Eulogised by chefs and nutritionists alike, olive oil has seen its popularity in the UK soar since the 1990s and as a nation we import close to 100,000 tonnes a year. More recent trends show a particular demand for extra virgin olive oil, which – made from pure, cold-pressed olives – comes high in vitamins, polyphenols and monosaturated fatty acids, and retains more of the associated health benefits than the blended, refined olive oils often found on supermarket shelves. This, combined with the vibrant, diverse flavours found in extra virgin olive oil, helps secure its status as a store cupboard essential.
“A good olive oil will feature the aromas and tastes indicative of fresh olive fruit,” says Curtis Cord, publisher of Olive Oil Times and founder of the International Olive Oil School, adding that since extra virgin olive oil is an unrefined fruit juice, it’s affected by the terroir in which the olives are grown, the olive variety (or cultivar) used as well as other variables in cultivation, harvesting, milling and packaging. “High-quality extra virgin olive oil will have aromas of fresh olive fruit with herbal notes and the taste will be pleasantly bitter, with sensations that linger in harmony on the palate, finishing with a pungent pepperiness in the throat that indicates the presence of healthy phenolic compounds.”
While Spanish and Italian producers have tended to dominate, Cord notes that, today, consumers can find outstanding olive oils further afield. “The overall quality of extra virgin olive oil produced around the world has dramatically improved as consumers become more educated about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet in general, and extra virgin olive oil in particular,” he says.
So how to choose one? Firstly, consider how you’ll be using it. Extra virgin olive oil’s relatively low smoking point of between 190 and 207C means that it’s unsuitable for high-temperature frying and roasting but is still an effective option for low and medium-heat cooking. However, given the delicate flavour profiles of these oils, this can seem a waste and most chefs use it for finishing instead – using towards the end of the cooking process to impart colour, flavour and texture. It’s also the perfect choice for dipping, dressing salads and as a statement-making condiment. Worth noting is that – unlike wine – olive oil doesn’t improve with age and is best consumed within 18 months, so be sure to check the best before date.
How we tested
Zeroing in on extra virgin olive oils, we tested a wide range of products spanning various geographies, production methods and price points. We sampled them solo as well as experimenting with each in a range of settings – as a finishing oil, a destination for dipping bread and drizzled over different dishes – to establish the below list of 10 extra virgin olive oils worth adding to your wish list.
The best olive oils for 2022 are:
- Best elegant all-rounder – José Pizarro extra virgin olive oil: £15, Josepizarro.com
- Best for intense fruitiness – Frantoio Franci villa magra grand cru extra virgin olive oil: £22.50, Artisanoliveoilcompany.co.uk
- Best for zesty dressings and bakes – Belazu extra virgin lemon infused olive oil: £13.95, Belazu.com
- Best for subtle fruitiness – Oro Bailen arbequina extra virgin olive oil: £15.60, Artisanoliveoilcompany.co.uk
- Best for everyday use – Filippo Berio special selection extra virgin olive oil: £5.10, Waitrose.com
- Best for black olive flavour – Grand Brahis noir AOP vallee des baux de provence extra virgin olive oil: £27.99, Souschef.co.uk
- Best for conscious consumption – Zaytoun organic extra virgin olive oil: £14.49, Oxfam.org.uk
- Best for delightful dipping – Picualia Reserve extra virgin olive oil: £29.95, Harveynichols.com
- Best for finishing dishes – Olive Gregori extra virgin olive oil: £19.95, Delicario.com
- Best for an instant touch of luxury – Petrossian la truffle white truffle olive oil: £30, Petrossian.fr
José Pizarro extra virgin olive oil
Best: Elegant all-rounder
Celebrated Spanish chef José Pizarro lends his name to this silky smooth extra virgin olive oil that offers plenty of versatility. Teaming up with the Molino de Zafra olive mill in his native Extremadura, he’s created a buoyant blend of morisca – a particularly intense native variety – arbequina, manzanilla and cacereña olives to produce a well-rounded oil that worked wonders on a range of dishes but in particular simple salads. With a bold green hue and strong aromas of apple, almond and cut grass, it boasts a spicy palate with a polyphenol-rich hit of bitterness that comes through on the finish, marking it out as a statement-making kitchen companion.
Frantoio Franci villa magra grand cru extra virgin olive oil
Best: For intense fruitiness
At the punchier end of the flavour spectrum, this premium oil stems from a small, dedicated grove on the hills of Tuscany’s Montenero d’Orcia. Made from 100 per cent frantoio olives, which are hand-picked each autumn, this grand cru is deep green in colour and comes with layers of aromatic complexity – think cut grass, almond and floral notes – while its spicy palate has a welcome bitterness to it that added pep to everything we drizzled it over, including grilled chicken, tomatoes and fresh cheeses.
Belazu extra virgin lemon infused olive oil
Best: For zesty dressings and bakes
Among its standout range of Mediterranean extra virgin olive oils, Belazu – which has imported produce from southern Europe since 1991 – has produced this fragrant flavoured oil by combining peranzana olives from Puglia and lemons from the Gargano National Park. Crushed together in their entirety using traditional granite stones to extract and combine their natural oils, the result is a wonderfully aromatic, beautifully integrated condiment that exceeds the sum of its parts. We loved this drizzled over grilled fish and roasted vegetables and have earmarked it as an excellent substitute for butter in a lemon drizzle cake.
Oro Bailen arbequina extra virgin olive oil
Best: For subtle fruitiness
With a rich history for producing award-winning olive oils, Oro Bailen sits in the foothills of the Sierra Morena in Andalusia, Spain, where the olive groves sit at an altitude of 400 metres. While the producer has a wide range of standout oils, we liked the subtlety of this particular bottle, a mild to medium oil using arbequina olives – a fleshy, aromatic varietal that, in this instance, delivers an elegant, delicate flavour with just a hint of pepper. While it might lack the punch of other oils under review, it’s a well-balanced, smooth option for those seeking a less intrusive way to finish dishes.
Filippo Berio special selection extra virgin olive oil
Best: For everyday use
With more than 150 years of history behind it, Filippo Berio is one of the world’s best-known olive oil brands and its “special selection” is a bold, versatile oil that clocks in at a competitive price point. Made from a blend of extra virgin olive oils from Greece, Italy and Spain, it perhaps lacks the nuanced palate of some of the more premium monovarietal options we tested but it proved to be a characterful addition to salad dressings and marinades, and more than capable of impressing in simple pasta dishes.
Grand Brahis noir AOP vallee des baux de provence extra virgin olive oil
Best: For black olive flavour
Coming from France’s olive oil capital in the Vallee des Baux de Provence, this charismatic organic extra virgin olive oil from the Grand Brahis Estate is a real wild card. Its striking notes of black olive – it was perhaps the olive-iest oil we tested – provide an intense hit of tapenade flavour without the peppery finish found elsewhere. It’s a fantastic dipping oil as well as a great complement to Provençal dishes and we drizzled it abundantly over ratatouille and swirled it into mushroom pasta, and – frankly – we’d be equally happy sipping it straight from the bottle.
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Zaytoun organic extra virgin olive oil
Best: For conscious consumption
Palestine has a long association with olive farming (accounting for over half of the state’s cultivated land) and this impressive Fairtrade oil comes courtesy of Zaytoun – an award-winning social enterprise that sees 100 per cent of its profits reinvested into supporting the livelihoods of local farmers. As is typical with oils from the region, this silky-smooth oil comes in a darker green hue, while a palate defined by a distinctive warmth and bold peppery notes make it a great option for adding verve to salads and amplifying dips such as labneh or hummus.
Picualia Reserve extra virgin olive oil
Best: For delightful dipping
Endorsed by celebrity chefs and a staple in some of the world’s leading restaurants, this beautifully vibrant oil by Andalusian producers Picualia commands a premium price – and for good reason. Made from 100 per cent picual olives, whose higher smoking point makes it suitable for cooking, it comes with zesty, freshly cut grass notes on the nose and there’s an equally impactful palate with depth and peppery complexity that hits the right balance between fruitiness and bitterness. All of which makes it a delightful dipping destination for chunks of fresh bread as well as a fresh, charismatic addition to salads, soups and pasta dishes.
Olive Gregori extra virgin olive oil
Best: For finishing dishes
Coming in a sleek stainless-steel bottle to retain its original flavour, aromas and colour after milling, this sophisticated offering from the family-run Olive Gregori in Le Marche, Italy, is a particularly striking olive oil made from ascolana tenera olives – a prized variety known for their tenderness that dates back to Roman times. We found aromas of artichoke and almond on the nose, while its lighter tone, low acidity and gentle bitterness means it really comes into its own as a finishing oil for more delicate dishes such as fish or chicken, adding flavour without overpowering.
Petrossian la truffle white truffle olive oil
Best: For an instant touch of luxury
A touch of truffle can elevate even the blandest of foods, making this fabulously fragrant blend of extra virgin olive oil and Piedmontese white truffle a powerful tool to have at your disposal. While inevitably no substitute for the real thing, its earthy accents – courtesy of its one per cent dehydrated truffle – is a more than worthy way to add flair to egg and pasta dishes, while we also found it an unctuous wintry addition to mashed potatoes.
The verdict: Olive oils
Offering a sophisticated extra virgin olive oil that’s as vibrant as it is versatile, the José Pizarro extra virgin olive oil proved a well-balanced bottle at an accessible price point, adding character to a wide range of dishes without overpowering them. Another Spanish oil, the Picualia Reserve, was a fantastic showcase of picual olives, with bold grassy, peppery accents justifying its premium price. For something a little out of the ordinary, the Grand Brahis noir is a big hitter that provides an intense black olive-y hit to equally big-hitting dishes.
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