This Olive Oil Primer Will Make You A Better Cook

Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
AAre you confused by the shelves upon shelves of olive oils staring back at you in the supermarket? The myriad brands and grades are overwhelming, and the range in prices makes things even more confusing. Which one should you buy? Stress no more! We got your back. Read on for help navigating your way through the bevy of olive oils on the market.
Know The Basics: There are two different kinds of olive oil you should have in your kitchen: one you cook with and one you use as a condiment or a finishing component.

Cooking olive oils are intended for cooking and are typically less expensive than the full-bodied oils that you want to use on a dish right before serving. Filippo Berio and Bertolli both make good cooking oil versions. Their mild flavor means they won't overpower a dish, so if you have other flavors you want to shine through, you can rest assure, they will.

Condiment olive oils are generally more expensive than the cooking variety and typically provide a lot more flavor. These oils should be used to make dressings, dips, in place of butter on toast, or drizzled on top of finished dishes like pasta, vegetables, pizza, and grilled food. My favorites are Kiler Ridge, DaVero, and Oliarola Taggiasca.
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Virgin, Extra Virgin, & Light: Olive oil is distributed and graded based on three things: flavor, acidity, and processing method. These grades are ultimately what will help you understand which olive oil to use and when. Check out the below for a quick primer on ranking:
Extra-Virgin: Consider this the haute couture of olive oil. There are a lot of in’s and out’s to getting this certification, but suffice to say TKTK (one quick sentence here – I would just say something about IOOC & panel of expert tasters). Extra virgin olive oil must also be bitter, featuring a pleasant but sharp, acrid sensation on the tongue. Finally, it should exhibit pungent characteristics, which means its provides an aromatic and peppery taste in the mouth.
Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Extra-virgin olive oil must also be bitter, featuring a pleasant but sharp sensation on the tongue. Finally, it should exhibit pungent characteristics, meaning it should provide an aromatic and peppery taste in the mouth.
Virgin
This oil is still pressed rather than refined but may have an acidity of 1 or 2%. Virgin olive oils must rank at least a 5.5 on the IOOC’s 9-point scale. In short, if this were the Academy Award’s, Extra Virgin Olive Oil would receive Best Actress, and Virgin Olive Oil would receive Best Supporting.

Light
Though the term “light” when it comes to food typically means it is lower in fat, light olive oil simply means that the oil has been refined. This oil is more similar to canola, corn, and peanut oils and is thus perfect for cooking. Don’t use this as a dip or dressing on a salad as it lacks almost any flavor.

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What To Look For
The most important thing to remember when buying and tasting olive oil is that you are never going to drink it like a glass of wine. Olive oil is first and foremost an ingredient, and you should therefore consider how you are going to use it.
Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Smell
Breathe it in. While aromas vary depending on region, all good olive oil should exhibit a sense of freshness. If you’re getting notes of pepper, fresh cut grass, rosemary, or artichoke, you’re on the right track to buying good oil. If it doesn’t smell fresh or exhibits a smell of vinegar, crayons, or rotten apples then chances are the oil is rancid.

Color
Many dispensers will forge the color of their oil to trick their consumers, so we don’t recommending choosing an olive oil simply based on color. However, in general darker-green oil tends to be fruitier and grassy, while brighter yellow-green oils (pending they’re unrefined) are spicier and more peppery.

Taste
Take a sip of the oil and allow it to coat your mouth before swallowing. It should taste like olives and can also have hints of apples, herbs, grass, and pepper. Anything tangy or metallic tasting means that the oil could be rancid. Rancid oil is a result of over exposure to light, heat, and oxygen.

Texture
Good oils should feel silky or creamy in your mouth. They should make their presence known by filling your senses with their aromas but never coat or block your palate. Bottom line: if your mouth feels or tastes greasy afterwards then the oil is bad.

Storage
While olive oil bottles look nice displayed on the kitchen counter, they suffer from direct sunlight and heat. Try to keep your oil in a cool, dark place and preferably in a darker bottle. If stored correctly, your oil should keep for several years.
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