3 things to know before buying your next bottle of olive oil

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Earlier this month I visited Piro’s olive farm and mill in Italy to see how freshly picked olives turn into the oil we use to prepare salads, roast vegetables and dip our bread. It was a technological marvel and when I saw this vibrantly hued, very high-quality extra virgin olive oil appear before my eyes, I thought of the many bottles of oil at home on the supermarket shelves. I wanted to know how to find a worthy everyday olive oil in the supermarket without having to visit the production facility first.

As fate would have it, Nancy Ash, president of… Strictly Olive Oil and longtime member of the California Olive Oil Council Taste Panel, was there to answer all my questions—and then some. She was happy to share her decades of knowledge and lesser-known tips about what to look for when buying a bottle of olive oil. These are the three most important things she considers before buying a bottle of oil.

1. The packaging must protect the oil.

This is the main thing Ash looks for when buying oil. She buys olive oil that is kept in a can or a dark glass – basically anything that keeps light and oxygen from getting into the oil. (While we were talking, she mentioned that California Olive Ranch is one of her favorite oils for everyday use.) Clear glass doesn’t protect the oil, and although some producers keep this olive oil in an opaque box, the bottles, Ash points out, are usually displayed on store shelves straight out of the box, meaning the oil is already deteriorating before you even open it.

“Everything sold in plastic,” she advises, “we pass by.” (Plastic is porous, Ash explains, allowing oxygen to pass through the bottle and once again break down the oil.)

2. It must also have a harvest date.

Not to be confused with the best before date, which is generally used to indicate top quality, the harvest date tells you when the olives were picked from the trees. “What the harvest date tells me is that the producer understands what they’re working with,” Ash says. She explains that the harvest date is usually printed on the back of the bottle, although, as she notes, “it’s not always easy to find.”

3. You need to consider how much and how often you use the oil.

While it’s tempting to buy a large can because it’s a better deal, you may want to grab a smaller container. As soon as you open the oil, Ash explains, you bring oxygen into the tin, which, as we now know, corrodes the oil. If you are someone who regularly uses a large can of oil, buy it in bulk. Otherwise, she recommends buying oil in an amount that you’ll use up within two to three months.

Are you an olive oil expert with a tip to add? Tell us in the comments below.

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