Best extra virgin olive oil
Our expert panel tasted seven premium Italian extra virgin olive oils from big supermarkets, including Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, for the June 2019 edition of Which? magazine.
The oils on test varied wildly, from gentle and nuanced, to rich and complex. The best are the most versatile ingredients in your store cupboard; whether paired with dipping bread, teamed with mozzarella and tomatoes, or as part of a marinade to elevate your food to culinary divinity.
Whatever your tastes, and budget, we’ve found an olive oil for you.
Best extra virgin olive oil
Only logged-in Which? members can view the rest of our results and tasting notes in the table below, plus our extra virgin olive oil salsa verde recipe.
Asda Extra Special Toscano
£6.97 for a 500ml bottle (£1.39/100ml)
This oil is made from olives harvested from the renowned olive groves of Tuscany. Asda claims this oil has 'a fruity flavour and peppery notes'.
Filippo Berio 100% Italian
£8.25 for a 750ml bottle (£1.10/ml)
The regular Filippo Berio is made of a blend of olives from all over the EU, but this premium option only uses Italian olives. The brand describes it has having 'hints of herbs, artichoke, ripe tomato and leafy notes' ending with a 'spicy and slightly bitter finish'.
Lidl Terra Di Bari Castel Del Monte PDO
£3.79 for a 500ml bottle (79p/100ml)
This is the cheapest olive oil in our selection. Lidl describes it as 'cold-pressed exclusively from hand-picked olives grown in the Terra di Bari (Castel del Monte) territory of the Puglia region of southern Italy, known for their rich aroma and strong, fruity flavour'.
£10 for a 500ml bottle (£2/100ml)
When we last tasted olive oils in 2016, this M&S oil was the Best Buy. But the flavour and quality of oils change year-on-year, depending on the harvest, just like wines do.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Toscano
£6.50 for a 500ml bottle (£1.30/100ml)
This is one of the cheaper bottles in our line-up. Sainsbury's describes it as 'vibrant and fruity... perfect with bruschetta and all kinds of meat and game'. But do our experts agree? Log in now or to unlock our test results.
Tesco Finest Sicilian
£6.50 for a 500ml bottle (£1.30/100ml)
It's easy to be tempted by this Tesco Finest olive oil, with its elegant and modern bottle. It's described as a 'grassy oil from native early season olives, made by a family mill in southern Sicily', but how does this Tesco oil rank in our list? Log in now or to unlock our test results.
Waitrose 1 PDO Chianti Classico
£11.99 for a 500ml bottle (£2.40/100ml)
As the most expensive oil in our selection, you might expect this to be top-notch. It also stands out from the rest in its opaque tin bottle, rather than one made of dark glass. Waitrose describes it as 'pungent' and 'fruity'.
Note: Prices correct in May 2019.
Extra virgin olive oil recipes
Our olive oil drizzled ice cream with balsamic strawberries recipe
To get more from our Best Buy olive oil at your summer soiree (and create a talking point), why not try making this different dessert.
We tried it with vanilla ice cream, balsamic vinegar and strawberries, and thought it was a delightful savoury twist to a dessert classic. If you have a really sweet tooth it might not be for you, though.
The oil gives both an initial green hit and a lingering peppery finish, while the balsamic vinegar adds a caramelised sensation to the strawberries. It even went well with vegan ice cream, Swedish Glace. Just make sure you use good quality vanilla ice cream, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
You'll need, per serving:
- Two scoops of vanilla ice cream
- Two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
- A handful of fresh strawberries
- One tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
- One teaspoon of caster sugar
- Cut the strawberries into quarters and place them in a bowl or container with a wide base, so the marinade doesn’t pool at the bottom.
- Add the balsamic vinegar and caster sugar. Make sure the strawberries are well coated. Cover and leave them to marinate in the fridge for an hour.
- Place the ice cream into bowls and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil. As the oil cools it will thicken.
- Top with the marinated strawberries and serve.
Which? members also get access to our exclusive salsa verde recipe from food expert Sam Rosen-Nash. It's a great way of using a quality extra virgin olive oil, and would make the perfect steak marinade.
How to shop savvy
We asked our experts to cut through the jargon often used on the side of extra virgin olive oils. Here's what they had to say:
Check the best before date
Olive oils are at their best when young and fresh, so look out for the best before date. This can be a better indicator than a production date. This is because the olives can be picked months before they are processed into an oil.
Don't pay more for 'cold-pressed'
Don’t be duped by trendy terms. ‘Cold-pressed’ and 'cold-obtained' are two that often appear, but all extra virgin olive oils, by their very name, are picked, processed and filtered cold. They couldn't be called 'extra virgin' if not.
‘Hand-picked’ is another one you’ll see. But as it takes roughly 2.5kg of olives to make a 500ml bottle, all oils made on a large scale will use machinery in the picking process. This could be in the form of mechanical whiskers that shake the branches of olive trees to release the fruit before they are picked by hand from the floor, for example.
Filtered or unfiltered doesn't matter
Whether an oil is labelled as filtered or unfiltered doesn’t affect quality. It's an optional, additional step of passing it through cotton gauze to catch sediment – but this is for looks, not for taste. Unfiltered oil is just as good, but could have some cloudiness or sediment at the bottom made up of tiny particles of olive fruit.
Should you cook with olive oil?
Choosing which kind of oil to cook with depends largely on your own culinary preferences. But there’s no need to cook with premium extra virgin olive oils. Their quality is too high, and this is lost in the cooking process, according to our experts.
When you heat an extra virgin olive oil, it changes and its subtleties are lost. Plus, you can heat regular or even virgin olive oil to a higher temperature than an extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin vs virgin olive oils
Virgin olive oils must be obtained from olives solely by mechanical or other physical means. Chemical processes can be used with standard olive oils, which can alter aroma and taste.
The difference between virgin and extra virgin oils comes down to quality. Extra virgin is the best and has an acidity level of no more than 0.8% – this is the percentage of free fatty acids. For virgin oil, it’s no more than 2%.
The lower the acidity, the better the olives have been cared for while on the tree, and during harvesting and processing. Both oils should be able to pass an assessment by a tasting panel.
How we tested
We asked each supermarket to suggest a premium, top-of-the-range Italian extra virgin olive oil. We chose to test Italian over Spanish or Greek olive oil, as many of the big brands widely available in the UK are Italian.
Each oil was disguised before being tasted blind and then rated by our panel of experts. Each expert tasted the oils in a different order, before discussing their ratings and agreeing on the Best Buy olive oil.
The scores for each rating were weighted as follows:
- Taste 40%
- Aroma 25%
- Balance 25%
- Complexity 10%
Our experts were:
- Charles Carey oil importer for The Oil Merchant
- Nancy Gilchrist Master of Wine, educator for both olive oil and wine
- Dan Mortimer Former owner of gourmet delicatessen, Mortimer & Bennett
- Sam Rosen-Nash Olive oil taster, The Purple Scallion, Food Sage