/ Money

Olive oil – price doesn’t always guarantee quality

Olive oil bottles

Olive oil seems straightforward, but actually offers a bewildering range of choices. And when you’re picking the best from supermarket shelves, forget about price – our research shows it’s no indicator of quality.

Virgin or extra virgin? Fruity or mild? Italian or Greek? This isn’t the only question people ask when they’re shopping for good olive oil. The other is ‘How much does it cost?’

However, from our latest research, the question you should be asking is; ‘does more expensive mean better quality?’ The answer to that seems to be, not necessarily.

As olive oil expert Charles Carey explains in our video interview, it’s always good to have two bottles of extra virgin olive oil – an inexpensive oil for cooking and making dressings, and a pricier ‘estate-bottled’ olive oil for dipping bread in or finishing dishes with.

Not so special after oil

Possibly with one eye on capturing the market for premium estate-bottled oils, both Napolina and Filippo Berio now make extra virgin olive oils that are more expensive than their standard oils. These are labelled as ‘Special Selection’, so we wanted to find out what is was that made them ‘special’.

The answer? Not a lot. According to our experts, not only did they not meet the high standards of estate-bottled olive oils, they didn’t even beat out the much cheaper oils we tested.

Filippo Berio Special Selection, priced at £4.99 for a 500ml bottle, scored lower than four cheaper olive oils we tested. And Napolina Special Selection was rated lower than standard Napolina, despite costing almost £2 more. So it’s clear that these ‘Special Selection’ oils aren’t worth paying extra for.

Well oil be damned!

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Aldi’s olive oil, the cheapest on test at £2.25, came second behind just Napolina’s standard bottle. Other supermarkets didn’t fair so well, with Tesco’s oil being described by one expert as ‘like a mouldy piece of bread’ and Marks & Spencer’s as having ‘farmyard flavours’.

We Brits consume 28 million litres of olive oil a year, so we could definitely save a fair bit by going for cheaper offerings, without compromising on taste. How much do you spend on olive oil and what brands do you buy?

How much would you pay for a 500ml bottle of olive oil?

£2 - £2.99 (35%, 358 Votes)

£3 - £3.99 (26%, 265 Votes)

Less than £2 (16%, 160 Votes)

£4 - £5.99 (15%, 153 Votes)

I don't buy olive oil (5%, 47 Votes)

More than £6 (4%, 36 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,012

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Colin says:
7 June 2012

Hi David
Thanks very much for the information, we know of this place, we stayed nearby for a while, but thought it was for canning the oil. Will give it a try when we harvest this year, we went past it the other day ( it is closed in the summer I think ! )
This year will see a bumper harvest probably our biggest yet we have never seen so many olives on the trees, we could be looking at 300-400+ ltres off 38 trees, we will be drinking the stuff by the glass to get it used !!!!
Of course when you come over in November you would be very welcome to few litres, or are you coming over to harvest your own ?

David S. says:
12 June 2012

Hello again Colin,

Glad to be of help. No, we don’t have a property in Crete. We visit in November mostly to enjoy the autumn wild flowers. How could we possibly not accept your kind offer.

[Perhaps those good people at Which? Conversation would be kind enough to send you our e-mail address.]

Nixon says:
20 March 2013

l am a bit late for the “party” but hope one of your knowledgeable selves can help.
As the best before date approaches, doesn’t the nutrients level in the extra virgin oil decrease?
would appreciate answers with reliable website information

l had a 5L tin of extra virgin oil delivered today and it had only 4months left before the best before date,
should l claim an exchange or is it not worth it.

thanks in advance

David S. says:
3 April 2013

Sorry for this late reply — just back from a pre-Easter break.
This is a very good question, and I fear that it deserves more space than I can give it here. In the northern hemisphere the annual olive harvest is carried out between November and January. The olives are pressed immediately after collection to produce extra virgin oil. This is either filtered and packed for dispatch, or allowed to settle in large containers (unfiltered) for some six weeks before decanting and packing. Subsequent blending with other extra virgin oils is yet another scenario. ‘Use-by date’ gives an estimate of the presumed longuevity of the final product — of course assuming ideal storage conditions. The variety of olive tree from which the oil was made plays a major part in this. Put simply, oils from some varieties last longer than oils from others. Thus the time interval between pressing and ‘use-by date’ varies, and can be as long as 18 months.
If an oil is only to be used for cooking, observing the use-by date is perfectly reasonable. But an oil to be relished drizzled on salads or for dipping should be as young as possible. This is because an exra virgin oil will tend to lose its ‘fruitiness’ as it ages — again some more quickly than others.
Your question therefore hinges on 1) What your can of oil will be used for; and 2) If for cooking, will you use all 5 litres in 4 months?
Your query about decreasing ‘nutrient’ levels is something that we do not have room to fully discuss here. Suffice it to say that the oils with the highest levels of beneficial polyphenols also have the best longuevity.
Incidentally, have you tried the extra virgin oils sold by the discount store B&M? (They appear to have an excellent buyer.) In particular, a fine Catalonian Arbequina and a single estate Sicilian extra virgin oil — both at very, very low prices.

Montybarbs says:
23 March 2015

Hi everyone. I have only just found this very interesting discussion thread so my comments are a bit late in the day. If the discussion is still open I would really welcome opinions on an olive oil suitable to use in baking cakes and biscuits.

I used to make cakes with sunflower oil but I now realise that this is not such a good idea due to the high omega 6 content of it’s fatty acid profile and the fact that the refining process is done with chemicals. The latter also applies, of course, to non-extra virgin olive oils.

I am looking for recommendations for a fruity olive oil that will not give an overwhelming taste in baked goods and is cheap enough to use frequently for this purpose. I have tried Aldi’s Solera, which I find too peppery, Phillipo Berio, which gives a very strong, grassy olive taste to cakes and Iliada which is the best of the three but rather expensive. I don’t really want to use oils labelled as “light” as, although they are suitable, they are refined. I am not in a position to travel to Crete or anywhere else to get this oil so it would have to be easily available either locally or online.

Any suggestions from those of you who are more familiar with you olive oil would be greatly appreciated.

David S. says:
23 April 2015

Sorry for late reply — I’ve only just seen your entry.
I have just this week had a chance to taste the latest Aldi Solesta blended EC extra virgin oil. I must say I was so impressed it is now our ‘regular everyday’ cooking oil. This stuff has intense fruitiness, good depth of flavour, and very little pepperiness on the throat. £1.99 for 750ml is a real treat! My wife says pepperiness mostly disappears in baking anyway. The Greeks frequently add either brandy or ouzo in their biscuit recipes, and this serves to disguise any unwanted olive oil taste.
— Let me know how you get on.

David Robinson says:
24 June 2016

No mention of Greek olive oil.
Athenians will drive south to Kalamata to buy their oil.
The oil and eating olives are exquisite.
It is believed that Italians have been known to buy up stocks of Greek oil to augment there own supplies. But who knows?