Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is recognised as one of the best and safest for cooking.
EVOO has a shelf life of about two years from the time olives are harvested and milled. That can vary greatly depending on how you store it. Therefore, it is important to understand the factors that affect its lifespan and maximise the health benefits and great flavours of premium EVOO.
Buying tips for extra virgin olive oil
The 3 most important factors are:
Buy from a trusted source. – You are unlikely to find great EVOO in the bargain basement shelf of a street market vendor. Experiment to find a good brand or buy directly from a reputable producer.
Listen to recommendations from professionals – While only the best olive oil qualifies as extra virgin, quality varies enormously. Professional chefs often have their own favourites.
Watch the use-by or harvested-on date – The 2 year lifespan we mentioned starts from the moment the oil is harvested and cold pressed.
Two levels of EVOO quality – use them both
Not all olive oil is born equal! Even the best brands can have years where the quality is not as good as the great years. Olive growing conditions are affected by temperature and rainfall amongst other factors.
EVOO is excellent for all kinds of cooking. Despite what you may read online, it does have a high smoke point, which makes it suitable for all cooking methods. That includes baking, roasting, frying and even stir frying.
However, much of its gorgeous flavour and health benefits are lost at higher temperatures. It makes sense not to use your best olive oil for that.
Use your very best quality EVOO for drizzling over salads, pasta, fish and vegetables. Essentially, eat it raw to appreciate how it enhances dishes.
As you buy olive oil and discover which ones taste best, you can keep those “special ones” for your table and move the other ones to your cooking pantry or storeroom.
How to store olive oil to prolong its life and keep its flavour
The way you store extra virgin olive oil after you have brought it home is what really makes the difference to its life, quality and flavour.
Storage: Enemies of olive oil lifespan and flavour
Similar to wine, there are 3 factors that affect the flavour and shelf life of olive oil:
Proper storage protects your olive oil from all of these. It does not even require a great deal of thought or planning!
Protect olive oil from light
It’s easily done once you are aware of the need to keep olive oil out of direct sunlight. The best types of containers are:
Ceramic or pottery cruet for small quantities for kitchen use
Metal container for total protection in storage
Brown or green glass bottle
Store your olive oil in a cool, dark place, and keep a little in your kitchen for cooking but only a small amount that you top up regularly from your main store.
Minimise exposure to air
A little air inevitably enters any storage container when you open it. That’s only to be expected so don’t worry about it.
Recently, “bag in a box” containers have begun to appear on the market, just like wine boxes. The benefit of these is that the bag shrinks as the olive oil is used. That means that no excess air gets in and helps the olive oil to stay fresher for longer.
The best way to minimise oxygen spoilage is simply to use your olive oil frequently. That way it’s never hanging around in your kitchen for too long.
Storing olive oil in cold climates and in tropical temperatures
Cold does not harm olive oil but hot temperatures degrade it quickly. The natural wax in EVOO turns cloudy as it gets colder and can even solidify in extremely cold temperatures.
Refined olive oil has all the goodness stripped out (avoid products with “light” and “pure” on the label) and so it requires much lower temperatures to solidify.
A root cellar is a great old-fashioned place for keeping all manner of food at a steady, even temperature. That’s because the ground temperature even a meter (3 feet) beneath the surface does not fluctuate like the air temperature above ground does.
We all don’t have the luxury of a root cellar, so in general
Store in the coolest, darkest part of the house where temperatures are least likely to fluctuate wildly
Use your nose to check olive oil as you would with milk or wine
It’s a simple habit to establish but very effective for checking that your olive oil is still usable. Just sniff the container every time you go to use it before adding olive oil to your ingredients, frying pan, or wok.
You will instantly know when it has “gone off” because the odour becomes more rancid with time. Nature has given us our noses and sense of smell for a reason!
Enjoy great extra virgin olive oil all year around
Remember the 3 enemies of olive oil mentioned above: heat, light and oxygen. The more frequently you use your olive oil, the less likely it is to grow old and lose its flavours and health benefits.