings, and drizzling over cooked pasta or steamed vegetables.

    #3: Odds & Ends

    • If the olive oil you cook with ever begins to smoke — even slightly — do not use it, as the healthful antioxidants have turned into harmful pro-oxidants.
    • Many restaurants use olive oil blends for their cooking (think olive and — eek! — corn oil).  Unless you are dining at an establishment that pays particular attention to the sourcing of ingredients or has olive oil as a focus (i.e.: Fig & Olive), don’t assume you are getting the most heart-healthy variety.

    Now that you are armed with this knowledge, prepare for the onslaught of frauds you’ll likely encounter next time you shop.  By the way, if obtaining authentic olive oil is inconvenient or difficult, then rely on other foods with a similar fatty acid profile (i.e.: avocados, almonds, pecans, olives, cacao nibs, dark chocolate with 80% or higher cocoa content) for heart health.



    1. Nour Zibdeh, RD said on October 11th, 2011

      Great post Andy. I agree with you about olive oil quality and I have considered buying olive oil in smaller bottles. However, this doesn’t work with my family. Since we eat a lot of Middle Eastern food, everything has olive oil! Can’t afford the expensive stuff. This is reminding me of my grandfather’s farm. They have olive trees and every season, they press the olives and make fresh oil. That’s the real stuff!

    2. Marilyn Weissman said on October 11th, 2011

      Marilyn Weissman Great, great piece. I was confused about the heating point and had heard never to fry w/evoo unless it was on low heat. You clarified a lot for me, and I forwarded your article to several friends and family who buy olive oil in bulk at Costco

    3. Renata said on October 11th, 2011

      I am appalled. Nutrition shouldn’t feel like rocket science.:( Thanks for telling the story.

    4. jake shields said on October 11th, 2011

      Now I’m worried. Trader Joe’s brand Trader Giotto’s 100% Italian President’s Reserve Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Oil says Product of Italy on the front, on the back it says ingredients: Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It comes in a clear bottle and costs $5.99. Is it the real deal?

    5. Andy Bellatti said on October 11th, 2011


      Unfortunately, “product of Italy” could simply mean it is bottled in Italy, and includes oils from Northern Africa. The clear bottle is also problematic. I’m leaning towards “not authentic”.

      That is why I listed foods with similar fatty acid profiles at the end of the post — so you can be sure to consume those for heart health if your olive oil’s origin is sketchy. While I realize this olive oil fraud business isn’t great news, I really don’t like to see people thinking they are getting a healthful benefit that isn’t really there.

    6. Lisa said on October 11th, 2011

      Great reminders as always, Andy. One thing I am unsure about, though. You say, “Since time degrades the healthful compounds in the oil, you want as ‘fresh’ a batch as possible (preferably manufactured within the past month or two).”

      I was told by an olive farmer at the farmer’s market (in the SF Bay Area) that olives are harvested once a year (in the fall, within in the next couple of weeks, in fact). And that all the olive oil that you get the rest of the year is from that one harvest.

      So you wouldn’t actually be able to buy olive oil manufactured in June, if you are buying in July, it would still be the batch manufactured the past October (if you’re lucky. It could, of course, also be from a batch manufactured two or three Octobers previously.)

      Maybe this is true just for California olives?

    7. Andy Bellatti said on October 11th, 2011

      Hi Lisa,

      Thank you. You bring up a good point, and one which I recall hearing once or twice over the years as well. As far as I understand it, California olives are harvested in October, while those in Italy and Spain are usually harvested in November. Australian olives, meanwhile, are harvested in April/May.

      What is important to point out is that the oils certified by the California Olive Oil Council are stored in such a way that minimizes antioxidant reduction, whereas many other oils are kept and shipped in such a way that further compromises their integrity.

    8. Lisa said on October 11th, 2011

      Ok, so my next question is, which is more important, the California Olive Oil Council seal, or the “organic” label?

      Interestingly enough, I am currently using Stutz organic olive oil (due to your article about pesticides hanging out in the fats that we eat), and though they apparently were one of the manufacturers who helped to start the COOC (http://www.ediblecommunities.com/marinandwinecountry/fall-2009/the-blossoming-of-californias-olive-oil-industry.htm), I couldn’t find them anywhere on the COOC seal winners. They are however certified by Oregon Tilth Organic and USDA organic. I know that organic and COOC are two different things, but in order to be organic you’d think that someone would be checking that they are bottling what they say they are bottling, right?

      It’s just such a bummer that it seems so difficult to trust the food that we buy. I’m at the point where I almost don’t want to buy anything where I can’t actually talk to the person who grows it/makes it (of course, we’re blessed to live in the SF Bay Area, where I virtually CAN talk to most of the people who create the food that my family eats).

    9. Andy Bellatti said on October 11th, 2011


      As you can gauge, the olive oil certification issue is a complicated one, mainly because there isn’t one body overseeing any of this. While the COOC seal is definitely important, there will always be manufacturers who do not carry the seal but are making legitimate extra virgin olive oil (they may not be aware of the certification, may find it cumbersome, etc.).

      I do not like to assume, but I would suspect that if the Stutz folks helped start the COOC, they are selling authentic olive oil. That said, organic certification does not concern itself with the the ingredients used; it solely entails agricultural growing practices (ie: someone could be growing organic olives and organic soybeans and mixing the two oils; I highly doubt Stutz does this, but am just using that as an example of how ‘organic’ does not necessarily mean ‘only olives are used’). Yet another way in which having no central body overseeing any of this sets up the perfect storm for consumer confusion and dizziness.

      Keep in mind, too, that ‘extra virgin’ status has to do with a certain level of acidity, so even if olives are the sole ingredient in an olive oil, certain manufacturing practices — or inappropriate harvesting methods — can result in acidity levels that do not fall into ‘extra virgin’ category.

      In terms of organic vs. COOC seal: many of the manufacturers listed on the COOC website offer organic olive oil, so it is a matter of checking out different manufacturers’ websites and reading about their particular offerings.

    10. Melanie said on October 12th, 2011

      So much I never even knew! Do you know if the problem exists in Canada? I can’t find any information on the standards here.

    11. gina said on October 12th, 2011

      WOW! It seems everyday there is something new to worry about and try to figure out at the store. After all your research do you have a few brands that you can recommend that you would approve of. I am sitting here looking at my olive oil so annoyed that even now buying olive oil has become something you need to analyze! Thank you for your info. I just recently found your blog, and appreciate all the info!

    12. James said on October 12th, 2011

      Hi, Andy, thanks so much for helping make us aware of this. I usually buy my olive oil at the “big box” stores and now I’ll be taking a much closer look at the labeling to make sure I’m getting the real deal.

      Just an “English nerd” tip for you. You seem to be mis-using the word “alas” (noticed this in more than one post). Here’s the example from this one: “Alas, this isn’t a ‘there’s nothing you can do about it’ situation.” You seem to be using it as a synonym for “fortunately” but it’s really the opposite.

      Thanks again for the good work you’re doing informing us on dietary and nutrition issues. You’ll be on my “must read” list now.



    13. Andy Bellatti said on October 12th, 2011

      Hi James,

      Thank you for the kind words, and also for that ‘English nerd’ tip (always enjoy those!). I have edited the post to more accurately reflect what I mean.

    14. Nour Zibdeh, RD said on October 12th, 2011

      Coming back to this post. So, when you roast vegetables, what type of oil do you use?

    15. Andy Bellatti said on October 12th, 2011

      If roasting at 300 degrees, I feel comfortable using EVOO. Anything higher, I go with coconut oil.

    16. Martin said on October 17th, 2011


      As a proponent for local and organic foods I am avoiding apples from Chile, wine from South Africa, water from Fiji, … and olive oil import from Australia sounds just as unsustainable. I would always prefer to use local oils just like I eat strawberry preserves in the winter instead of having them imported in the name of freshness from Morocco …

      Has there been any *independent* research into the importance of freshness? I understand that immediately after pressing the oil has a different quality altogether. But when bottled in a suitable container and properly stored, is there a measurable difference between a 4 month and a 10 month old oil? And if yet how significant is it? Really worth supporting carbon-fueled imports half way around the globe?


    17. Andy Bellatti said on October 17th, 2011


      While approximately 75% of this blog’s readers are in the United States, there are also others who live in other countries, and I wanted to make this post inclusive, since olive oil is consumed around the world. The point of this post was to highlight the issue and provide solutions and alternatives, which each individual can then fit into their ideology as they see fit. That is why I mention, at the end of the post, that if buying authentic olive oil is inconvenient or not possible, one can instead focus on getting their healthy fats from other foods.

      The University of Foggia study (which found that a timespan of 6 months reduces healthful compounds in olive oil by 40%) is very good research; in essence, the presence of oxygen in the bottle is responsible for that process. That same study showed that after three months, for example, there were no significant losses. The Institute of Food Technologists carried out the study; given the subject, I don’t see how their involvement is suspicious.

    18. Marcelo Galli said on October 29th, 2011

      Thanks from Costa Rica for a great article, as usual. My olive oil says: “Packed in Italy with 100% pure extra-virgin olive oil imported from Italy, Greece, Spain and Tunisia”. I buy it in a 2 liter bottle to save some money, but am careful to have it in the dark and away from heat sources. I do buy it at PriceSmart, which could have had it exposed to sunlight at some point… Thanks for the good advice anyway!

    19. Laura said on November 5th, 2011

      I had no idea about this issue until reading this post. Thanks for sharing! I was surprised to see the last bottle I bought at Costco is actually legit!

    20. Phyllis Heard said on December 7th, 2011

      Good post Andy but 2 points need to be considered.Coconut oil is touted as a healthy oil for frying.This maybe so but as I work mainly with Polynesian children who have endured all the ravages of our modern junk fat diet as a registered dietician please consider the following.

    21. Andy Bellatti said on December 7th, 2011


      It seems like your comment was cut off. What are the two points that need to be considered?

    22. Dina Clapinski said on December 8th, 2011

      Thanks for the informative post Andy. While I realize that there are many different brands of olive oil, it would be very helpful to include a list of recommended brands (perhaps with links) based on your criterion above. I’m sitting at home right now, but probably won’t remember all this important info at the store over the weekend. If a list were included, I could add to my phone or print out. Thanks!

    23. gobot said on January 30th, 2012

      Very intriguing blog. Im happy I checked it out….will follow.

    24. My Suburban Homestead said on April 30th, 2012

      Andy, do you have brands that you do recommend?

    25. Andy Bellatti said on May 1st, 2012

      Brands get tricky because some are not available nationwide, hence the guide letting each consumer know what to look for. Also, once you get to the more artisanal brands, there are literally hundreds. Didn’t want to leave anyone out inadvertently.

    26. Erin said on September 15th, 2012

      What about an oil with the seal from the North American Olive Oil Association? Are they legitimate? I buy the 365 brand from Whole Foods and it has this seal.

    27. Frank said on October 16th, 2012

      Costco is selling (As of 10/2012), a 1 Liter bottle of “Cullen Creek, EVOO, ..a unique blend of California grown Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki olives. Best by 9/25/14” At $6.99, this appears to be a good deal. Andy, any comment of the types of Olives, or the Brand “Blender” (For a better term)? Thanks, Frank

    28. Halli said on November 29th, 2012

      So based on your own research, you’re ok roasting with extra virgin olive oil to 300 degrees, and also with sauteeing vegetables, or no? You seemed to say that you think sauteeing vegetables with it is fine (which I use it for often), but then that you only use olive oil for non-cooking uses. Also, (1) I use extra virgin olive oil for cooking chicken at relatively low heat, so that it takes some time co cook and brown; do you think that this keeps the temperature low enough to be ok? and (2) as soon as you add any ingredients with any moisture to hot oil, these start to steam. Any advice on how to tell the difference between a smoking oil and moisture steaming from food, or can you really only tell if you actually see smoke from the oil before adding any other ingredients?

      I buy the Whole Foods 365 Organic cold-pressed olive oil in dark bottles. Any opinion on this?

      Thanks for your article!

    29. Mike C. said on December 7th, 2012


      I just came across your article on Twitter. Nice article. I am a olive miller for my family olive oil company (Calivirgin) in California and we are also COOC certified. To help answer some questions I see in posts. The COOC looks at chemical analysis of the oil as well as passing a taste panel. It might sound subjective but they spend a lot of time to train the tasters. After being in this industry I can taste an “off taste” immediately in many restaurants. Oils samples sent in must pass all of this to obtain the certification for that years harvest. The tasting is important because the parameters to meet extra virgin grade are so broad that I have seen olive oil that is close to four years old pass the chemical analysis to meet Extra Virgin grade. Looks good on paper but there is a large range and difference between barely passing and being at the upper level of the spectrum. Harvest in California is mostly in October/Nov. There are some great oils coming out of Austrailia as well so if you want a June harvested oil brands such as Cobram Estate make great oils; although if you taste many of these great oils in December of 2011 when they were produced in Dec 2010, if they were handled correctly they will still taste great and have many of the health benefits you want when using olive oil. The Organic seal is something else. Some companies such as ours grow and produce oil organically but at this time I don’t feel it is worth the large amounts of money to spend to get the seal “Organic”. I could charge more for the oil but not that much more to make it worth it in my opinion. This is a whole other topic but you could have an organically grown and certified oil that doesn’t meet or have the health benefits of the “Extra Virgin” grade.
      With big box stores, there are some good oils and some bad. Basically most (big box) look for the best oil for the cheapest price to to put in their label and sometimes quality is lacking when you need to hit margins. As a grower and producer, My suggestion; the cooc list is a great start. There are some great companies on there. Also try a lot of companies’ oils and contact the company and ask for the current chemical analysis of their oil. Most companies should be willing to send it out although the test may only be completed at harvest since they are costly for small companies. Look at peroxide levels to be less than 20 and Acidity to be less than .5 but really I think acidity should be less than .2 or .1. Hope that helps!

    30. Prattle On, Boyo said on February 18th, 2013

      The production of olive oil has been populated by fraudsters since dating back to the ancient Romans, and, given that the entire American commercial food supply has been poisoned with chemicals by Big Ag, the fact that dubious yellow oil marketed, labeled and sold as “olive oil” is in fact, crap, is standard operating procedure. As evidenced by the voluntary standards set forth by the USDA, this is simply further proof of the joke that is the United States government. Consumer advocacy is nonexistent. Even the head of the FDA is a former Monsanto employee which should cue in anyone paying attention that Obama is every bit as bad as Bush the dumber ever was.

    31. Marie said on February 5th, 2014

      I know this is an older post but wondering if you can still comment on the North American Olive Oil Association? A couple of people mentioned the national brand that I buy which carries the this endorsement on the label. I know you don’t want to get into recommending brands, but what about this association. Is it legit?

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