Everything you need to know to get the most out of this versatile oil.

Rebecca Firkser
March 08, 2019
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Olive oil is liquid gold in my kitchen, but that doesn’t mean I’m stingy with the stuff. Not a day goes by that I don’t use olive oil: I whisk it into dressings and toss it with vegetables for roasting. On slow mornings, I crack eggs into pools of it in a hot pan for crispy-edged whites. Even though I frequently use olive oil, I still keep my stash sealed tightly in its original bottle, tucked away in the pantry, as exposure to light and air are just a couple mistakes you might make with olive oil. To keep it at its freshest, you need to know about these common olive oil mistakes—because why wouldn’t you want it to taste its very best?

Using it too sparingly or buying it in bulk

Say you brought back a expensive bottle of olive oil from Italy three years ago, and you use a drop or two every few months. I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this, but that oil is probably now rancid. Same goes for people who buy by the multi-gallon jug to use for the next six months. “We encourage consumers to view extra virgin olive oil as a fresh fruit juice that will diminish in quality and taste over time,” Maia Hirschbein, Oleologist for California Olive Ranch, told me. “Look for a harvest date on the bottle while at the store—you want to find something that has a harvest date in the last year. Once the bottle is opened, it is best to consume it within two months.”

Buying cheap olive oil

It’s tempting to buy the $5 bottle of olive oil when all the others are over $15. Problem is, it’s a fact that good olive oil is more expensive than crappy oil. While you don’t have to buy the most expensive bottle in the store, you’ll see that oils marked with a recent harvest date and more production information are going to be a bit pricier than those that don’t give much information. I promise it’ll be worth the cost.

Not cooking with it

A common misconception is that olive oil has a very low smoke point, so many people tend to switch to vegetable oil for high-heat cooking. Hirschbein says that high-quality extra virgin olive oil in fact has a smoke point of around 400 degrees—“the higher quality the olive oil, the higher the smoke point.” While you wouldn’t necessarily want to deep-fry food in high-quality olive oil (we’re not made of money!), it’s great for sauteing, baking, and roasting. 

Storing it on your stove, in the light, or in an open container

To keep olive oil at its freshest, Hirschbein recommends storing it in a cool, dark place, like a kitchen pantry. On or above the stove is especially bad, as the warmth can damage the oil. She also says it’s important to keep oil bottles tightly sealed, as oxygen will also damage the oil over time. “We know it’s tempting to keep your olive oil next to the stove in one of those cute open top cruets, but you’d be doing yourself and your olive oil a disservice,” Hirschbein says.

Thinking it shouldn’t be pungent or grassy

You may think olive oil just tastes like, well, oil. Still, some good olive oils will taste pungent, grassy, peppery, or floral, which are great for topping off soups and pastas, and for bread-dipping. Still, other olive oils can be quite mild, which is likely what you’d want to use for a everyday cooking or baking when you’re not looking for an olive-forward flavor. Hirschbein recommends keeping both a mild olive oil and a more robust and peppery one in your kitchen for cooking and finishing.

 

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