The olive oil section at the grocery store is no joke. Some hail from Greece, others from California, others still from Italy. Some are small with high price tags, others are bigger at a reasonable cost. Some boast that they’re “extra-virgin,” and others say “pure” or “refined.” Even as an avid home cook who’s also spent years around professional cooks and in test kitchens, the sheer number of options can easily cause decision fatigue — which is why I consulted a group of experts to narrow it down to some of the tastiest, most reliable options on the market.
You should know that if you follow several basic guidelines, you’re most of the way there. To start, you should only be buying extra-virgin olive oil, as both Emily Lycopolus, olive-oil sommelier and author of The Olive Oil and Vinegar Lover’s Cookbook, and Nancy Harmon Jenkins, cook and author of Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil, told me. If you see a bottle only marked “olive oil,” that means it’s been treated and refined, the subtleties of taste disappearing entirely. The threshold for olive oil to be extra-virgin is intense (it involves laboratory tests, and is, in fact, the only edible commodity in the world to also involve human taste tests). But the bottom line is that extra-virgin contains “no defects” from picking, to processing, to bottling.
Within the extra-virgin category, there are a few ways to find the good stuff. First, look for a harvest date. Olive oil is a fruit juice, and, as such, it gets dull-tasting around 12 months and has certainly gone bad by 18 months. (Expiration dates can actually be misleading; they’re measured from bottling, which means it’s possible the oil sat around for a long time before then.)
Another key indicator of freshness is bottle color and material. Light, heat, and oxygen are all enemies of olive oil, meaning your best bet is that the liquid gold is contained in a dark glass or entirely opaque bottle, ideally not made from plastic or a non-stainless-steel type of metal, and stored away from windows or industrial lights. (Neither Lycopolus nor Jenkins will buy bottles that have been stored on the top shelf of a grocery store.)
Finally, Jenkins says, you can look for the olive varietal or the estate on which the olives were grown and pressed. While there are equally delicious olive oils being made everywhere from well-known countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain, to less-thought-of places like California, Chile, and Australia, bigger industrial producers tend to mix a bunch of different strains together (even if they’re all technically extra-virgin).
The rest is pretty much up to how you’re going to use the olive oil and your own personal taste, which means there are a lot of stellar bottles we had to omit for fear of making this list more overwhelming than useful. This analogy gets thrown around a lot, but picking a “best” bottle of olive oil is a lot like picking a “best” bottle of wine (meaning, nearly impossible). That said, our list is also a very good place to start, covering a “mellow and mild” everyday cooking oil that won’t break the bank, a “peppery” finishing oil that “grabs you,” and many more.
What we’re looking for
There are two main reasons you use olive oil in the kitchen. The first is for everyday cooking when the oil comes into contact with heat — things like frying eggs, sauteing vegetables, or rubbing over chicken or meat. The second is for finishing dishes, or in salad dressings, or for dipping chunks of bread. In truth, most bottles can handle both tasks perfectly well (good enough to drizzle raw, affordable enough to not be too precious), and it might depend more on your olive oil budget than anything else. But for the purposes of this piece, I categorized each based on where it most closely landed on that spectrum, and noted when it really was a solid performer in both categories.
Tasting and character notes
This is where personal preference really comes into play. Professionals can get super nerdy about describing different olive oils (seriously, some of the people I consulted sounded like they were describing wine varietals). Even so, there is something to be said for considering the general profile, whether it leans grassier, or spicier, or nuttier, whether it gives you a kick in the back of the throat, or is generally well-rounded and mild.
Best overall olive oil
Use: Cooking | Tasting notes: Mild
As someone who goes through a lot of olive oil on a daily basis, the bottle you’re most likely to see on my counter at any given time is California Olive Ranch. It’s affordable enough that I don’t feel guilty using a decent amount for shallow-frying, and mellow enough that it can take the back seat in marinades (but still not so neutral that the taste totally disappears when I whisk it into a salad dressing). But don’t just take it from me: Many of our experts told me it is their go-to as well (not to mention it’s a brand often used in professional test kitchens). Anna Hezel, senior editor at Epicurious and cookbook author, calls it a “mild olive oil that is still pleasant-tasting.” She uses it for frying, baking, and drizzling, noting that she’s “never had a bad bottle.” This is because California Olive Ranch is one of the few bigger producers that always notes that harvest date. Nick Coleman, olive oil expert, educator, and co-founder of the olive oil subscription service Grove and Vine, says, “it has a light to medium body, is a little buttery and viscous in the mouth, and isn’t too assertive.” Plus, “it’s at a price point you can really cook with,” he adds. That’s certainly true for Matt Hyland, who uses it at his New York City restaurant, Pizza Loves Emily. He says it works just as well in a dressing as it does drizzled on top of a sizzling pie straight from the oven.
Best olive oil for cooking
Use: Cooking | Tasting notes: Mild, smooth
Iliada is “less assertive” than the fine estate-bottled Italian oils Jenkins prefers for finishing (such as the Pianogrillo listed below), but that makes it ideal for cooking: “You want that olive flavor, but you don’t want it to dominate the dish,” she says. It’s also well priced: A large tin comes out to less than 50 cents an ounce, one of the reasons her daughter uses it at her restaurant, Nīna June in Rockport, Maine, for almost everything. “You don’t want to use a fine Italian estate bottle of olive oil for cooking any more than you would use up Chateau Lafite Rothschild to make boeuf bourguignonne,” she says.
Best olive oil for dipping and dressing
Use: Cooking and finishing | Tasting notes: Well-rounded, green fruit, peppery
Hyland and Lycopolus both say Cobram Estate makes a delicious olive oil. Because of the price point, it would be well suited as an oil for dipping or for dressings, both of which would benefit from something you can use relatively liberally but that is distinctly tasty in its raw form. “It’s buttery and grassy at the same time, which is a combo you don’t usually get,” says Hyland. “It’s complex but also easygoing. Get a nice bread, dip it, add some Maldon salt, and eat that for dinner.” Lycopolus points out that the taste can vary slightly from year to year but that the California blend is “typically well balanced, with lots of green fruity notes on the front of the palate (artichoke, green olive, Granny Smith apple) and peppery notes on the finish (arugula, mustard greens, peppercorn).”
The company also produces a few varieties of less expensive extra-virgin olive oil — right around the price point of California Olive Ranch — that are all a bit mellower in taste. The classic — in between robust and mild — is another bottle I buy with some regularity for everyday cooking. I find that it hits a similar sweet spot: subtle, especially when cooked, but flavorful enough that a raw drizzle over, say, roasted vegetables still gives you some flavor.
Best olive oil for baking
Use: Baking | Tasting notes: Fruity, plum
Sure, you can use any extra-virgin olive oil when baking. But I’ve found that certain, more mild varieties (California Olive Ranch, for example) fall more to the background, still adding their fattiness to the texture but not so much in flavor. If you want whatever you’re making to really taste like olive oil, you’re better off going with something more pronounced. For Lycopolus, that’s this bottle from Sicily from a producer who has been in the business for over two decades. “I use it in muffins and scones. It pairs so well with fruity desserts. It’s really good in chocolate cupcakes, and just drizzled on vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with sea salt,” she says. “I bet you didn’t think an olive oil could taste like plums, but this one actually tastes like plums. It’s so fruity.”
Best less expensive olive oil for baking
Use: Baking | Tasting notes: Vegetal, subtle brightness
Liz Quijada, co-owner and baker at New York City’s Abraço, uses this olive oil to make most of the baked goods at her cafe — including her beloved olive oil cake, which has been on the menu since 2007. She spent five years searching for the right one, and when she tried Siti Lantzanakis, “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s perfect,’” she says. Quijada describes it as “a bit vegetal with a subtle brightness” that won’t compete with a recipe’s sweetness. Plus, it has an ideal mouthfeel, which, when it comes to baking, is as important as flavor. “Often when you’re in the not-expensive category, you get something that has a thicker-than-comfortable viscosity,” which Quijada likens to the texture of motor oil and can weigh down a cake.
Best olive oil to buy in bulk
Use: Cooking | Tasting notes: Mild
I’ll note up top that this pick comes with two characteristics that Jenkins and Lycopolus deem undesirable: It’s packaged in a plastic container (though, granted, a darkly shaded one), and it contains olive oil pressed from olives across the Mediterranean. But “Don’t laugh,” Danielle Oron, author of Food You Love But Different, told us when she mentioned it as one of her favorites. “I go through a lot of EVOO.” A quick Google search backs up her claim; it’s well reviewed across the internet (including by the one and only Samin Nosrat), especially compared to other olive oils in the same price range. “It’s definitely a light-flavored olive oil and balanced — not overpowering or too bitter,” says Oron. “I might not use it straight for dipping bread, but I make really punchy salad dressings, and it totally blends into the background. I also make a chile oil where you pour hot oil over chile flakes and scallions, and it sizzles up.” Plus, at about a quarter for an ounce, it’s the best value buy on this list.
Best peppery olive oil for finishing
Use: Finishing | Tasting notes: Peppery, grassy, herbaceous
For finishing steak or dipping bread at home, Claire Wadsworth, co-owner of La Copine, turns to Wonder Valley, a Joshua Tree–based brand co-founded by Alison Carroll, a former quality-control member of the California Olive Oil Council. “If we could afford to use it in the restaurant, we would,” she says. “It’s always peppery — that’s the first thing I noticed — and it has a kick, but it’s still buttery and luscious.” Katherine Lewin, owner of the dinner-party-supply store Big Night, is also a fan of Wonder Valley’s flavor profile: “It tastes spicy, bitter, really wild, really dynamic — and just grabs you,” she says.
Best fruity olive oil for finishing
Use: Finishing | Tasting notes: Fruity, sweet, green tomato
While I go through cooking olive oil with abandon, I have to have a bottle of the finishing kind on hand at all times, too. This is, without question, my favorite one I have ever tried. It tastes a bit different year to year depending on the given climate and harvest time, but according to Italian-food importer Beatrice Ughi, there is one constant: “Because of the soil, it always has the flavor of green tomatoes.” Ughi likes using it to prepare seafood, but a fruity olive oil can enhance the flavors of everything from white meats to cakes to vegetable dishes — making the last sweeter and more caramelized. Pianogrillo is also one of the olive oils that Jenkins will drizzle on almost anything: “It has a distinctive fruitiness, but it also has a piquant kick in the back of the throat, which indicates a high level of antioxidants.”
Best olive oil for getting into olive oil
Use: Cooking and finishing | Tasting notes: Grassy, peppery, balanced
For those curious to learn the difference between Koroneiki and Picudo olives or the history of how olives were crushed to make oil, Lewin recommends Fat Gold, a small-batch producer in the Bay Area. Every order comes with a zine with tasting notes and details on how that bottle was produced — anything from the subtleties of the olive varietal to the science of how it was grown and harvested — as well as recipes and sometimes even literary pairings (the September 2020 issue recommends poems and a novella “to read with your Fat Gold”). Lewin is also a fan of the flavor and texture. “It’s grassy but not bitter, and it’s super-versatile,” she says. “It’s rich and really mouth-coating.”
Best steak olive oil
Use: Cooking and finishing | Tasting notes: Peppery, bitter, mustard greens
According to Lycopolus, one common misconception about olive oil is that it can’t take high heat. “If your oil is fresh, you won’t get a lick of smoke,” she says. This means that searing a steak in olive oil is perfectly acceptable, and for that, Lycopolus prefers Frantoio Grove. “I call this my steak oil,” she says. “I love to use it both to sear the steak itself and then to make a chimichurri to go with it.” According to her, the tasting notes — peppery, bitter, with hints of mustard greens — pair well with meat. And while a milder, creamier olive oil may get lost in the flavors of a chimichurri, this one is “super-robust, and it can stand up to all those herbs and garlic,” she says.
Best flavored olive oil
Use: Finishing | Tasting notes: Rich, garlic
I’ve recently found myself reaching for Kosterina’s garlic olive oil more often than I thought I would. It’s made from early-harvest Koroneiki olives grown in southern Greece and infused with roasted garlic. In particular, I’ve found it makes a lovely topper for dips and the perfect base for vinaigrettes.
Best squeezable olive oil
Use: Cooking and finishing | Tasting notes: Mild, mellow (Sizzle); Spicy, assertive (Drizzle)
If you follow any chefs, recipe developers, or food personalities on social media, you’ve probably spotted Graza in the background of their images and videos. The company, which launched less than a year ago, has made its way into countless kitchens (including mine) and grocery-store shelves with a straightforward idea: It packages its high-quality oil in squeeze bottles, a method pros have always used by decanting. They make a milder flavor for cooking (Sizzle) and a more assertive one for finishing (Drizzle). With both, as Strategist writer Dominique Pariso writes in her ode to Graza, “the squeeze bottle means no slippery caps, no greasy bottles, and, most important, no accidental overglugging. Never again will I overdress a salad or drown my roasted veggies. Instead, I drizzle and douse with precision and control.” One note: While the bottles are made from recyclable plastic, their opaque finish (and the fact that they only house 500 or 750 milliliters of liquid) means that the oil inside stays stable.
Best olive oil made by wine producers
Use: Finishing | Tasting notes: Brine, gentle white spice
It’s actually fairly common for wineries to get into the olive-oil business. “Typically, the top wine producers are overall incredible farmers,” says Chris Leon, owner and wine director of Leon & Son in Brooklyn. “They live off the land and work with it organically and biodynamically. If you ever visit a vineyard, you can see the polyculture, the multiple things they have growing at all times.” Jill Bernheimer, owner of Domaine in Los Angeles, agrees. “The same way you get a sense of terroir from a glass of wine, you do from olive oil,” she says. Mortellito is a particular favorite of Leon’s. As he explains it, the producer “is in this super-unique place in the southeast part of Sicily, really close to the ocean.” In the olive oil, “that comes through in brine. It’s more seaside, more breezy than some intense Sicilian oils,” he says. It’s complex enough that you could “nerd out about it, but you could also pour it for Mom and Dad.”
• Jill Bernheimer, owner of Domaine
• Nick Coleman, co-founder of Grove and Vine
• Anna Hezel, senior editor at Epicurious
• Matt Hyland, chef at Pizza Loves Emily
• Nancy Jenkins, cook and author
• Chris Leon, owner and wine director of Leon & Son
• Katherine Lewin, owner of Big Night
• Emily Lycopolus, olive oil sommelier and author
• Danielle Oron, author
• Dominique Pariso, Strategist writer
• Liz Quijada, co-owner of Abraço
• Beatrice Ughi, founder and president of Gustiamo
• Claire Wadsworth, co-owner of La Copine
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