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Ranking the best olive oils of 2021

Written by John Davis

Last updated: December 7, 2020

Olive oil is one of the healthiest cupboard basics of all time.

You probably don’t think about it as a supplement, but just because it’s great on a salad doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful biologically active compounds in it.  Olive oil is great for heart health, fighting inflammation, and even keeping your skin and hair healthy.

Worried about whether your olive oil is legit? We tracked down the best brands so you don’t have to worry about adulterated or impure olive oil masquerading as “extra virgin.”

Rankings

1. Ellora Farms Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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The best olive oil out there comes in a metal tin and is produced at a single-source farm in Greece.  The label bears a PDO certification, which stands for Protected Designation of Origin: Crete, the region of Greece in which Ellora Farms is located, lays a special claim on its olive oils.  

Just like real champagne is legally required to be produced in the Champagne region of France, according to specific procedures, so too is Ellora’s specific type of olive oil.  Ellora Farms’ oil is great for cooking or for supplement-style uses, like blending into a smoothie; you can’t go wrong with this one.

2. Zoe Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Zoe is a Spanish brand of olive oil that’s a rarity among imported olive oils because it carries the North American Olive Oil Association seal for inspected and certified extra virgin olive oil.  

This means it’s a lot more likely to actually live up to the claims of purity on the tin.  This is definitely a foodie’s olive oil; the product is specially blended with several olive varieties to give it a distinctive, spicy taste.  It’d be a bit of a waste to toss an artisan product like this into a smoothie; save that for the bulk brands.

3. Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Can you imagine that Kirkland Signature, the humble purveyor of inexpensive bulk food items, could turn out a pure, reliable extra virgin olive oil?  Well, it’s the truth!

In the infamous University of California study that uncovered numerous major store brands that were peddling olive oil that didn’t actually meet the standards of “Extra Virgin,” Kirkland Signature passed the tests with flying colors.  Your impression of quality olive oils might be tiny, dark glass bottles with exotic labels, but Kirkland Signature shows that this isn’t always the case.  

4. Corto Olive Co. 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Corto is one of the best bulk buys on the market; you might think of it as the olive oil equivalent of great boxed wine.  The olive oil comes in a large three liter bladder inside a cardboard box.  

It’s nothing fancy, and you might guess that its quality would be subpar because of this, but it was one of the popular brands that actually passed the Olive Institute’s testing back in 2015.  It’s a good-quality olive oil that flies under the radar, but if you go through a lot of olive oil, it’s a fantastic choice.

5. California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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California Olive is another big brand that does quite well in purity certifications, historically speaking.  As a domestically produced olive oil, inspections and quality standards are likely up to a higher bar.  

The “Chef Size” comes in a 1.4 liter bottle that’s great if you go through a lot of olive oil, but still don’t want to opt for something truly huge, or that comes in a bag instead of a bottle.

6. PJ Kabos Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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If you are going for an award-winner, this is the olive oil to pick.  PJ Kabos is a perennial ribbon-winner at olive oil competitions, so if you trust the experts, it’s the boutique pick to go with.  

The downside is that you don’t actually get a whole lot of olive oil: just 16.9 fluid ounces per tin, nor does it bear any special purity certifications.  You’ve got to figure, though, that a major award-winning boutique brand like PJ Kabos wouldn’t be cutting corners, seeing how it could affect their reputation.

7. Sky Organics Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Sky Organics produces a gourmet olive oil in Greece and imports it into the United States.  As such, its production methods and purity are certified, but by Greek associations, not the usual North American one.  

It comes in a small, 17 ounce bottle, and though it’s entered (and often done well) in gourmet olive oil competitions, the company also touts its ability to be used as a homemade cosmetic too.  It’s perhaps not the best if you go through a lot of olive oil on a regular basis, but if you are looking for an everyday olive oil from the region of the world where it was invented, go for Sky Organics.

8. Baja Precious Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Baja Precious is an olive oil brand that’s produced in Baja California and bottled just north of the border.  It’s a simple, straightforward olive oil, and its bottle comes with a clever self-deploying pouring nozzle that pops up when you take the top off.  This makes it a good choice for your go-to stove-side olive oil.  

The major detractors are that, despite its North American origin and its popularity, it does not have the certification of any major olive oil monitoring boards.  North American olive oils tend to do quite well in purity testing versus imported brands, but if this is a top priority for you, go with one of the specially certified brands.

9. Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Colavita is a big seller, and although it failed the Olive Institute’s purity testing back in 2015, Colavita has (allegedly, at least) shaped up: its bottles now bear the label of the North American Olive Oil Association, which is supposed to certify and inspect olive oil for purity and quality standards.  

Still, you’ve got to view the brand with a little lingering suspicion given its history.  It’s a good bulk buy, to its credit, but not the best.

10. Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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This is another popular brand that was caught up in the sub-par olive oil scandal a few years back.  Pompeian, like many of the other major brands out there, have cleaned up their act, and are now certified by the North American Olive Oil Association, or NAOOA.  

It’s a popular buy and it comes in a fairly large bottle, though it is an import, not a domestic olive oil (domestic oils have a better track record when it comes to purity and quality).  If you want top quality, you’ll have to look higher up in the rankings.

Category winners

Best olive oil overall: Ellora Farms Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Ellora Farms is cold-processed, PDO-certified, and traceable right to the very farm that grows the olives. Whether you’re cooking, baking, or just adding a boost of healthy oils to a protein shake, Ellora should be your first choice if you want a top-notch olive oil. 

Best olive oil for skin care: Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For cosmetic purposes, it’s hard to beat Kirkland—it’s pure, reliable, and easy to use, allowing you to use the nourishing and moisturizing properties of olive oil to make your skin softer, smoother, and more radiant. 

Best olive oil for tanning: Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil has been used for tanning going all the way back to ancient times. Kirkland Signature Extra Virgin Olive Oil is perfect for soaking up the sun without drying out your skin, thanks to its purity and large, easy to use bottle.

Best olive oil for face care: California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For keeping your face clear and moisturized, California Olive is a great option. It’s a smaller, boutique olive oil, but facial care only requires a small amount of olive oil, so you can take advantage of the exceptionally high quality of the oil. 

Best olive oil for hair: Corto Olive Co. 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This simple boxed olive oil is perfect for hair care. Unlike glass bottles, it won’t shatter if you drop it in the bathroom, and it’s economically sized to make things easy even if you have lots of voluminous hair to moisturize.  

Best olive oil for cooking: Ellora Farms Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Ellora Farms is a single-origin olive oil that’s stored in a tin that keeps sunlight and oxygen from damaging the antioxidants. Even if you only use it occasionally, it’s the perfect olive oil for cooking. 

Who should buy olive oil?

It’s hard to make a case for anybody not to buy olive oil, given its wide benefits for health and the fact that it’s easy to incorporate into pretty much any kind of diet.

Including olive oil as a part of your typical routine is particularly important if you have risk factors for heart disease or metabolic disease, like obesity, high cholesterol or blood lipids. Even so, people who are very healthy should still make sure they’re getting a sufficient amount of olive oil in their diet on a regular basis.

Even if you don’t cook with oil very much, it’s easy to sneak a few tablespoons into a protein shake, green drink, or smoothie. Given how robust the findings are when it comes to olive oil and health, you really don’t have an excuse if you aren’t already cooking with olive oil.

How we ranked

When it comes to olive oil, quality matters most: since many of the health benefits of olive oil can be traced to the antioxidant properties that are contained by its unsaturated fats and related compounds, we only considered extra virgin olive oils.

These oils contain the highest amount of antioxidants and the lowest amount of oxidized fats, as they are minimally processed compared to other plant and vegetable oils.

Comparisons of the best olive oils on the market were completely turned on their heads following a 2015 report by the Olive Center at the University of California-Davis, which uncovered widespread impurities and failure to meet standards among major importers of olive oil sold in the United States (1).

According to the report, over half of olive oils sold in the state of California at the time of writing failed to meet international standards for purity when it comes to the criteria required for “extra virgin” olive oil.

Instead of being an exacting purity specification, major manufacturers and importers had used it merely as a branding tool, selling lower-quality batches of olive oil but labeling it as extra virgin olive oil.

We used data from the Olive Center’s report to inform our rankings, as well as organizations such as the North American Olive Oil Association and Protected Designation of Origin trademarks, which are good benchmarks for purity.

Products that didn’t have some sort of independent verification of their purity got cut swiftly from our rankings. While we allowed companies that had previously failed to meet international standards on our list, they ended up ranked lower than companies which have consistently maintained a high quality product.

As secondary evaluation criteria, we also looked at the construction of the container, as that influences how well olive oil will last on your shelf after being opened.

Opaque containers, or containers that were tinted to reduce the effects of sunlight, both got bonus points in the rankings for helping to preserve the antioxidant properties of the olive oil within.

Thanks to this combination of independent verification of purity and high-quality storage containers, we’re confident that the olive oils in our rankings are your best shot at maximizing the health benefits of olive oil.

Benefits

Olive oil is a super-fat. In a nutritional environment where fats and oils have been blamed for everything from heart disease to obesity, olive oil rises above the fray to the point where it might be labeled as a superfood.

We’re talking about extra virgin olive oil, not the cheap imitators diluted with more refined versions of the real thing; more refining means fewer nutrients, and sometimes chemical residues, so it’s important to buy the good stuff if you want the benefits.

Olive oil can help with ulcers. With qualities across the board to protect against common health issues, extra virgin olive oil can even aid in avoiding ulcers by creating an environment discouraging to the bacteria that cause this common problem. (2) In fact, it only took 30 grams a day for two weeks in a test group with ulcers to eliminate the bacteria for up to 40% of participants. (3)

Olive oil is composed of 26% saturated fats, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Another 73% is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat known for its anti-inflammatory properties and positive effects on C-Reactive Protein (CRP) readings. (4)

Olive oil is stable at relatively high heats, which makes it a good choice for cooking. After heating olive oil for 36 hours at 350˚F, researchers concluded the oil held its molecular structure and remained safe to consume. (5)

When you check out oils for health properties, you may find coconut oil comparably impressive, but extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, antibacterial agents, anti-inflammatory properties, and even anti-cancer compounds.

Olive oil contains potent antioxidants. Rich in biologically active antioxidants, olive oil can help fight serious diseases, increasing your chances of staying healthy. At least 30 phenolic compounds help your body protect itself against imbalances that can lead to physical degeneration. (6, 7)

Preventing the cholesterol in blood from becoming oxidized may contribute to dropping the risk of developing heart disease. (7) In one trial, young women with high blood pressure lowered the numbers through improving endothelial function in blood vessels, cutting their chances of heart disorders.

Laboratory studies show the compounds in olive oil actually kill cancer cells in test tubes. (8) The polyphenols thought to be responsible for offing breast cancer cells in the lab show promise for the development of medication that could be used for women at high risk for the disease. (9)

Olive oil fights off bad bacteria in your stomach. Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria resulting in stomach ulcers that can lead to stomach cancer, backs off in the presence of olive oil, as do other potentially harmful bacteria. (10)

Reducing inflammation may be one of the most important benefits of choosing to use olive oil. The association of chronic inflammation with serious diseases is well known, and the antioxidants in this oil suppress the expression of genes linked to inflammatory response. (11)

People following a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil have historically enjoyed overall good health at much higher rates than those who didn’t use olive oil; to ferret out the reasons for this, many studies have been done.

Reviewing these conclusions from trials and studies will illustrate why extra virgin olive oil could be a wise choice in your diet.

The unique compounds in olive oil can protect against heart disease through some of the key mechanisms mentioned above. (12, 13) It is effective for lowering blood pressure, which is a reliable predictor for an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Another benefit includes the presence of oleocanthol, the component scientists believe keeps the LDL cholesterol in the blood from oxidizing. (14, 15)

Olive oil might even preserve brain function in older adults. Results from a randomized clinical trial with subjects consuming a diet high in extra virgin olive oil identified multiple beneficial effects on brain function. (16)

Another study on mice indicated compounds in olive oil help dissolve amyloid plaques that accumulate inside brain cells, and are linked with Alzheimer’s disease. (17) Mice also navigated mazes more efficiently and showed signs of improved memory when fed olive oil. (18)

Olive oil also helps prevent metabolic disease. A diet rich in olive oil has been shown to cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40%. (19) Several studies confirmed positive effects on blood sugar levels, resulting in improved insulin sensitivity. (20)

Olive oil won’t make you gain weight. When 7000 Spanish college students ate even more olive oil than usual over 2.5 years, the change in diet could not be correlated with weight gain. (21) Another study spanning 3 years with 187 adults showed increased antioxidant levels as well as a drop in weight. (22)

Peripheral dietary factors may exert some influence on results in studies like these, but all conclusions were reached with subjects eating generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil.

For centuries, the process for extracting oil from olives has remained reassuringly simple: ripe olives are pressed with mechanical force between stone surfaces, then the oil is separated from vegetable matter and fluids before bottling.

The antioxidants in olive oil activate many of the same biochemical signals as ibuprofen. Olive oil has long been suspected to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, because many of the chronic diseases it combats (like heart disease) are linked to long-term systemic inflammation.

Recent work published in the prestigious journal Nature undertook a detailed analysis of the biochemical effects of olive oil as it relates to inflammation (23).

By carefully comparing the enzymes inhibited by ibuprofen and by olive oil, the researchers were able to demonstrate that, although olive oil contains different molecular compounds, the effect is the same: an inhibition of specific enzymes linked to an inflammatory process in the body that might explain part of the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil.

Of course, you can’t get the same benefits of olive oil by just taking ibuprofen every day, so olive oil clearly offers more than just this specific enzyme inhibition.

The best conclusion might be that olive oil could be used instead of ibuprofen for minor aches and pains—it has additional benefits, and a better side effect profile than ibuprofen.

Olive oil could help protect your liver from fat accumulation. One of the biggest health threats from a poor diet is the gradual accumulation of fat in your liver—a condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, also known as fatty liver disease.

It gets its scientific name because historically, it used to be associated exclusively with alcoholism, which damages the cells of the liver and causes fat accumulation and inflammation.

But, with the rise of Western diets, doctors began to see the same disease in people who were not alcohol abusers: nutritionists link it to the negative effects of the kind of high-fat, high-sugar, high-refined-carbohydrate diets now common in Western countries.

Emerging research now suggests that olive oil could help protect your liver from the kind of liver damage found in fatty liver disease. A study published in 2016 in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research used an animal model to induce fatty liver disease from a high-fat diet (24).

However, the study was able to show that by adding olive oil to the already-high-fat diet, liver damage was reduced. Even if you adhere to a low fat routine, findings like this suggest that you should make room for an adequate amount of olive oil in your diet.

Side effects

Some modern manufacturing plants use chemicals to extract olive oil, so it’s important to make certain you know what you’re getting. Mixing quality olive oil with inferior oil processed in undesirable manners is one way to increase profits, and in these cases, the end result will not deliver the antioxidants and substances associated with the health benefits listed above.

Even if a product is labeled “Extra Virgin Olive Oil,” it may be diluted with chemically extracted oils, it’s well worth it to spend more time and money, if necessary, and get the right stuff.

Many of the fats and oils available in today’s marketplace deserve a bad rap, including trans fats commonly found in junk food and certain highly processed seed and vegetable oils, like canola oil and grapeseed oil.

Recommended dosage

From both observational research and from intervention studies, where olive oil is “prescribed” as a treatment to reduce the risk of chronic disease, we have a pretty good idea of the minimum amount of olive oil needed get a benefit for your health.

Studies that have found benefits from olive oil interventions typically use “dosages” of between 25 and 50 mL (about one to two fluid ounces per day) (25). That dosage translates to about two to four servings of olive oil per day.

There doesn’t seem to be an upper limit on olive oil intake; participants in an ongoing study on a Mediterranian diets and heart disease receive a full liter of olive oil every single week, and are instructed to use it “liberally” in cooking and as a salad dressing (26).

Observational research generally suggests that more olive oil consumption is better as well. While it’s less helpful than a specific amount, when it comes to olive oil, more is better. Shoot for at least 40 mL or 1.4 fluid ounces every day.

FAQ

Q: Is olive oil bad for you?

A: Quite the opposite, actually. Virtually every aspect of olive oil is beneficial, and it’s hard to name a domain of health where there isn’t some evidence that olive oil exerts a positive benefit.

Olive oil is most heavily-studied as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease, but other research has found that it preserves cognitive function in older adults, combats obesity, improves liver health, and reduces inflammation. So far, research has not identified any upper limit to olive oil consumption, so feel free to use it liberally on a regular basis.

Q: Can olive oil help digestion?

A: Some of the most exciting frontiers of research on olive oil usage actually related to less-common applications such as addressing digestive problems. A very interesting study published in 2013 used olive oil in combination with probiotics to combat indigestion in a small group of volunteers (27).

The scientists in charge of the study hypothesized that the antioxidant properties of olive oil contributed significantly to the improvements in symptoms, but the interaction with probiotics is the most important takeaway.

Though more research needs to be done, taking olive oil alongside probiotics could be a great way to reduce indigestion without the side effects of some of the more common treatments for indigestion.

Q: What is the healthiest olive oil?

A: Because the benefits of olive oil are linked, at least in part, to its antioxidant properties, you want the purest and least-processed type of olive oil possible.

That means extra virgin olive oil: search for a product that has a certification from an independent agency such as the North American Olive Oil Association, which ensures that products meet official standards for what constitutes “extra virgin.”

As long as your olive oil meets these standards (as do all of the products on our rankings of the best olive oils of the year), it’s hard to go wrong.

Q: Are there benefits to drinking olive oil before bed?

A: As far as our research team has been able to tell, no scientific studies have directly studied taking olive oil right before bed (as opposed to some other time of day), though we did uncover some fascinating research connecting a Mediterranian diet pattern with better sleep quality (28).

In that study, older adults who adhered to a mediterranian diet had better sleep quality, and had a lower risk of changes in sleep patterns over time, compared to adults who did not stick to a Mediterranian diet.

Since olive oil is a main constituent of the Mediterranian diet, it’s not hard to see why olive oil might improve sleep quality. However, whether it matters when you take it is still an open question.

Q: How long does olive oil last?

A: Olive oil, when taken care of, can last for at least several months even after being opened. To make sure your olive oil stays as fresh as possible, and retains as much of its antioxidant properties as possible, buy olive oil that comes in an opaque or tinted container, and store it in a cool, dark place.

Direct sunlight, oxygen, and heat are the main enemies of the antioxidants in olive oil, so avoid exposing the oil to these whenever possible.

Q: What is extra virgin olive oil?

A: “Extra virgin” is a classification of olive oil that applies to products that meet certain criteria for purity. The details are quite technical: they have to do with the levels of molecular indicators of oxidation and freshness, but for a long time, these standards were not enforced.

After the eye-opening study in 2015 from the University of California-Davis that showed that the majority of products labeled “extra virgin” did not actually meet these criteria, olive oil companies have been much more careful to adhere to the labeling requirements.

Even so, it’s still worth getting an extra virgin olive oil that is certified by an independent agency.

Q: How much olive oil should you get per day?

A: Scientific research indicates that, at a minimum, you should strive to get 25-50 mL of olive oil per day. That translates to around one to two fluid ounces of olive oil per day.

Critically, this is the minimum amount, not the recommended amount. As there seems to be no upper limit for the health benefits of olive oil, the rule for now should be that more is better.

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Recap

The pure and simple version of extra virgin olive oil is a great investment for supporting your health. The health benefits include protecting you from cardiovascular disease, helping improve liver health, and even protect your brain as you get older.

While there’s no upper limit to the amount of olive oil that you should consume, a good minimum is around 40 to 50 mL per day. This is the minimum amount used in most intervention studies and has been demonstrated to generate positive health benefits.

That being said, the most cutting-edge research is encouraging substantially more olive oil consumption (even going as far as providing participating families with a full liter of olive oil for free, every single week).

Based on all of this evidence, olive oil should definitely be a staple in your pantry and as a part of your daily cooking routine.

For BodyNutrition‘s #1 olive oil recommendation, click here.

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John Davis