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: £5.50, 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: £29.99, Selfridges.com
- Best for finishing dishes – Olive Gregori extra virgin olive oil: £21, Delicario.com
- Best for an instant touch of luxury – Petrossian la truffle white truffle olive oil: £30, Petrossian.fr