Healthy Eating Tips

The Number One Mistake You’re Making When You Buy Olive Oil That’s Sacrificing Its Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Kells McPhillips

Photo: Getty Images/Andrey Gonchar
My strategy for buying olive oil is a simple one: The bigger the bottle, the better. So just imagine my shock when Joseph Profaci, the executive director of the North American Olive Oil Association, informed me that my approach to purchasing the ultra-healthy cooking oil was, to put it politely, dead wrong for me, since I use so little oil in my day-to-day cooking. When you're considering what size olive oil to buy, you need to know that those extra-large jugs of the stuff are only good if you use the product regularly (i.e. don't use the same bottle for months on end), as olive oil changes over time—and loses benefits as a result.

"Olive oil does not get better with age," says Profaci. (It's not wine.) "Olive oils are bottled with a stated shelf life, which should be no more than two years from bottling. Once you open the bottle and let air in, the clock ticks much faster." Unless you're cooking that olive oil into baked trays of veggies, chicken breasts, and stir-fries fast, you stand to sacrifice both the nutritive value and the flavor profile of your oil. Once you open the bottle, it begins to oxidize (meaning, lose its electrons)—and there's some pretty interesting chemistry behind why that leads to lackluster oil.

On a chemical level, Profaci explains that this happens because the oil's micronutrients—the good-for-you polyphenols and antioxidants that guard against chronic diseases like diabetes, dementia, and even cancer—are primarily responsible for that nutty, rich flavor olive oil imbues in every dish. "When an olive oil’s taste dissipates due to oxidation, there are less and less polyphenols available in the oil," explains Profaci. "Bottom line, as olive oil ages, it still remains healthy and it still has the desirable fatty acid profile—but its polyphenol and antioxidant content will diminish."

Make no mistake: Cooking with old olive oil is still better than cooking with no olive oil at all, and peak freshness is really most important for your "quality" olive oils aka the ones you'll be using to drizzle over foods or using as a condiment (hello, salads). In that case, Profaci says it's best to use within a 30-day window once opened. For bottles that you're cooking with, Profaci recommends buying ones you can use up in three months or less.

When it comes time to choose your olive oil of choice, Profaci has a very unique recommendation for testing the bottle's merit. "Taste, taste, taste. Consumers need to learn to taste olive oils straight up. I always open a bottle as soon as I get it home and take a swig," he says. "If you don’t like what you bought, take it back to the store and get a refund. And remember, all olive oils are healthy, but the more flavor, the more potential health benefits."

4 (small) bottles of olive oil to enjoy in the next 3 months (for smaller households who don't use a lot), recommended by Well+Good editors

1. Pineapple Collaborative The Olive Oil, $34

Pineapple Collaborative

This California can of olive oil would likewise look gorgeous in a holiday bow—and you can choose between five different colors to fit your kitchen's aesthetic. All of Pineapple Collaborative's products are made by women, so shop around while you're buying this cooking essential.

Shop now: Pineapple Collaborative The Olive Oil, $34

2. California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $11

what size olive oil to buy
Photo: California Olive Oil

Chances are you've seen California Olive Oil at your local supermarket before. Although this particular bottle's on the larger size, you can look for a mini to add to your cart if you need a little more than three months to use up all 750 milliliters. (It's our senior food editor's favorite!)

Shop now: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $11

3. Public Goods Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $9

Photo: Public Goods

Public Goods simple bottle of olive oil hails from Italy and has a distinct sweet almond flavor you won't find in just any oil.

Shop now: Public Goods Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $9

4. Kostrerina Original Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, $29

what size olive oil to buy
Photo: Kosterina

A taste of this EVOO is the closest any of us are getting to Greece this year (sobs). The olives are harvested in the Peloponnese region of southern Greece, and if this bottle isn't art, I don't know what is.

Shop now: Kostrerina Original Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, $29

Kostrerina Original Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, $29

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