The next time you’re in the supermarket picking up groceries, stop and ask yourself: Is the $25 bottle of extra virgin olive oil really worth it?
There’s almost certainly a bottle for less than half that price claiming to contain an oily elixir of the same quality on one of the lower shelves, so why opt for top-shelf quality?
Well, if you care about the health benefits, the flavor, or the freshness of REAL extra virgin olive oil, a few extra bucks are clearly worth it. Rows upon rows of dark green bottles line Southern California grocery stores, and most have no place calling themselves “Extra Virgin Olive Oil”. They provide few, if any, of the health benefits associated with this cooking staple and often lack the distinctive taste that spices up your recipes.
Dr. Oz famously said that all you need to do is put extra virgin olive oil in the refrigerator to test its quality. He claimed that if the liquid solidifies, you’ve got the real deal.
Well, after pressing California-grown olives for almost 20 years, it’s safe to say we know a little more than the controversial TV host.
The “fridge test” is wholly unreliable, and we suggest a much simpler option. Simply ask yourself these five questions:
Is the product certified?
Our estate must follow strict state and federal regulations to label our products “organic,” and there are a number of private entities that certify extra virgin olive oil based on thorough evaluations. So, much like the USDA’s Certified Organic labeling, the easiest way to determine the quality of what you’re buying is looking for a seal of authenticity.
We’ve chosen to have our products approved and stamped by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), which is often considered the strictest set of standards in the world.
What is the harvest date?
Bottles of certified extra virgin olive oil are required to list the harvest or milling date of their contents. That’s because most bottles should be finished within a year and a half of when the fruit (yes, olives are fruit!) was picked, although some batches are made to be aged and can be stored for longer, like our half-gallon jugs of Uncle Ivo’s.
This is another reason buying straight from the source is so important. Dozens of brands source their olives not just from multiple farms, but from multiple countries. Even with rigid production standards, there’s no way to tell how fresh the oil is if its ingredients are so diverse.
How is the bottle packaged and stored?
Extra virgin olive oil is notoriously sensitive to light and heat. Too much light causes oxidation that leads to flavors that range from totally flavorless to rancid. You should NEVER buy anything labeled “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” if it comes in a clear or lightly colored container. As a perfect example, Saltonstall bottles are almost totally black.
Another thing to pay attention to is the temperature of where the olive oil has been stored. Is it near bright lights that could raise the temperature above 65 degrees fahrenheit or a store entrance that could drop below 55 degrees?
Extra virgin olive oil is an expensive product, and any store that doesn’t protect it from temperature changes and exposure to light is either lying about their product or ruining it.
What does it taste like?
Groups like the COOC can’t rely on chemical analysis alone. Human taste tests are necessary to confirm the presence of the peppery or stinging flavor that is associated with oleocanthal and an abundance of polyphenols (the chemicals responsible for the many health benefits of extra virgin olive oil).
Your average grocery store probably isn’t going to let you crack open a bottle of Bertolli’s just to confirm that it’s tainted and bland, but that’s all the more reason to buy from a local grower. They’ll even help you identify which oil best complements your favorite ingredients!
Has it won any awards?
Believe it or not, there are quite a few competitions to determine the best batch of extra virgin olive oil. So, apart from the certifications and fancy bottles with harvest dates printed on them, another way to be absolutely sure you’re getting the good stuff is to look for signs of acclamation.
For example, our oils earned the Best Of Class award and a Gold Medal at the 2012 International Super Premium Olive Oil Competition in Los Angeles.
Don’t waste your time on Dr. Oz’s fickle fridge test. Instead, head to your local grower, pick up a bottle of their extra virgin olive oil and ask yourself the five questions above.
If you live in San Francisco or Santa Rosa, visit the Saltonstall Estate for a scenic stroll through the rolling hills of our orchard. You’ll get a peaceful escape from the city and leave with the finest extra virgin olive oil in the Sunshine State.
If you can’t make it out to us, order online!