The “quality” of many goods is easy to recognize with a little bit of common sense.
For example, it doesn’t take an expert in Japanese Cuisine to know that the minimally refrigerated, gas-station sushi found outside a town nowhere near the ocean is likely a regrettable choice.
“Yeah, I’m certain ‘salmon nigiri’ shouldn’t have that green-ish tint to it…”
Yet, the lines of quality (and relative safety) become a bit more blurred when considering less perishable products. And with these blurred lines of quality, the allure of mass-produced, in-bulk, less-expensive items understandably tempts more consumers than, for instance, visibly terrifying sushi.
Olive oil – a seemingly “shelf-stable”, hard-to-mess-up product – IS very much in this category of unclear quality.
Indeed, the Olive Oil Industry includes a wide array of products with varying price points, marketing tactics, and price-per-volume options.
There are three main types / grades of olive oil:
- Refined (Blended) Olive Oil
- Virgin Olive Oil
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
So, how does one separate the good from the bad? And why does this even matter when considering “just” an oil?
This blog will leave you with an understanding of what makes for a high-quality olive oil, but let’s begin by discussing why you want great olive oil in the first place!
Why Does Great Olive Oil Truly Matter?
This one’s easy!
One of the most demonstrably clear-cut ways in which high-quality olive oil outshines its lower-grade competitors is through a simple taste test.
And, don’t worry – you need not be some kind of olive oil “sommelier” to taste the difference.
Well-sourced, well-produced, high-quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) will taste richer (or brighter), more complex, and simply better.
One can truly taste the quality that comes from: 1) the actual olives, 2) the highly controlled process through which top-tier EVOO is produced, and 3) the methods of storage & care between production and your plate.
But don’t simply take our word for it. Tasting high-quality olive oils for yourself is actually quite doable with a sampler set like these, or by stopping by your local artisanal supplier’s tasting room.
In fact, if you live in or are visiting Reno, NV, come see us in person and do some tasting at the Big Horn Olive Oil Company store!
Health Benefits (And Risks!)
Isn’t it great when the option that tastes better is also the healthier choice? The good news is that’s absolutely the case when it comes to olive oil!
However, explaining why requires discussing a bit of science-based background:
Olive oil contains healthy fats and polyphenols1 (i.e., antioxidants). And while this is fairly common knowledge, it’s less known that the amount of healthy fats and antioxidants are greatly dependent on how the olive oil is produced AND stored.
Lower-quality oils contain less of the healthy fats and tend to be stripped of valuable antioxidants through processing.
We’ll discuss the details later, but the takeaway is that lower-grade olive oils have measurably less potential health benefits.
In some cases, poorly stored, poor-quality olive oil can actually be detrimental to health!
Let’s return to that gas-station sushi for a moment.
The improperly refrigerated salmon isn’t inherently bad for you simply because it’s sold at a gas station. The fish is potentially dangerous to one’s health because salmon is FULL of unsaturated fats that are easily denatured and oxidized, thus becoming highly susceptible to microbe growth.
In other words, it spoils easily – especially without proper handling and care.
While your olive oil is a very different story from fish (you do not need to refrigerate olive oil, and it will not give you food poisoning), the basic idea of fats denaturing and “going bad” is similar (although, not acutely dangerous!).
Often, lower-quality olive oils go through unnatural production processes that begin to denature the healthy fats right at the production site. Then, these already denatured oils are improperly bottled & stored, adding to the unfavorable transformation.
As these originally healthy fats become broken down further, free radicals2 begin to form. Over time, free radicals can accumulate in the body and produce unwanted effects.
So, lower-quality, poorly stored olive oil not only contains significantly less of the healthy fats and antioxidants to begin with, but it will likely develop free radicals that further offset any remaining health benefits of the oil.
Thankfully, spotting the high-quality options is not too complicated!
Your Guide to Spotting the Best Olive Oils
Look for the “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” Designation
Does the label read, “EVOO”? If not, it might be time to move on to another choice, or use that bottle for something else3.
As mentioned above, EVOO is the highest grade of olive oil, and this distinction arises from the way in which the olives and resulting oil were processed.
EVOOs begin with the highest-quality olives that should typically start their journey to oil very shortly after being harvested. (Big Horn Olive Oil’s olives begin milling a mere two to three hours after harvest!)
From there, the olives are milled with nothing more than force. You won’t see any heat or chemicals in EVOO’s production. (Lesser oils are treated with heat and chemicals, and are then often mixed with only a small portion of actual EVOO to maximize volume and reduce costs.)
After a trip through the centrifuge to separate the fresh, extra-virgin oil from the remaining olive paste, a filter process, and – lastly – a lab analysis to ensure quality, the oil is bottled and ready to be enjoyed!
Simple, Minimal Processing = Delicious.
Look for a Dark, Green Bottle
(Avoid Clear / Light Bottles!)
It should come as no surprise that sunlight is quite bad for olive oils given everything we’ve learned so far. Even if an EVOO is originally of THE highest quality, it’s still prone to denaturing and eventually going “rancid” thanks to prolonged exposure to light.
Sun / light-exposed oils are unlikely to make you acutely ill, but it’s very probable olive oils in lighter bottles have already started the process of “going bad” by the time they reach you.
Always, always select an olive oil in a dark bottle, and then continue to store it in a cool, dry, dark place after purchase.
However, a dark bottle and “EVOO” label don’t always mean a high-quality product…
Beware of impostor EVOO!
Some investigative reports have revealed certain oils labeled as “EVOO” to be lower-quality blends. We’d be remiss if we didn’t share that warning (feel free to plug “Fake EVOO” into a search engine if you’d like more info).
It can be difficult to spot impostors without actually tasting the olive oil, but Big Horn makes it easy, as you can rest assured every one of our olive oils is of the highest quality.
Each and every of our olive oils adhere to the following guidelines:
-Only the Top 5% of Olive Harvest Make it Into Our Oils!
-Oil Content is 100% Olives (Zero mixed oils!)
-Milling Begins in 2-3 Hours of Harvest
-Cannot be More Than 14 Months Old from Harvest Date
-Must be Estate-Produced or Have Traceability to Each Cultivar
-Mechanical Extraction Must Use Malaxer, Centrifugation, and Decanter
-Must Pass Qualification by Independent, Third-Party Lab Testing
While we encourage everyone to explore high-quality olive oils wherever they can, we couldn’t be more proud to offer some of the best olive oil options in the world!
So, feel free to confidently shop some of the best olive oils in the world here!
Thanks for reading, and stay healthy
Glad you’re here for the footnotes! Welcome to the weeds.
Plants make ’em! Polyphenols are a type of antioxidant with links to a number of health benefits including: anti-inflammatory properties, protection against cancer, a reduction in cardiovascular diseases, blood-sugar improvements, GI biome regulation, and more…
Polyphenols are commonly found in:
-Coffee & Tea
Just as the name would imply, free radicals are basically the wild-running, atomic-sized rebels with ill intent inside the body.
They’re a product of basic metabolism (and under normal circumstances can be handled without issue), but may become dangerous to a human body if produced in excess. Free radicals may form in excess due to exposure to toxins and highly processed foods.
They can speed up aging, cause disease (such as cancer), and diminish the quality of life over time.
Diets high in antioxidants may help up-regulate the human body’s natural mechanisms for eliminating free radicals.
3Olive Oil’s Many Uses
If you’ve already purchased a lower-grade olive oil, you use that bottle for one of olive oil’s non-food / cooking uses.
Some of those uses include:
-Silencing Squeaky Door Hinges
-Safely Removing Paint from Skin