/ 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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A neighbour of mine supplies most of the street with a single estate unfiltered olive oil produced in Greece by a friend of hers. It’s a beautiful bright green and tastes fresh and fruity with a real depth of flavour: it blows most commercially available olive oils out of the water! It costs about £8 a 750ml bottle but I buy cheaper olive oils to cook with so it lasts a good while.


I’m puzzled as to why you’ve restricted your sources of oil to high street multiples.

Even if you don’t have a neighbour with useful connections (like Benetta Adamson), it doesn’t take a huge amount of sophistication to look for specialists or online retailers. I would assume that people who enjoy olive oil and similar products are likely to be willing to look a little further than an edge-of-town supermarket.

How does the oil sold by Carluccio restaurant/delicatessen chain compare with the high street brands, for example? I’ve regularly bought 5 litre cans from Olives et Al (I quite like their Psaltiras @ £45 per 5 litres). Could I do better? I’d love to know, please, Which?!


Hi Mike,

Unfortunately there is a limit to the number of olive oils our experts were able to test in one day, so we were only able to test the most popular and widely available oils – i.e. those from supermarkets and major brands. And with so many smaller brands and estate-bottled oils out there, it would have been difficult to fairly select a small number to test.

If it helps, the experts felt that the standard of the olive oils on test was generally not that high, and even the Best Buy would not match up to a good estate-bottled oil.


How much??? I think they saw you coming mate!

David S. says:
1 July 2011

Much nonsense is spoken about olive oil, the basic problem being ignorance. A longstanding knowledge of the Mediterranean together with an deep empathy with those folk who are lucky enough to inhabit her shores is a rare asset. However let us not despair, nor let us empty our wallets on the mistaken assumption that great oil demands great expense. I totally agree with Benetta that extra virgin olive oil from either the Greek Peleponnese (e.g. PDO Kalamata) or from Crete, is of consistent quality, has superb depth of flavour and good shelf life. This is mostly due to the olive variety common to these areas: ‘Koroneiki’. Nonetheless Benetta, you really must not pay this kind of money! The ‘tourist’ price in Greece for fine locally pressed oil is no more than 5 or 6 Euros per litre! Let’s now talk about UK availability. My local Macro sells ‘ILIADA’ extra virgin oil (PDO Kalamata) for £22-£23 for a FIVE litre can! My local Aldi sells ‘MINOS’ single estate extra virgin oil (PDO Sitia, eastern Crete) for £3.49 for a 750ml bottle! These are the oils I use for ‘very best’ — dipping bread, on salads, etc. For cooking, look no further than ‘EVOO’ blended ec extra virgin oil from (again) Aldi. For ‘beginners’ to the art, NEVER buy: ‘pomace oil’, ‘refined’ oil, or plain ‘olive oil’. These are inferior products extracted chemically from the ‘mush’ left over from pressing the olives to produce extra virgin oil. They are often no cheaper than extra virgin oil either.
For those who are inspired to learn more, try Amazon for this (? out-of-print) book: ‘Olive Oil’ by Charles Quest-Ritson. Also visit Crete in November to see the start of the olive harvest, and sample the green oil direct from the press. I hope this has been of some interest.

Chris Nation says:
6 July 2011

Re Davis S’s comments – I’ve just looked up ‘Macro’ and they are a Cash & Carry outlet selling to businesses only. If he is not buying as or on behalf of a business, can he tell us how one goes about doing same?

Neville Medford says:
2 July 2011

There is a brand of Olive Oil by the name of James Plagniol. It is French with a very distinctive taste. So far I have been unable to locate it anywhere in the Country. My last purchase was in Trinidad a few months ago. Would like to know if anyone has come across this brand and where I can get it. In the mean time I usually purchase my olive oil from either Lidl or the Aldi, about 2 bottles a month. I use it both for cooking and in salads. I have checked some sites and have found that there is quite a lot of interest in locating this brand.


I too am looking for James Plagniol olive oil. TT grocery says it has it in stock, but I cannot get them to respond with a shipping price! Please let me know if you find it! margaret

PHIL says:
26 October 2012