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21 Jun 2022

7 tips for choosing the best extra virgin olive oil

Master the olive oil aisle with our expert guide to what matters most when buying - and the marketing fluff to ignore
Jug of olive oil next to summer salad

Filtered, cold pressed, extra virgin - there's a dizzying array of terms to get to grips with when choosing an olive oil.

If you’re puzzling over which type to pick, we've got the inside track on the key things to bear in mind, thanks to tips from our expert olive oil tasting panel. 

Whether you’re after a cheap everyday olive oil or something a bit more special, we explain how to pick the best - and decode label jargon to help you know what really matters when buying a new bottle.

As well as sharing their expert knowledge, our panel also blind-tasted 12 supermarket extra virgin olive oils for our 2022 summer taste test. Find out which got them fired up, and which fell flat, in our guide to the best extra virgin olive oils.

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1. Don't be duped by trendy terms 

Shopping for olive oil in a supermarket

When you’re choosing an olive oil, you’ll often see bottles labelled with impressive-sounding terms such as ‘cold pressed’ and ‘solely extracted by mechanical means’. But if you’re buying extra virgin olive oil these always apply, regardless of whether it says so on the packaging. 

In order to produce a higher quality product, extra virgin olive oil must be extracted at low temperatures, and by mechanical means only (without chemicals), otherwise it can’t be classed as ‘extra virgin’. 

So, it is what sets extra virgin oil apart from standard olive oil, but applies to all extra virgin olive oils, so one that says so isn't more special than one that doesn't.

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2. Filtered stays fresher for longer

Pouring olive oil into bowl for dipping with bread

With their rustic, cloudy appearance, unfiltered olive oils certainly stand out on the supermarket shelf. 

But according to our experts, they aren't necessarily any better, and don’t keep as well as filtered oils (which go through an extra stage in the manufacturing process to remove residual olive fruit particles for a clear appearance). 

Their advice? Unless you’re planning on whizzing through your next bottle, avoid waste and stick with a filtered oil for a longer shelf life.

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3. Don't dismiss cheaper bottles

Reading label on olive oil bottle

Premium supermarket olive oils can cost as much as £20 a pop, so if you’re looking for something extra special to dress your summer dishes, you may think that splashing out guarantees you a better bottle.

But our taste test shows that you don’t need to spend big to bag a decent olive oil. We uncovered several cheap extra virgin olive oils costing under £5 that still impressed our experts on taste, and some pricier options that proved disappointing, so if you choose wisely a cheaper option can still be a savvy buy. 

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4. What your oil is stashed in (and how you store it) matters

Olive oils on supermarket shelf

Olive oil comes in all sorts of packaging, from plain old plastic bottles to stylish tins and dark glass bottles. But packaging isn’t just about how fancy it looks on the shelf – it can affect the taste and lifespan of the oil. 

Plastic bottles are a no-no, according to our panel, as they can negatively impact the flavour of the oil. Instead, opt for a tin or a dark coloured glass bottle which helps to block out the light and prevent the oil from deteriorating.

Store it sensibly at home too - a cool, dark place is best to preserve quality.

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5. Beware of best before dates

Pouring olive oil over salad

Olive oil isn't as hardy or long lasting as you might think. Unlike a fine wine, it doesn't improve with age, and actually our experts said the flavour and associated health benefits are best when it's fresher.

So, follow storage advice above and don't stock up on too much at once. Check the best before date when you buy too - one bottle in our tests had to be discounted because the experts noted it had gone rancid, and there was only a month left before the use by date was up. 

Rancid oil can have a smell a bit like paint thinner or white spirit, taste more greasy and lack flavour.

6. Choose a cheaper oil for cooking 

Pouring olive oil over vegetables

There are some situations where you want a top-notch olive oil – for example if you’re choosing an oil to serve with bread for dipping or drizzling over a salad. But if you’re just after something to cook with (for example roasting vegetables or adding to soups and stews), you can get by with a cheaper olive oil.

One of our experts recommended having two bottles in your kitchen – a cheaper everyday olive oil for cooking, and a more premium one for finishing dishes or where flavour really matters. 

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7. Consider single estate for the best quality

Olive tree

There are plenty of good olive oils available in supermarkets, but if you want the highest quality, our experts suggest trying a single estate olive oil, where the olives have been harvested, pressed and blended by the same producer. 

Single estate oils can be much more expensive than supermarket versions, but they're worth trying if you're after the best olive oil around. You can find them online or from specialist shops.