Olive oil is a longstanding pantry staple, but not all are created equal. Much like the wine aisle, the olive oil section of any grocery store can be overwhelming. The different kinds range vastly in price and quality, making it difficult to know whether you're buying a bottle with a good bang for your buck.
Olive oil is rich in "healthy" monounsaturated fat, making it an excellent staple to keep on hand for cooking or to make salad dressings. It's a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. Countries including Spain, Greece, Italy, and Portugal export millions of tons of this liquid gold annually. However, to get top-quality oil you have to choose the right bottle.
"Not all oils are the same," says Brandon Collins, corporate executive chef at Unilever Food Solutions. "Some are nutty, fruity, or bitter, and they all have a place in your pantry. At the end of the day, like any ingredient, find the ones you enjoy and become inspired."
There are a few general tips to remember when shopping for olive oil. Pay attention to labels. Some define the oil as extra-virgin, pure, or refined. Others point to where the oil was harvested. Pro tip: Olive oils have a best-before date, so check your bottle to see when it was harvested. Olive oil that's not more than 12 months old is the ideal. Experts also suggest you stick to extra-virgin olive oils packaged in dark glass or opaque bottles. Plastic bottles are typically to be avoided, as any exposure to light, oxygen, or heat can threaten to spoil a good bottle.
Overwhelmed? Here's the bright side: If you're the type of shopper who likes to take the guesswork out of buying, we've got you covered. We asked chefs to spill all the details on how to find the best olive oils at the grocery store. Read on to see their top picks.
Bona Furtuna Extra Virgin Olive Oil
"Grown, picked, cold-pressed, and bottled on La Furtuna Estate in Corleone, Sicily, the olives produce the best Italian olive oil you can find," says Chef Karen Akunowicz, the James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef of Boston's Fox & the Knife and Bar Volpe. Akunowicz loves the oil so much that she even created her own blend with the company, a finishing oil with notes of pink pepper, wet grass, and freshly bloomed wildflowers. "It makes delicious marinades and dressings, too," she says. A bottle runs about $44.95 for 500 milliliters.
Kosterina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Chefs count Kosterina's line of EVOO among their favorites. "This has a rich, fruity flavor and smooth finish," says Anca Toderic, a private chef in New York City and founder of The Butter Table. Chef Collins of Unilever also likes this one for finishing: "I'm a big fan—their Everyday olive oil is very fruity, and I enjoy the fact that I can use an ample amount of it and it doesn't overpower what it is playing in the sandbox with," he says. The Everyday oil is $19.95 for 500 milliliters, which Collins says is a fairly reasonable price for what you get—a monovarietal olive oil grown in the Peloponnese region of Greece.
Ardoino Fructus Gold EVOO
"In a market flooded with options, my number one pick is Ardoino olive oil," says Richard Beckel, executive chef of the Woodholme Country Club in Maryland. "It's great, it's versatile, it has rich flavor." It may not be the cheapest option on the shelf, at around $20 for 500 milliliters, but Beckel says it's worth the investment. "My culinary experience has taught me a valuable lesson: Quality ingredients are seldom cheap, and cheap ingredients rarely bring quality to your cooking."
Frantoio Franci IGP Toscano
"Frantoio Franci stands out as a premier olive oil producer due to its exceptional quality," says April Marie, a Mediterranean nutrition expert and founder of TheCurvyItalian.com. "Their meticulous sourcing of olives from ideal Tuscan groves and strict selection of traditional varieties like Frantoio and Moraiolo ensure high-quality raw materials," Marie says Frantoio Franci is a top player in the olive oil game, from its cold-press extraction process to its rigid quality standards. "The producer consistently delivers oils with diverse, balanced, and complex flavor profiles, earning them numerous awards," she says. Her top pick is the IGP Toscano, which retails for about $32.95 for a 500-milliliter bottle.
Corto La Padella Sauté Oil
"For cooking, I really like the Corto line of oils," Collins says. "Their sauté oil is pretty awesome. It's a blend of olive, rice bran, avocado, and grapeseed, so it has a really high smoke point." Collins notes that this sauté oil is mellow enough that it doesn't compete with your ingredients. "Sometimes as you cook with the more intense olive oils, the bitterness or pepperiness tend to overtake what you're preparing," he says. A big 10-liter box runs about $80, so this is best for avid home cooks who can't seem to keep enough olive oil on hand.
Supremo EVOO Hojiblanca
"In terms of quality and taste, Spain's Supremo olive oil brand is unparalleled," says Jessica Chan, a chef with seven years of restaurant experience who now blogs at Jecca Chantilly about her culinary creations. Produced in the Jaén region of southern Spain, these olive oils are made from olives hand-picked just before they are fully ripe—which lends an intense flavor. "Supremo's Hojiblanca olive oil variety is exceptional due to its intricate and intense aroma," Chan says. "It starts with subtle sweet notes followed by a hint of almonds and unripe fruits with a lingering spicy aftertaste." This versatile cold-extracted bottle can be used as a dip for freshly baked bread, to saute vegetables, or for a simple pasta dish, Chan says. It retails for around $20 for a 500-milliliter bottle.
Frantoia Barbera EVOO
This oil is Chef Giancarlo Borletti's top pick. The executive chef of BSTRO 38 in New York City likes the aroma and the intense fruity notes that come with this cold-pressed Sicilian olive oil. "Not only is this olive oil delicious, it is affordable, has a great bottle presentation, and is a quality choice," Borletti says. Hand-picked and cold-pressed within 24 hours of harvest, this olive oil uses organic Biancolilla, Nocellara, and Cerasuola olives. A 500-milliliter bottle costs about $21.90.
A l'Olivier Flavored Oils
"The whole line of A l'Olivier flavored oils are amazing," Collins says. "The lemon, the pink peppercorn, the clementine—powerful flavors, and the style in which they produce their oils are top-notch." This French olive oil producer has been around since 1822, so expect a premium olive oil with great flavor. If you're curious about experimenting with flavored oils, A l'Olivier offers sampling sets, like one with oils infused with black truffle, lemon from Nice, and basil, which retails for around $52 for three 250-milliliter bottles.