Food and Nutrition

Choosing the Best Olive Oil for Your Health and the Environment

Photo: Stocksy/ Trinette Reed
Shopping for olive oils can be tricky. With so many different options on store shelves, it can be hard to know which one to choose. Before you put one into your cart, functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, MD, says it's not just your health you'll want to factor into your decision—it's also the environment.

According to Dr. Hyman, the popularity of olive oil hasn't been great for the planet. "Intensive olive farming has led to widespread soil erosion and desertification (a process by which fertile land becomes desert) in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal," he wrote on Instagram. "In addition to destroying fertile lands, large olive producers rely on massive amounts of pesticides and other chemicals, which pollute waterways. Because olive production occurs on such a large scale to meet the growing demand for oil, it also puts a lot of pressure on water supplies."

That's why he says it's better to purchase from companies that give you the best of both worlds—ones that are not only the most nutrient-rich but also sourced from small farms and well-managed production practices. And Amy Gorin, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian in the New York City area, agrees.

"Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil you can buy. It has excellent flavor and odor and a free fatty acid content. It also has a lower level of oleic acid than other types of olive oils," she says. "When you’re purchasing olive oil, you can buy fair trade olive oil and also purchase your oil from a company that enforces sustainable growing practices. You also want to make sure that the oil is low in pesticides and chemicals."

The next time you go shopping, these are the best olive oils to buy, according to Dr. Hyman and Gorin.

The best olive oils for your health and the planet, according to experts

Best for Cooking

California Olive Ranch Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $15.00

This olive oil is made from 100 percent California-grown olives and is said to have a “floral, buttery, and fruity aroma” with hints of green apple. The moderate price point makes it perfect for everyday use, and it’s one of the best olive oils available on Amazon. P.S. cooking with olive oil is safe; here’s the truth about its smoke point.

the best olive oils
Photo: Corto
Corto Truly 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $25.00

Corto strives to make its process as eco-friendly as possible, from the packaging designs to its harvesting methods. The olive oil tastes so fresh due to being harvested at peak season and sent through an on-site mill.

the best olive oils
Photo: Costco
Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $16.00

Costco isn’t a small company by any means, but Dr. Hyman recommends this cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil that’s organic, kosher, and affordable. (The two-liter bottle is only $15.) Better yet, Costco made a sustainability commitment to maintaining its carbon footprint growth to less than the company sales growth. When producing Kirkland Signature products, the company also stated its goal is that products are respectful of the environment in how they’re produced, grown, harvested, processed, transported, and packaged, and that’s done through traceability, a fair return in the supply chain, and thoughtful sourcing.

the best olive oils
Photo: Cobram Estate
Cobram Estate California Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $13.00

This rich and flavorful organic olive oil comes straight from the Sacramento Valley. It’s said to be a great balance of bitter and peppery flavors. “The company makes an effort to prevent soil erosion and to naturally suppress weeds. It also uses solid byproducts as natural fertilizer,” says Gorin.

the best olive oils
Photo: Bariani
Bariani Olive Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $18.00

Bariani has a solid waste management system that focuses on recycling, creating the animal feed, energy, and compost from food scraps and other organic products, as well as constantly rethinking its practices in order to preserve natural resources. As for the olive oil, the flavor is always a surprise, as it differs every year due to the company’s traditional extraction process. It’s organic, stone-crushed, and cold-filtered.

the best olive oils
Photo: The Furies
The Furies Organic Extra Virgin Greek Olive Oil — $25.00

This woman-owned and operated company only uses organic, fresh ingredients and focuses on sustainable practices all throughout its process. Also cool: The olive oil is made from small, green, and raw olives that produce less oil—and the perk in that is that they have super-high levels of phytonutrients.


Best for Drizzling

the best olive oils
Photo: Pasolivo
Pasolivo Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $48.00

“At Pasolivo, we hand-pick all of our olives which causes less bruising to the fruit and less stress to the tree than some other methods. We also process our olives within hours of coming off our trees in our own on-site olive mill. Olives have to be processed within 24 hours of coming off of the tree; otherwise, they start to ferment. Since we do not have to take the olives anywhere else, we reduce the risk of any defects that might be caused by time, weather, or transit,” Marisa Bloch Gaytan, Pasolivo’s master blender and level two olive oil sommelier, says.

 

the best olive oils
Photo: Brightland
Brightland Cold-Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $37.00

Brightland is an AAPI-and-family-owned company. They use Arbequina olives grown on the small family farm on California’s Central Coast, which is cold-pressed by a master miller within 90 minutes of harvest for freshness and flavor. This delicately flavored olive oil is perfect for drizzling over dishes like fish or salads and is a clear winner between the canola versus olive oil debate.


Most Sustainable

the best olive oils
Photo: California Olive Ranch
California Olive Ranch Everyday Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $23.00

California Olive Ranch uses 100 percent drip irrigation to use as little water as possible as well as focuses on efficient land usage: They grow 675 trees per acre instead of 125 per acre in a traditional olive grove.

the best olive oils
Photo: Gaea
Gaea Fresh Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $28.00

Gorin loves Gaea because of the extra steps the brand takes to help out the planet. “This brand of olive oil makes a commitment to measuring and counterbalancing carbon emissions of its olive oil production,” she says. “Its extra-virgin olive oils are certified as carbon neutral.”

the best olive oils
Photo: McEvoy Ranch
McEvoy Ranch Traditional Blend Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil — $45.00

The award-winning olive oil is certified organic and has a few prominent flavors you may taste in the mix: raw artichoke, slight green almond, tropical fruit, and green olive. Also, it comes in the perfect olive oil bottle size to buy, which is one of the best ways to preserve the liquid’s freshness if you live in a household that won’t use it quickly.

How do you choose an extra virgin olive oil?

According to Marisa Bloch Gaytan, a master blender and level two olive oil sommelier of California-based olive oil company, Pasolivo, these are some of the top things you should look out for when buying EVOO:

1. Packaging

“You should look for olive oil that is in dark packaging. We paint our bottles black to completely block out the UV rays. Even dark glass packaging can let light in, so something that completely blocks it out is best,” Gaytan says. The delicate, healthy fats in olive oil are sensitive to heat and light; thus, dark-colored bottles help prolong their shelf life.

2. Smell

“Olive Oils should have a pretty strong smell. Whether it is green and grassy or more ripe and fruity, you should be picking up wonderful aromas from olive oil. If you do not smell much of anything, that is not a good sign,” she explains. So, make sure to take a nice long whiff before you add the oil to your dish.

3. Taste

According to Gaytan, EVOO should have a nice bitterness and pungency to it. “Bitterness is what you want to taste on your tongue and the sides of your mouth, and the pungency is that tickle you will get in the back of your throat that makes you want to cough. The pungency is those polyphenols at work that give you the health benefits of olive oil,” she adds.

How can I tell when buying olive oil that it is real and fresh?

When buying high-quality olive oil, Gaytan says you’ll want to make sure that it’s extra-virgin certified. “Some oils will list extra virgin on the label when they are not. It’s important to buy from a source that gets certified extra-virgin by a qualified organization.” However, she points out that if the certification is not listed on the bottle, you can visit the council websites, like the California Olive Oil Council or International Olive Oil Council, and find a list of certified oils.

Gaytan also says that you should opt for single-source olive oil whenever possible. “Some oils will list that they are from Italy, Spain, and Greece. While that sounds really romantic, all that means is the oils had to travel from each of those places before they were blended, bottled, and then transported for sale. All of this transporting can affect the quality and integrity of the oil,” she says. Plus, you should always buy bottles based on their harvest or best-by date. According to her, the sweet spot is within two years of the harvest date.

Does olive oil have to be refrigerated after it is opened?

According to Gaytan, the delicate fats in olive oil are sensitive to extreme conditions. The olive oil sommelier recommends storing olive oil in a dark, cool place, like a cupboard. She points out that you definitely shouldn’t put it in the fridge, which can cause the oil to solidify, which can break down the compounds in the oil and affect its quality over time. And you should also avoid storing oil near the stove or a window where it can be exposed to too much constant light and heat, which will also affect the oil’s quality.

These are the benefits of olive oil you should know about:

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