If you’re looking for the easiest way to instantly upgrade your home cooking, look no further than your olive oil. Not only are you using it to sear, fry, and season, but it can also add that extra something to your favorite dishes. A grassy oil perfectly complements foods like a crispy fried egg or balances out a caprese, while I like to use more fruit-forward oils when I’m baking for a touch of complexity and bitterness in my desserts.
But before you pour on that your run-of-the-mill cheap grocery store option, there are two very important reasons why you should swap it out for a high quality (aka more expensive) olive oil:
Olive oil can and does go bad. Most only last 18-24 months, and extra virgin olive oil expires after about a year after it’s bottled. Using an expired bottle won’t kill you, but once it’s rancid it can taste musty, acrid, or overwhelmingly bitter. So if the olive oil you purchased in bulk has been sitting in the kitchen for years, it’s definitely time to throw it out.
Using a great extra-virgin olive oil will improve how your dishes taste, as well as your palate. It’s kind of like fine wine — it’s hard to tell what makes a good olive oil until you’ve tasted it. There are some people who go as far as drinking their favorite ones, but even if you stick to drizzling and dipping, you’ll taste a distinct difference between the fresh, small batch stuff and something made with inferior olives.
There are a lot of olive oils out there, so it can be difficult to discover one that fits your palette (and price range). Not all EVOOs are created equal, so here are a few things you should look out for:
A bottle or harvest date will tell you just how fresh the olive oil is, and effectively sets the timer of when you need to consume the oil before it turns rancid. If you don’t tend to use a ton in your cooking, you may want to purchase a smaller bottle, as it’s better to run out than have to throw high quality, but expired, oil away.
Olive oil is one of the few products where the packaging is actually important. UV light can cause your precious purchase to deteriorate, so buying an oil with a coated, tinted, or metal container can help it last longer.
If you’re ready to make the jump into the world of high quality EVOOs, here are 13 of our favorites that are sure to impress your next dinner party guests, or simply improve the taste of simple home-cooked dishes.
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An Moraccan Single Origin Oil
Sourced from a single estate family farm in Morocco using Picholine and Beldi olives, the oil has a nutty flavor profile with plenty of grassiness. The brand is so beloved, some reviewers wrote that they wanted to leave bad reviews just to prevent their favorite oil from selling out. Best of all, this EVOO isn’t extraordinarily expensive, and can easily be drizzled on salads or used to roast veggies or braise meats.
The Most Aesthetic Oil That Actually Tastes Good
Brightland’s custom blended oils are a favorite amongst the trendy food-influencer set (and our own Infatuation team). Their California olives are cold pressed within 90 minutes of being hand picked. We love their two-pack which comes with their best selling Awake and Alive olive oils. Awake is earthy and herby and made for swirling onto soups or stews, whereas Alive is a touch brighter with notes of nuttiness and sweetness.
A Sustainable Favorite
If you’re looking for a great tasting olive oil that you can use everyday without burning a hole in your wallet, go for this one. California Olive Ranch Everyday Medium Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a blend of olives grown all over the world and tastes like pure herbaceousness and sunshine. The brand boasts a solar-powered irrigation process that helps mitigate water waste and their bottles are 100% recyclable. They also repurpose the byproducts of their oil (olive pits, branches, skins) by sending it to California farmers to use as feed or fertilizer.
A Great Small Batch Olive Oil
Kosterina makes small batch extra virgin olive oils from olives grown in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece. Their original EVOO has a beautiful golden hue and was made with January 2021’s harvest. With a rich and flavorful taste, it’s best used for finishing or drizzling, but would also add a complex, fresh note to a crispy fried egg.
This Olive Oil That Tastes (And Does) Good
The Pineapple Collaborative makes high quality pantry staples that are sourced from women-led farmers and sustainably produced in California. Their olive oil was created in collaboration with olive oil maker and expert, Kathryn Tomajan and is made with organic olives from ENZO Olive Oil Company and Rio Bravo Farm.
Most Olive-y Olive Oil
Sometimes you want the flavor of the olive oil itself to stand out, like say when you’re baking some focaccia, dipping your bread, or making some lemon bars with a peppery kick. For those moments, you’ll want this one, which has a bold and peppery flavor that’ll take center stage.
This Box Set That Makes A Great Gift
One of the best regions for top quality olive oil in Italy is Puglia. Especially Puglia taps into that heritage with this great gift set that includes 3 liters of their signature olive oil, a funnel, and a ceramic cruet. The four olive farms each lend a distinct flavor profile to the oil, creating a wonderful balanced product that can cook and finish just about anything.
A Stunning Italian Oil
This organic extra virgin olive oil comes in a bottle pretty enough to display on your counter and it also blocks out light to help preserve its freshness. Made from Coratina olives grown in Puglia, a variety that is known for the perfect balance of fruit, spice, and bitter flavors, this EVOO would make for a great housewarming gift.
A Great Finishing Oil
If there are two folks we’d trust for their olive oil expertise, it would be Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, of Brooklyn’s Frankies 457. Their olive oil is made with 100% Nocellara del Belice olives organically grown in Sicily, and is cold pressed to produce a rich and peppery taste. This oil is perfect for a finishing drizzle on pasta dishes or salads, or to serve with crostini and balsamic vinegar.
A Perfectly Balanced Oil
Made with olives from Australia’s Murray Valley, this olive oil is rich, but still bright and fruity. The well-balanced taste makes it an ideal choice for everyday use. Should you be lazy like me and not want to buy a dedicated cruet for pouring, this bottle comes with a handy pop-up spout.
A Nutty, Good With Everything Oil
Writer Ryan Walker-Hartshorn recommended EAUX’s extra virgin olive oil from Calabria, Italy back in February, saying that it has a “grassy-meets-bitter” taste that’s perfect for frying up golden eggs, toasting bread for an easy afternoon sammie or snack, or for whipping up a quick simple dressing. One of EAUX’s latest bottlings, Lina, has a nutty and peppery finish that would be flavorful enough to meld happily with powerful flavors of fennel or pork chops.
A Great Kosher EVOO
This certified kosher olive oil is made with olives grown in chemical pesticide-free farms in Tunisia and has a more mild flavor compared to others. Use it in situations where you don’t want to overpower the other ingredients or flavor in your dish. A neat feature of this brand is that they also offer full transparency about their production — there’s even a QR code on the canister that can trace your bottle’s entire journey from farm to your pantry.
The Chef-Approved Budget Pick
If you use a LOT of olive oil like I do, the cost for buying high quality oil can add up pretty quickly. Thankfully, this Costco one has the approval of Samin Nostrat of Salt Fat Acid Heat fame. The price comes out to only $6.75 per liter, which is unheard of for great olive oil, and it actually tastes fresh and bright, as a good one should. My only qualm is that there’s arguably too much of it, since it can be tough to get through a whole bottle before it expires if you don’t cook regularly.