Olive Oil

The Absolute Best Olive Oil to Cook With, According to an Expert

September  3, 2018

Olive oil is quite possibly the most important thing I own. It makes all my food happen, which keeps me alive. Of course, there are other valid, beautiful, and tasty forms of fat in which you can cook your food, but my Italian father taught me early on that olive oil was the way to go. Call it habit, call it blind adherence, call it stubbornness—olive oil is and will always be my cooking fat of choice.

But with so many options, it can be confusing to know which one to buy. Olive oils differ in quality and in price range, and what’s a "finishing oil" anyway? How necessary is the "extra-virgin" in all of those ingredients lists? Do I really need three different types? The world is a confusing enough place. Should deciding among the thousands of varietals add to that?

To ease things along, I've reached out to self-proclaimed oleologist (aka olive oil expert) Nick Coleman with a few questions. Very much a superfan, the former Eataly employee espouses the benefits of the stuff.

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Here's what he had to say.

Valerio Farris: What's one thing every home cook should know about olive oil?

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Top Comment:
“It’s the finest tasting olive oil you will ever encounter. You can eat it with a spoon. Peppery and sublimely delicious. If you are in Astoria, you can purchase at Titan. Or you can order online from Titan or Amazon. For Christmas last year I gave bottles of Iliada. Best gift ever they said. My Greek family is from the Blue Zone. 🇬🇷”
— Robin

Nick Coleman: Fresh, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil is the backbone of the Mediterranean diet. Few foods are as versatile, as healthy, or as useful to the home cook. Olive oil pairs well with vegetables, beans, bread, pizza, pasta, cheese, soup, salad, seafood, meat, poultry and even dessert. Each year I head to Italy and lead a tour through Tuscany during the olive harvest so Americans can experience the real thing and see how olive oil and wine complement each other in the landscape and at the table.

VF: When it comes to varietals and different olive oil grades, what should the average customer and home cook be paying attention to?

NC: When choosing oil, the three most important pieces of information to look for on the label are the harvest date, olive cultivars, and the region from which it originates. Unlike many wine varieties, olive oil does not improve with age, so freshness is a key component to quality. Check the date. In addition, different olives will have varying organoleptic properties (taste, color, aroma, feel, etc.), and knowing the cultivars of which the oil is composed is crucial. There is a saying: “What grows together goes together.” Be sure the olives from which the oil in the bottle is produced come not only from one country, but from a specific, localized region within that country.

VF: On average, how many bottles of olive oil should a person have? How many do you have?

NC: No single oil can solve all of your culinary conundrums. Have a variety of oils on hand. At minimum, a delicate finishing oil that won’t overpower basic flavors, one robust finishing oil to cut through stronger food, and one more affordable (but clean-tasting) extra-virgin olive oil for cooking.

VF: What's your favorite grocery store available olive oil to buy? One that every home cook should have?

NC: The California Olive Ranch is widely available in supermarkets across the U.S. and is a decent, everyday oil for cooking, marinating, and using in vinaigrettes. However, if you want something really unique, check out [my company] Grove and Vine, which is dedicated to celebrating and championing the finest olive oil producers from around the world.

The Best Olive Oil to Cook With

VF: Okay, once and for all—how do I pan-sear in olive oil without sending up a cloud of smoke?

NC: The first thing that burns are the micro- and macroscopic particles of olive sediment. In this sense, it's best to sear with a filtered extra-virgin olive oil high in polyphenols. Also, less is more: The oil should simply prevent ingredients from sticking to the pan.

VF: What olive oil would you recommend for roasting in the oven?

NC: You're going to cook the nuances out of the oil when roasting. It's best to use an affordable, filtered extra-virgin olive oil for this application. Save the high-quality vibrant oils to anoint the dish at the end.

So there you have it! If Nick's expertise is something you'd like to know more about, then don't hesitate to check him out. Come October, he'll be leading a trip to Italy (yes, that Italy) for a week of culinary exploration in the Tuscan countryside.

What's your favorite olive oil to cook with? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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Eric B. October 20, 2018
My favorite olive oil comes direct from the farmer in Sicily. The Assaro family has been around a long time, and produces incredible products. Thomasso and his wife Silvia have established an organic farm, and are producing incredible olives and olive oil from Castelvetrano olives. Buy direct from the farmer.<br /><br />https://m.facebook.com/AsaroOrganicFarm/
Rosalind P. September 20, 2018
I think I heard or read somewhere that olive oil, when heated, loses most of its distinctive flavor, so unless you're doing it for health reasons, there's no reason to use it. OR, a variation on this: you can use just plan olive oil, not extra-virgin because the flavor isn't preserved with heat. Is this a myth? (lie?) I use on EVO for salads or anything else that isn't cooked -- spreading on bread too. Any thoughts?<br />
Diana M. October 28, 2018
Hi Rosalind, both are myths and totally false! Flavor-wise, almost all Greek food is cooked in olive oil. One category of vegan veggie dishes is actually called “ladera”, which means “oiled”. If one used any oil but olive oil for these dishes, they’d quite literally be inedible! They get most of their rich flavor from olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil, ie good quality with low acidity, is actually the best and only olive oil to cook with. It has the highest smoke point, about 400 F. If you use poor quality EVOO or non extra virgin, the smoke point will be lower (not to mention the flavor will be inferior). If you want to read more about the science behind it, the book “The Big Fat Surprise” gives a wonderful explanation as to why besides animal fat, olive oil is the healthiest fat to cook with.
Rosalind P. October 28, 2018
Just the information I was looking for. Thanks.<br />
Marie F. September 17, 2018
Sorry, that came out wrong---I use extra virgin olive oil for sautéing and frying, and never have a problem. I think it amps up the flavor!
Marie F. September 17, 2018
I use exr<br />ta<br /><br /><br />Use extra virgin olive oil for sautéing and frying, and never have a problem. I think it amps up the flavor!<br /><br />
Robin September 17, 2018
Hello. I’m Greek and Italian. I’m old and a gourmet cook. I only use Greek olive oil and specifically ILIADA. It’s the finest tasting olive oil you will ever encounter. You can eat it with a spoon. Peppery and sublimely delicious. If you are in Astoria, you can purchase at Titan. Or you can order online from Titan or Amazon. For Christmas last year I gave bottles of Iliada. Best gift ever they said. My Greek family is from the Blue Zone. 🇬🇷
Nancy September 17, 2018
Agree, agree, agree! See my post below, if you wish supporting cooking with olive oil from a Greek nutrionist!
Nancy September 17, 2018
There are so many good olive oils. The most important thing to do is USE them, without being stingy with the amount. Just this morning I made another food 52 winner using olive oil and fried eggs with fried herbs. (I used the sage). It was fabulous. It sustained me all morning, and because I’m one of those people that have to check, my blood levels remained absolutely stable this morning. The Greeks enjoy slow cooking their vegetables in olive oil called Lathera. Of everything in the American Diet to worry about, good extra virgin olive oil is not one of them!
Diana M. October 28, 2018
Yes! I was preaching about ladera above. If one made ladera with anything but olive oil it’d be inedible!
Nancy H. September 15, 2018
A friend just called my attention to this thread and I'm sorry to come late to the discussion. A couple of points need addressing: <br />1) Yes, absolutely, you can and should cook (including deep-fat frying) with extra-virgin olive oil, which withstands temperatures up to 410 degrees F without damage--and Joy of Cooking recommends deep-fat frying at 360 degrees so go figure.<br />2) It is difficult for knowledgeable folks to make recommendations for specific oils because so many are not in wide distribution. If I tell you my fave is from a little town in southern Umbria that only exports to a little market in Cambridge, Mass., that's not going to be useful to you. If on the other hand I tell you to look and taste and sample everything from everywhere, but especially, Greece, Italy, Spain and California, you will learn something valuable about the vagaries and varieties of oil.<br />3) One of the hugest problems in maintaining olive oil quality is post-production handling. Many retailers have no idea at all about how the care their olive oils deserve. Bad handling can turn the finest olive oil into rancidity--and it's no fault of the producer. So beware your retailer.<br />4) And finally, I think the best place to find high quality reliable extra-virgin is from one of several online retailers. Both gustiamo.com and Olio2go.com specialize in Italian oils, while markethallfoods.com and zingermans.com have oils from many other parts of the world.
Nancy September 15, 2018
Great post and essential words to add to this discussion. I agree with all!!!<br /><br />I have ordered oils and vinegars both from Zingermann’s and Markethall Foods and highly endorse both sources!
Meister September 14, 2018
Meister September 14, 2018
this piece is below your standards ---
Steve September 14, 2018
How are we supposed to trust what we're reading on labels when it's been widely reported that a huge percentage of olive oil is fraudulent, despite what the label says or what its certifications say
pierino September 14, 2018
Certifcations are important. On imports from Italy you should look for a DOC meaning authenticated denomination of origin. I believe there's an EU label as well now.<br />Product of Italy is the loose standard of our own FDA.<br /><br />
Hilda C. September 14, 2018
Certifications are a level of trust for the consumer. In Europe you can trust DOP or PDO which certifies that the product comes from the region it states on the bottle and in the US when you buy from California a COOC is assures it is certified by the California. The fraud is mostly by big brands and when you can buy something that says Extra Virgin olive oil for $3.99 a liter this is when you should be suspect. There are exceptional producers producing fantastic quality oils from many countries- if you do a bit of research you can find fantastic oils !!
M S. September 15, 2018
My impression from reading is that even the DPO or PDO ratings are vunerable to fraud. Apparently, even the mafia has gotten into olive oil. Saw a significant news reprt on Italy and olive oil. They had setup a panel of experts who test samples from batches of olive oil, the only way to detect fraud. Not sure if that is for all oils claiming EEOP or could be the DOP,PDO bunch. Will look for the news item and post it if I can find it.<br />
Hilda C. September 15, 2018
There is fraud for sure but it is mainly the big brands or the cheap priced ones you see in the grocery stores that offer less than $9.99 claiming it’s extra virgin from Italy- be wary of those offers that are too good to be true. Now you can get true extr virgin like California olive ranch and Kirkland from Costco but don’t expect that those are beautiful elegant oils those are good everyday real EVOO if that’s all you want but there are some truly glorious oils available by producers who care ( from many countries) don’t believe that all imported pins are fraud they are not. If you don’t trust anything imported then there are great oils being created in the US like Bondolio, Wild Groves, Lucero, central coast family farm- they all have websites you can buy from
Lorraine September 14, 2018
Hilda C. September 14, 2018
Carli is a big brand and most of it is not exceptional is pretty basic most is just ok. There are exceptional oils out there go look at Mandranova, Or Franci or Castillo si Canena or Quattrociocchi or Finca la Torre or some great California oils like WildGroves or Bondolio
pierino September 15, 2018
Yhe Paso Robles region of California produces wonderful oils in relatively small releases. They do carry the COOC seal. Fandango and Kiler Ridge are first class<br />Growers here typically use arbequino olives blended possibly with manzanillo or mission.<br /><br />
Hilda C. September 15, 2018
Great farms !!
Nancy H. October 20, 2018
I do think you will be better off ordering on line from the websites I mentioned above--or from a really trusted retailer like Jim Dixon at Real Good Food in Portland, Oregon. Look for small producers, preferably raising their own olives and pressing their own oil. I don't find Carli at all exceptional. They are big industrial producers. Look carefully at labels--the information may reveal a lot, both positive and negative. If the label says something like "produced from Mediterranean olives," you can bet that it will be pretty awful, often old, always blended from many different harvests in many parts of the Med world. And probably suspiciously cheap. Excellent olive oil is expensive to produce so beware--there are no bargains.<br />
zanmia September 13, 2018
A few years back I was in NY City. I happened to go into the Chelsea Market which happens to be where the Food Network chefs go to shop. It's filled with all kinds of specialty food items of all kinds. One store in particular is named, "The Filling Station" They specialize in OLIVE OILS, Specialty oils, Balsamic vinegar, Exotic Salts, and craft beers. High quality and ONLY natural ingredients. Check out their web site at https://www.tfsnyc.com/home I'm sue you'll be glad you did
Hilda C. September 14, 2018
Those stores are great because they get people to taste oil and see there is s difference but be careful most I ha e been in have people that don’t have an idea about the oils and I have tasted some old rancid oils in most of them - they buy in bulk which can be bad if they don’t sell a lot of oils so they sit around going bad- that’s why you don’t save that great bottle of oil use it quickly because all oil will go rancid over time and olive oil only is fresh for 18-24 months at best that’s why you look for harvest date not best before date
Hilda C. September 13, 2018
Hi I am a certified professional olive oil taster from the same school in Italy that Nic Coleman went to and I absolutely agree!! Use great extra virgin olive oil and don’t save that great bottle use it lavishly!! You are worth it!!
abigail O. September 13, 2018
nice info overall but not detailed enough to be truly informative. examples here would've been useful: "delicate finishing oil that won’t overpower basic flavors, one robust finishing oil to cut through stronger food" - and he mentions only two brands of OO, one of which is his..... would be good to include a basic table of types, brands, uses - a clip and use kind of item.
Hilda C. September 14, 2018
Ok here are some other examples a nice delicate oil is an ascolano like Wild groves has one from California - mild and delicate yummy - most of the arbequina from say Lucero olive oil in California is lovely and mild a gorgeous medium/robust oil is from Mandranova in Sicily the only I would recommend is thr Nocellara varietal- if you don’t want Italian then a glorious oil from California is Bondolio which has a great blend and Nocellara is in it. You want robust try the Finca LaTorre or a great brand called Pruneti - try the frantoio from Tuscany or a great bottle of Villa Magra from Tuscany they are worth every penny and when you buy a good bottle open it and smell it and then taste a Tsp of it - it should smell fruity like fresh olives and it should taste pungent and should have a peppery bitterness - don’t be scared of bitterness it’s a positive attribute in olive oil if it makes you cough it’s fresh and lots of antioxidants called polyphenols
Nancy H. October 20, 2018
For reasons I stated above, it is very difficult to make suggestions about olive oil that will be universally applicable. The reason? The oils you see on supermarket shelves all over the United States are uniformly produced by big industrial producers such as Carapelli, Colavita, Bertolli and the like. There's nothing distinguished about them and you might as well by vegetable oil. Instead, seek out the websites I mentioned--there are others too--where the oils have been carefully selected and handled by competent people.
Theresa September 13, 2018
I only use my quality olive oil for finishing a dish, dressings, sauces, pestos, or brushing on finished baked breads or pastries. It will burn at any kind of high heat that is used for cooking, frying or roasting foods. Use grape seed oil, or avocado oil or lovely meat lards for high heat cooking. It works beautifully, won’t burn, so save your good olive oil for flavor you want to finish your dish.
Hilda C. September 14, 2018
If it’s a great quality olive oil it’s unrefined and you can even fry it will handle up to around 410 degrees I fry everything in my great EvOO it’s expensive so most don’t do it but the best the quality the oil you absolutely can fry with it- it has been a myth forever that you can’t. Premium extra virgins are not just for salads and finishing but it showcases the best of the oil as a finishing oil. Just don’t save it for years because it will go rancid ad all oils do over time.
Nancy H. October 20, 2018
It will not burn at high heat, Theresa. This is a very common misperception about extra-virgin olive oil that I think is promoted by vegetable oil manufacturers. Of course you won't fry with a $60 a bottle estate brand of oil, any more than you would use a Romanee-Conti to make boeuf bourguignon. But a good, honest, well-made extra-virgin is perfect for frying. And I agree with you--a fillip of fine oil, dribbled raw as a garnish, is a perfect finish to a dish.
[email protected] September 13, 2018
I have used EVOO for just about everything for years but honestly I am very frustrated with industry standards--I'm not even sure what I am buying most of the time is pure olive oil. Shouldn't it harden up somewhat under refrigeration? Even many organic oils don't do that! I do trust California Olive Ranch.
rj September 13, 2018
Tunisian olive oils have been receiving a multitude of awards:<br /><br />https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-business/record-number-of-awards-for-tunisian-olive-oil/62978<br /><br />Terra Delyssa crushes their olives within 24 hours of harvest making it exceptionally fresh.
Richard B. September 13, 2018
Horio, from Greece; al Koura, from Lebanon.
pierino September 13, 2018
Thanks. For this I absolutely agree on practically every point and I live in an olive producing region and still occasionally write about it. <br />Yes indeed olive oil is not like wine. I try to buy my favorite local stuff as soon as it is released.<br />You are right about California Olive Ranch, it's better than most imports especially the junk they sell at Trader Joes.<br />Of course not all oil labeled products of Italy actually are. All that matters is that it was bottled there. Look for a DOC on the label.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />.<br /><br /><br />
Dianne M. September 13, 2018
I’ve used Nudo oil for several years. It comes in 16.9oz cans and is absolutely delicious to dip into or use to make a cake. The trees are in Mogliano, in LaMarche region.
JP September 13, 2018
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Valerie. Despite contrary advice from others, this is precisely how I have used olive oil for years. I only use extra virgin olive oil, both filtered and unfiltered, exactly as Mr. Coleman recommends. My practice has been based on some research on the heat stability of extra virgin olive oil and my experience that I get superior results when I cook with evoo. I do occasionally use oils other than evoo for specific reasons. It is nice to hear this from an expert (understanding he is a purveyor of olive oil as well.)