Follow our tips for buying the right olive oilWe sent Helenka Ostrum, our intern from Columbia University in the City of New York, to olive oil school and she learned some things you'll want to know before your next trip to the grocery store.
When you're buying olive oil, the most important thing to remember is that you're buying a juice that doesn't stay fresh forever. Would you keep orange juice for two years and still use it for cooking? Olive oil isn't like wine, which improves with age. So how can you know how old olive oil is when you buy it? Here's what to look for plus two other great tips I picked up at a learning event sponsored by the Flavor Your Life Campaign supported by the European Union, the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry, and UNAPROL, the largest organization of Italian olive producers.
1. Look for a "Harvest Date" or "Crop Date" on the bottle. The "Harvest Date" tells you exactly when the olives were picked. Olive oil is best if it's used within 18 to 24 months of harvesting. If more time has passed, the oil is still edible, but is probably better for cooking than drizzling over salads. Many olive oil brands have a "best if used by" date, but this doesn't tell youhow long the olives were sitting before being pressed. Plus, various companies may have different views on how long olive oil is still good.
2. Expensive olive oil isn't necessarily worth the splurge. Most of the time, the extra money you pay doesn't even make it back to the grower. Excellent olive oil comes from all over the world including places like California, Spain, Italy, and Greece and increasingly Australia and South America. The soil and other environmental factors influence the growth, but taste quality is also heavily dependent upon the care the farmer takes growing, picking, and pressing the olives.
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3. Look for certifying seals. If you're dead set on buying olive oil from a specific region, look for certifying seals that authenticate the olive oil is grown and pressed in one location. Certifying seals also help prevent olive oil fraud, including lying about an olive oil's origin or the ingredients in the product. The Toscano seal certifies that the olives are grown, pressed, and packaged in Toscano, Italy. DOP and IGP are other seals that guarantee the production and processing of the olive oil was done in a specific geographical area.
Now that you know how to buy olive oil, be creative and use it in your everyday cooking. I used the Good Housekeeping recipe for pound cake, substituting extra light olive oil (ELOO) for butter. The result: A moist cake that's healthier than the original version. After I removed the cake from the oven, I poked the top with a toothpick and poured a syrup made from heating ½ cup pomegranate juice with 2 tablespoons sugar over the top of the cake. To intensify the olive oil flavor, I made a glaze from 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice, and 1 teaspoon ELOO and drizzled it across the top. Finishing touch: A sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
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What's your secret to buying the perfect olive oil? Let me know in the comments!
--by Helenka Ostrum
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