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.
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.”
1. Ellora Farms Extra Virgin Olive Oil
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Olive oil benefits and side effects
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.
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. (1) 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. (2)
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. (3)
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. (4)
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.
Check out these 7 unique benefits of olive oil:
1) 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. (5, 6)
2) 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.
3) 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. (8)
4) Oxidative damage from free radicals may be a contributing factor to cancer, and the antioxidants in olive oil can reduce this type of internal harm. (9)
5) Laboratory studies show the compounds in olive oil actually kill cancer cells in test tubes. (10) 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. (11)
6) Reducing inflammation may be one of the most important benefits of choosing 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. (12)
7) Oleocanthol, an antioxidant in olive oil, has a similar anti-inflammatory effect to ibuprofen. (13)
Think of extra virgin olive oil as a top-quality lubricant to keep your body in top form for navigating the nutritional highway to vital health.
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.
Here are 4 more olive oil facts you should know:
8) The unique compounds in olive oil can protect against heart disease through some of the key mechanisms mentioned above. (14, 15) 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. (16, 17)
9) Results from a randomized clinical trial with subjects consuming a diet high in extra virgin olive oil identified multiple beneficial effects on brain function. (18) 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. (19) Mice also navigated mazes more efficiently and showed signs of improved memory when fed olive oil. (20)
10) A diet rich in olive oil has been shown to cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40%. (21) Several studies confirmed positive effects on blood sugar levels, resulting in improved insulin sensitivity. (22)
11) Eating olive oil isn’t likely to plump you up. 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. (23) Another study spanning 3 years with 187 adults showed increased antioxidant levels as well as a drop in weight. (24)
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.
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.
Summary: The pure and simple version of extra virgin olive oil is a great investment for supporting your health.